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The Hybrid Memory Cube
Micron Technology (MU) has been supplying innovative computer components to electronics manufacturers for over thirty years. Its dynamic random access memory units and NAND flash technology chips provide faster, more efficient computing capabilities for many of the PCs, cell phones, and gaming devices on the market today. Lately, however, its ability to further enhance these products has diminished. The speed at which signals can travel in and out of current architectural models has essentially reached its capacity, a crisis experts have referred to as the “memory wall”. Meanwhile, the products for which these chips are created have begun decreasing in size, while simultaneously inheriting requirements for improved performance from prior-generation devices.
Thus, to keep up with this technological demand, Micron and Samsung have come together to create the revolutionary Hybrid Memory Cube (HMC) product. The HMC is a system memory unit that consists of a high-speed control logic layer, manufactured by International Business Machines (IBM - Free IBM Stock Report), which supports a series of vertically stacked DRAM die. These die are then connected using through-silicon-via (TSV) interconnects. Its design is aimed at increasing performance while reducing power consumption. To the layman, this may seem like just another computing advancement, one that will inevitably be replaced not long thereafter by another perceived breakthrough, but that is not the case. Its ground-breaking design is being touted across the industry and is expected to influence the way chipmakers view future product development entirely.
Indeed, the Hybrid Memory Cube is a game changer to say the least. When compared to its predecessors, the DDR3/DDR4 units, in recent studies there was no contest. The product was tested against these DRAM units in its ability to process a given amount of information at a speed of 1.28 Terabytes/second. The results showed that while the DDR3 required 14,300 active signals to process the information, the HMC necessitated only 2,160 signals, an improvement of 85%. Moreover, the HMC used less energy to accomplish the task. To be exact, 72% fewer watts of electricity were needed in order to reach its goal.
From an operational perspective the advantages are substantial, but that’s not all. As each day passes it seems like this industry moves closer and closer to the demise of the home PC. Consumers are accomplishing most of their daily tasks on cell phones or tablet computers, preferring their light weight and mobility to PC products. This growing trend implies a demand for smaller memory units. Well, the Hybrid Memory Cube is about 90% smaller than the DDR4 unit, requiring only 8,712 square millimeters of space to operate. If trends persist, Micron could assume a stranglehold position on the DRAM market. Considering the fact that the company operates on a global scale, the product could change the face of computing as we know it.
It is for that reason that Micron put together a consortium of key developers, including competitors, to create an interface for the product that will allow manufacturers to build compatible devices for the technology. One that has been particularly supportive is Intel (INTC - Free Intel Stock Report). The company’s strong interest in advancing interchangeable memory units arises from its desire to improve its Xeon line. Though, while the cube prototype has been offered to a variety of customers over the past year, we are yet to see a scheduled product launch that attempts to harness the HMC. Regardless, experts in the industry expect to see companies use transitional designs until Micron can overcome pricing issues that surround the Memory Cube, making it likely that this technology will not become commonplace until about 2023.
Clearly, Hybrid Memory Cube technology is still quite young. But the number of well-established brands that have come together to plan for its future in the industry speaks volumes to the revolutionary nature of the product. Investors have an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a product that could see substantial returns when it finally hits the market. In the interim, we look for Micron Technology to explore methods of price reduction. Also, monitoring innovations by industry leaders as they attempt to augment products to make way for HMC compatibility will allow investors to track milestones for the design. All told, Micron is a strong, trusted brand, and if properly marketed the HMC could make considerable waves in computing.
At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have any positions in any of the companies mentioned.