Non-volatile memory

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Non-volatile memory (NVM) or non-volatile storage is a type of computer memory that can retrieve stored information even after having been power cycled. In contrast, volatile memory needs constant power in order to retain data. Examples of non-volatile memory include flash memory, read-only memory (ROM), ferroelectric RAM, most types of magnetic computer storage devices (e.g. hard disk drives, floppy disks, and magnetic tape), optical discs, and early computer storage methods such as paper tape and punched cards. [1]


Non-volatile memory typically refers to storage in semiconductor memory chips, which store data in floating-gate memory cells consisting of floating-gate MOSFETs (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors), including flash memory storage such as NAND flash and solid-state drives (SSD), and ROM chips such as EPROM (erasable programmable ROM) and EEPROM (electrically erasable programmable ROM). It can also be classified as traditional non-volatile disk storage.


Non-volatile memory is typically used for the task of secondary storage, or long-term persistent storage. [2] The most widely used form of primary storage today is a volatile form of random access memory (RAM), meaning that when the computer is shut down, anything contained in RAM is lost. However, most forms of non-volatile memory have limitations that make them unsuitable for use as primary storage. Typically, non-volatile memory costs more, provides lower performance, or has a limited lifetime compared to volatile random access memory.

Non-volatile data storage can be categorized into electrically addressed systems (read-only memory) and mechanically addressed systems (hard disks, optical disc, magnetic tape, holographic memory, and such). [3] [4] Generally speaking, electrically addressed systems are expensive, have limited capacity, but are fast, whereas mechanically addressed systems are more cost effective per bit, but are slower.

Electrically addressed

Electrically addressed semiconductor non-volatile memories can be categorized according to their write mechanism. Mask ROMs are factory programmable only, and typically used for large-volume products which are not required to be updated after manufacture. Programmable read-only memory can be altered after manufacture, but require a special programmer and usually cannot be programmed while in the target system. The programming is permanent and further changes require replacement of the device. Data is stored by physically altering (burning) storage sites in the device.

Read-mostly devices

An EPROM is an erasable ROM that can be changed more than once. However, writing new data to an EPROM requires a special programmer circuit. EPROMs have a quartz window that allows them to be erased with ultraviolet light, but the whole device is cleared at one time. A one-time programmable (OTP) device may be implemented using an EPROM chip without the quartz window; this is less costly to manufacture. An electrically erasable programmable read-only memory EEPROM uses voltage to erase memory. These erasable memory devices require a significant amount of time to erase data and to write new data; they are not usually configured to be programmed by the processor of the target system. Data is stored by use of floating-gate transistors which require special operating voltages to trap or release electric charge on an insulated control gate to store information.

Flash memory

Flash memory is a solid-state chip that maintains stored data without any external power source. It is a close relative to the EEPROM; it differs in that erase operations must be done on a block basis and capacity is substantially larger than that of an EEPROM. Flash memory devices use two different technologies—NOR and NAND—to map data. NOR flash provides high-speed random access, reading and writing data in specific memory locations; it can retrieve as little as a single byte. NAND flash reads and writes sequentially at high speed, handling data in blocks, however it is slower on read when compared to NOR. NAND flash reads faster than it writes, quickly transferring whole pages of data. Less expensive than NOR flash at high densities, NAND technology offers higher capacity for the same-size silicon. [5]

Ferroelectric RAM (F-RAM)

Ferroelectric RAM (FeRAM, F-RAM or FRAM) is a random-access memory similar in construction to DRAM both use a capacitor and transistor but instead of using a simple dielectric layer the capacitor, a F-RAM cell contains a thin ferroelectric film of lead zirconate titanate [Pb(Zr,Ti)O3], commonly referred to as PZT. The Zr/Ti atoms in the PZT change polarity in an electric field, thereby producing a binary switch. Due to the PZT crystal maintaining polarity, F-RAM retains its data memory when power is shut off or interrupted.

Due to this crystal structure and how it is influenced, F-RAM offers distinct properties from other nonvolatile memory options, including extremely high, although not infinite, endurance (exceeding 1016 read/write cycles for 3.3 V devices), ultra low power consumption (since F-RAM does not require a charge pump like other non-volatile memories), single-cycle write speeds, and gamma radiation tolerance. [6]

Magnetoresistive RAM (MRAM)

Magnetoresistive RAM stores data in magnetic storage elements called magnetic tunnel junctions (MTJs). The first generation of MRAM, such as Everspin Technologies' 4 Mbit, utilized field-induced writing. The second generation is developed mainly through two approaches: Thermal-assisted switching (TAS) [7] which is being developed by Crocus Technology, and Spin-transfer torque (STT) which Crocus, Hynix, IBM, and several other companies are developing.[ when? ] [8]

FeFET memory

FeFET memory uses a transistor with ferroelectric material to permanently retain state.

