Better, faster, smaller: How Resistive RAM could change storage forever

resistive ram how it could change storage forever crossbar rram design

What if we told you that a terabyte of data can fit on something the size of a postage stamp? You’d think we’re crazy, right? Well, California-based startup Crossbar has done just that. The company revealed plans for storage chips that will be able to pack in a terabyte worth of data in a tiny space thanks to resistive RAM (RRAM). It would essentially replace NAND flash memory, which is the current standard in the gadget industry, and pretty much all smartphones and tablets use it. However, not very many people know about RRAM and how it works, and in order to understand Crossbar’s intentions to replace NAND, we should know the differences between the two different types of memory.

What is RRAM?

Crossbar boasts that its RRAM storage solution is capable of storing up to 1TB of data on a single chip, thanks to the ability of “3D-stacking” multiple cells in different configurations in order to save space while still upping the storage limits. All of this can fit into a tight, tiny space, which could then fit into mobile devices. The company also says that the new chip technology consumes less energy (approximately 20 times less), extending battery life in devices “to weeks, months, or years.”

Speed wise, Crossbar claims that RRAM has a write speed that’s 20 times faster than NAND memory (around 140MB/s, compared to 7MB/s with NAND), and is 10 times more reliable as well, noting that it “approaches DRAM reliability” levels. Read speeds are said to be around 17MB/s.


What’s so special about RRAM?

For starters, unlike other types of RAM, RRAM is non-volatile, meaning that it can keep and store data even if the power is cut off to it. Volatile memory (like the DDR RAM in your computer) can only store data up until a certain point, like when the power is cut off. This is why you lose information when your computer suddenly shuts down. Of course, NAND memory is also non-volatile, and both of them are able to store data permanently. 

However, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. RRAM uses a different method to store data, by creating different levels of electrical resistance using ions (charged atoms), rather than electrons that create electrical charges in order to store bits of data (hence the name “resistive RAM”). This means that RRAM requires less energy to operate and leaves room for a greater number of write cycles for a longer lifespan, depending on the components being used. With the ability for high and low levels of resistance, this allows RRAM to store different values on the chip to make up bits of data.


The concept of RRAM has actually been around since the 1960s, but it’s only been until just recently that the concept was deemed practical and physically possible by researchers. And based on the technology in RRAM, it could even be used to replace or supplement other types of memory besides just NAND, including DDR RAM. This means that the days of losing data due to power outages could be over. With RRAM, computers could prevent data from being lost when the machine is shut off, unlike DDR RAM, which doesn’t save data when the power gets cut off.

What does the future hold for RRAM?

On top of higher-capacity mobile devices, we could see much higher-capacity solid-state drives come to fruition with RRAM. Solid-state drives currently use NAND flash memory, and they’re able to stuff in way more NAND chips for high-capacity storage, reaching up to 1TB. However, with RRAM, we could see solid-state storage jump into the multiple-terabyte levels – something that hard disk drives have only been able to achieve thus far.

When will we see RRAM hit the mainstream?

We’ve seen a lot of crazy concepts in technology – flexible displays and the Hyperloop come to mind – and most of these types of concepts seem pretty far-fetched, sometimes never hitting the market. But Crossbar says that the manufacturing of the chips can utilize current production methods, meaning there’s no need to vastly revolutionize the manufacturing process before the chips can be made. This means that Crossbar could technically pump out the volume needed right away in order to reliably replace NAND in devices easily.

While the goal is to have RRAM replace NAND memory at some point, the transition could take some time. As for where Crossbar is currently at with the development of its RRAM storage technology, it doesn’t have any chips in production at the moment, and it’s still a bit early for the company to provide an exact timeline. It does claim to have a working prototype built, so the first wave of mass production could be right around the corner. However, as with any technology in its early stages, Crossbar could come across hiccups in the manufacturing process, resulting in delays and the opportunity for other companies to pick up the baton and make a splash.

Furthermore, Crossbar doesn’t exclusively hold all the patents for RRAM, although it owns a few, so it’ll be interesting to see how the business side of things play out in the production phases of these new storage chips once they get off their feet, and it’s very possible that we’ll see the technology get licensed out to various chip manufacturers in the future.

Photos via Crossbar


Born to run (forever): The most reliable cars you can buy right now

We all dread the thought of our car turning into a money pit, but choosing a dependable vehicle from the start can help us rack up countless care-free miles. Here, we've rounded up some of the most reliable cars available.

Google, Samsung, OnePlus, and Huawei face off in an Android battle royale

The good news is that there are some great options in the Android smartphone market right now. The bad news is that too much choice makes it tough to decide. We compare the Pixel 3 XL, the Galaxy Note 9, the OnePlus 6T, and the Mate 20 Pro.

Having enough RAM is important, but stick to these guidelines to save some money

Although not quite as exciting as processors and graphics cards, RAM is one of the most important parts of your PC. Not having enough can hurt performance. So, how much RAM do you need?

How do Nintendo Switch, Xbox One X compare to each other? We find out

The Nintendo Switch is innovative enough to stand apart from traditional consoles, but could it become your primary gaming system? How does the Switch stack up against the Xbox One?

These laptop bags will keep your notebook secure wherever you go

Choosing the right laptop bag is no easy feat -- after all, no one likes to second-guess themselves. Here are some of the best laptop bags on the market, from backpacks to sleeves, so you can get it right the first time around.

These Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts will update your OG Windows skills

Windows 10 has many new features, and they come flanked with useful new keyboard shortcuts. Check out some of the new Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts to improve your user experience.

iPhone users are finding themselves randomly locked out of their Apple ID

According to posts on Reddit and Twitter, it looks like users on Reddit and Twitter having some issues with their Apple accounts. Specifically, it seems as though users are getting randomly locked out of their Apple IDs.

Protecting your PDF with a password isn't difficult. Just follow these steps

If you need to learn how to password protect a PDF, you have come to the right place. This guide will walk you through the process of protecting your documents step-by-step, whether you're running a MacOS or Windows machine.

Don't know what to do with all your old DVDs? Here's how to convert them to MP4

Given today's rapid technological advancements, physical discs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Check out our guide on how to convert a DVD to MP4, so you can ditch discs for digital files.

Here’s how to install Windows on a Chromebook

If you want to push the functionality of your new Chromebook to another level, and Linux isn't really your deal, you can try installing Windows on a Chromebook. Here's how to do so, just in case you're looking to nab some Windows-only…

Edit portraits with A.I. and adjust focus in the new ON1 Photo RAW 2019 editor

ON1 Photo RAW 2019 now has a dedicated tab for portraits that automatically recognizes faces to help with retouching. The update also brings a new focus stacking tool, enhancements to layers, and improvements to local adjustments.

Your MacBook can live in the lap of luxury with this leather case

Though there are several cases which we think are best for covering up MacBooks, Twelve South's Journal case is one of the newest available, providing luxurious leather coverage for your Apple laptop.

Here's our head-to-head comparison of Pandora and Spotify

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.

15-inch MacBook Pro gets more powerful with new AMD Vega GPUs

Confirming Apple's quiet October announcement, new configurations for the top-range 15-inch Apple MacBook laptop are now available, coming complete with AMD Pro Vega 16 or Pro Vega 20 graphics cards on board.