Imec demonstrates the feasibility of introducing SST-MRAM as a last-level cache at the 5nm technology node

SAN FRANCISCO (USA), DECEMBER 3 , 2018 — This week, at the 2018 IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM), imec, the world-leading research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, presents the first power-performance-area comparison between SRAM- and SST-MRAM-based last-level caches at the 5nm node. The analysis, based on design-technology co-optimization and silicon verified models, reveals that STT-MRAM meets the performance requirements for last-level caches in the high-performance computing domain. Moreover, for larger memory densities, significant energy gains are found for SST-MRAM compared to SRAM. 

The increased complexity of CMOS transistor processing has led to the limited scaling of high-density SRAM cells at advanced technology nodes. STT-MRAM has emerged as a promising candidate for replacing the SRAM-based last level cache memories for systems with reduced area and energy. The core element of an STT-MRAM device is a magnetic tunnel junction in which a thin dielectric layer is sandwiched between a magnetic fixed layer and a magnetic free layer. Writing of the memory cell is performed by switching the magnetization for the free magnetic layer, by means of a current that is injected into the magnetic tunnel junction.

Imec for the first time analyzed the feasibility of introducing STT-MRAM at the 5nm technology node for the high-performance computing domain. In a first step, a design-technology co-optimization (DTCO) was performed to define the requirements and specifications for SST-MRAM cells at the 5nm node. Imec concluded that a high-performance 2*Perpendicular-to-Plane (CPP) STT-MRAM bit cell (with MRAM pitch being twice the contacted gate pitch (CPP) of 45nm) is the preferred solution for last-level caches at 5nm, using 193 immersion single patterning lithography, resulting in lower technology cost. DTCO also reveals the requirement for the current density that is needed to enable a high switching speed of the magnetic tunnel junction. For a target current density of 3.8 to 5.4mA/cm2, a resistance area product of 3.1 to 4.7Ωµm2 is required.

In a second step, a high-performance STT-MRAM cell was fabricated on 300mm Si wafers and the characteristics of the magnetic tunnel junction were measured experimentally. These Si verified data were then used in a model that allowed to compare the SRAM and STT-MRAM last-level cache designs for the high-performance computing domain at the 5nm node. In these designs, the STT-MRAM cell occupies an area of 43.3% of the SRAM macro.

Gouri Sankar Kar, Program director at imec: “For the first time, DTCO and Si verified models allowed us to conclude that the STT-MRAM energy becomes more efficient as compared to SRAM for high-density memory cells (i.e., beyond 0.4MB and 5MB density for read and write operations, respectively). The comparison also reveals that the latency of the STT-MRAM is sufficient to meet the requirements of the last-level caches in the high-performance computing domain, which operate around 100MHz clock frequency.”

Imec’s research into advanced memory is performed in cooperation with imec’s key partners in its core CMOS programs including GlobalFoundries, Huawei, Micron, Qualcomm, Sony Semiconductor Solutions, TSMC and Western Digital.

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Hanne Degans
press communications manager - imec

About imec

Imec is the world-leading research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies. The combination of our widely acclaimed leadership in microchip technology and profound software and ICT expertise is what makes us unique. By leveraging our world-class infrastructure and local and global ecosystem of partners across a multitude of industries, we create groundbreaking innovation in application domains such as healthcare, smart cities and mobility, logistics and manufacturing, energy and education.

As a trusted partner for companies, start-ups and universities we bring together more than 4,000 brilliant minds from over 85 nationalities. Imec is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium and has distributed R&D groups at a number of Flemish universities, in the Netherlands, Taiwan, USA, China, and offices in India and Japan. In 2017, imec's revenue (P&L) totaled 546 million euro. Further information on imec can be found at

Imec is a registered trademark for the activities of IMEC International (a legal entity set up under Belgian law as a "stichting van openbaar nut”), imec Belgium (IMEC vzw supported by the Flemish Government), imec the Netherlands (Stichting IMEC Nederland, part of Holst Centre which is supported by the Dutch Government), imec Taiwan (IMEC Taiwan Co.) and imec China (IMEC Microelectronics (Shanghai) Co. Ltd.) and imec India (Imec India Private Limited), imec Florida (IMEC USA nanoelectronics design center).

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