Mechanically addressed systems

Mechanically addressed systems use a recording head to read and write on a designated storage medium. Since the access time depends on the physical location of the data on the device, mechanically addressed systems may be sequential access. For example, magnetic tape stores data as a sequence of bits on a long tape; transporting the tape past the recording head is required to access any part of the storage. Tape media can be removed from the drive and stored, giving indefinite capacity at the cost of the time required to retrieve a dismounted tape. [9] [10]

Hard disk drives use a rotating magnetic disk to store data; access time is longer than for semiconductor memory, but cost per stored data bit is very low, and they provide random access to any location on the disk. Formerly, removable disk packs were common, allowing storage capacity to be expanded. Optical discs store data by altering a pigment layer on a plastic disk, and are similarly random access. Read-only and read-write versions are available; removable media again allows indefinite expansion, and some automated systems (e.g. optical jukebox) were used to retrieve and mount disks under direct program control. [11] [12] [13]


Thinfilm produces rewriteable non-volatile organic ferroelectric memory based on ferroelectric polymers. Thinfilm successfully demonstrated roll-to-roll printed memories in 2009. [14] [15] [16] In Thinfilm's organic memory the ferroelectric polymer is sandwiched between two sets of electrodes in a passive matrix. Each crossing of metal lines is a ferroelectric capacitor and defines a memory cell. This gives a non-volatile memory comparable to ferroelectric RAM technologies and offer the same functionality as flash memory.

Non-volatile main memory

Non-volatile main memory (NVMM) is primary storage with non-volatile attributes. [17] This application of non-volatile memory presents security challenges. [18]

Related Research Articles

Computer data storage Storage of digital data readable by computers

Computer data storage is a technology consisting of computer components and recording media that are used to retain digital data. It is a core function and fundamental component of computers.

Computer memory Device used on a computer for storing data

In computing, memory refers to a device that is used to store information for immediate use in a computer or related computer hardware device. It typically refers to semiconductor memory, specifically metal–oxide–semiconductor (MOS) memory, where data is stored within MOS memory cells on a silicon integrated circuit chip. The term "memory" is often synonymous with the term "primary storage". Computer memory operates at a high speed, for example random-access memory (RAM), as a distinction from storage that provides slow-to-access information but offers higher capacities. If needed, contents of the computer memory can be transferred to secondary storage; a very common way of doing this is through a memory management technique called "virtual memory". An archaic synonym for memory is store.

Flash memory Electronic non-volatile computer storage device

Flash memory is an electronic (solid-state) non-volatile computer memory storage medium that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed. The two main types of flash memory are named after the NAND and NOR logic gates. The individual flash memory cells, consisting of floating-gate MOSFETs, exhibit internal characteristics similar to those of the corresponding gates.

EEPROM Computer memory used for small quantities of data

EEPROM (also E2PROM) stands for electrically erasable programmable read-only memory and is a type of non-volatile memory used in computers, integrated in microcontrollers for smart cards and remote keyless systems, and other electronic devices to store relatively small amounts of data but allowing individual bytes to be erased and reprogrammed.

Non-volatile random-access memory (NVRAM) is random-access memory that retains data without applied power. This is in contrast to dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) and static random-access memory (SRAM), which both maintain data only for as long as power is applied, or such forms of memory as magnetic tape, which cannot be randomly accessed but which retains data indefinitely without electric power.

Wear leveling is a technique for prolonging the service life of some kinds of erasable computer storage media, such as flash memory, which is used in solid-state drives (SSDs) and USB flash drives, and phase-change memory. There are several wear leveling mechanisms that provide varying levels of longevity enhancement in such memory systems.

USB flash drive Data storage device

A USB flash drive is a data storage device that includes flash memory with an integrated USB interface. It is typically removable, rewritable and much smaller than an optical disc. Most weigh less than 30 g (1 oz). Since first appearing on the market in late 2000, as with virtually all other computer memory devices, storage capacities have risen while prices have dropped. As of March 2016, flash drives with anywhere from 8 to 256 gigabytes (GB) were frequently sold, while 512 GB and 1 terabyte (TB) units were less frequent. As of 2018, 2 TB flash drives were the largest available in terms of storage capacity. Some allow up to 100,000 write/erase cycles, depending on the exact type of memory chip used, and are thought to last between 10 and 100 years under normal circumstances.

In computing, mass storage refers to the storage of large amounts of data in a persisting and machine-readable fashion. Devices and/or systems that have been described as mass storage include tape libraries, RAID systems, and a variety of computer drives such as hard disk drives, magnetic tape drives, magneto-optical disc drives, optical disc drives, memory cards, and solid-state drives. It also includes experimental forms like holographic memory. Mass storage includes devices with removable and non-removable media. It does not include random access memory (RAM).

Magnetic storage storage of data on a magnetized medium

Magnetic storage or magnetic recording is the storage of data on a magnetized medium. Magnetic storage uses different patterns of magnetisation in a magnetisable material to store data and is a form of non-volatile memory. The information is accessed using one or more read/write heads.

Reading is an action performed by computers, to acquire data from a source and place it into their volatile memory for processing. Computers may read information from a variety of sources, such as magnetic storage, the Internet, or audio and video input ports. Reading is one of the core functions of a Turing machine.

Semiconductor memory is a digital electronic semiconductor device used for digital data storage, such as computer memory. It typically refers to MOS memory, where data is stored within metal–oxide–semiconductor (MOS) memory cells on a silicon integrated circuit memory chip. There are numerous different types using different semiconductor technologies. The two main types of random-access memory (RAM) are static RAM (SRAM), which uses several transistors per memory cell, and Dynamic random-access memory (DRAM), which uses a single transistor and MOS capacitor per cell. Non-volatile memory uses floating-gate memory cells, which consist of a single transistor per cell.

Digital permanence addresses the history and development of digital storage techniques, specifically quantifying the expected lifetime of data stored on various digital media and the factors which influence the permanence of digital data. It is often a mix of ensuring the data itself can be retained on a particular form of media and that the technology remains viable. Where possible, as well as describing expected lifetimes, factors affecting data retention will be detailed including potential technology issues.

An in-memory database is a database management system that primarily relies on main memory for computer data storage. It is contrasted with database management systems that employ a disk storage mechanism. In-memory databases are faster than disk-optimized databases because disk access is slower than memory access, the internal optimization algorithms are simpler and execute fewer CPU instructions. Accessing data in memory eliminates seek time when querying the data, which provides faster and more predictable performance than disk.

Write once read many (WORM) describes a data storage device in which information, once written, cannot be modified. This write protection affords the assurance that the data cannot be tampered with once it is written to the device.

In computing, external storage comprises devices that store information outside a computer. Such devices may be permanently attached to the computer, may be removable or may use removable media.

Read-only memory Electronic memory that cannot be changed.

Read-only memory (ROM) is a type of non-volatile memory used in computers and other electronic devices. Data stored in ROM cannot be electronically modified after the manufacture of the memory device. Read-only memory is useful for storing software that is rarely changed during the life of the system, also known as firmware. Software applications for programmable devices can be distributed as plug-in cartridges containing read-only memory.

Random-access memory Form of computer data storage

Random-access memory is a form of computer memory that can be read and changed in any order, typically used to store working data and machine code. A random-access memory device allows data items to be read or written in almost the same amount of time irrespective of the physical location of data inside the memory. In contrast, with other direct-access data storage media such as hard disks, CD-RWs, DVD-RWs and the older magnetic tapes and drum memory, the time required to read and write data items varies significantly depending on their physical locations on the recording medium, due to mechanical limitations such as media rotation speeds and arm movement.

This glossary of computer hardware terms is a list of definitions of terms and concepts related to computer hardware, i.e. the physical and structural components of computers, architectural issues, and peripheral devices.

Solid-state storage is a type of non-volatile computer storage that stores and retrieves digital information using only electronic circuits, without any involvement of moving mechanical parts. This differs fundamentally from the traditional electromechanical storage, which records data using rotating or linearly moving media coated with magnetic material.

Memory cell (computing) part of computer memory

The memory cell is the fundamental building block of computer memory. The memory cell is an electronic circuit that stores one bit of binary information and it must be set to store a logic 1 and reset to store a logic 0. Its value is maintained/stored until it is changed by the set/reset process. The value in the memory cell can be accessed by reading it.


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