Emerging non-volatile memory technologies for reconfigurable architectures
ABSTRACT This work evaluates the potential application of emerging non-volatile memory technologies to reconfigurable architectures based on hybrid CMOS/resistive-switching FPGAs. The non-volatility of these devices lends them well to designs requiring low power consumption and reduced configuration time at power up. These memory technologies are assessed based on their effectiveness for use as interconnect routing switches in terms of programming power, reliability, scalability, and fabrication cost. The feasibility of architectural integration and innovations in reconfigurable architecture for non-volatile memories are also discussed. With sufficient redundancy and defect-tolerance, hybrid FPGA architectures may facilitate the integration of emerging non-volatile memory technologies with reconfigurable logic.
JETC. 01/2005; 1:109-162.
Conference Proceeding: Monolithically stackable hybrid FPGA.Design, Automation and Test in Europe, DATE 2010, Dresden, Germany, March 8-12, 2010; 01/2010
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ABSTRACT: This article we present an architecture that supports fine-grained sparing and resource matching. The base logic structure is a set of interconnected PLAs. The PLAs and their interconnections consist of large arrays of interchangeable nanowires, which serve as programmable product and sum terms and as programmable interconnect links. Each nanowire can have several defective programmable junctions. We can test nanowires for functionality and use only the subset that provides appropriate conductivity and electrical characteristics. We then perform a matching between nanowire junction programmability and application logic needs to use almost all the nanowires even though most of them have defective junctions. We employ seven high-level strategies to achieve this level of defect tolerance.IEEE Design and Test of Computers 08/2005; · 1.39 Impact Factor
Emerging Non-volatile Memory Technologies for
Elaine Ou, Philip Leong
School of Electrical and Information Engineering,
The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia 2006
Abstract—This work evaluates the potential application of
emerging non-volatile memory technologies to reconfigurable
architectures based on hybrid CMOS/resistive-switching FPGAs.
The non-volatility of these devices lends them well to designs
requiring low power consumption and reduced configuration
time at power up. These memory technologies are assessed
based on their effectiveness for use as interconnect routing
switches in terms of programming power, reliability, scalability,
and fabrication cost. The feasibility of architectural integration
and innovations in reconfigurable architecture for non-volatile
memories are also discussed. With sufficient redundancy and
defect-tolerance, hybrid FPGA architectures may facilitate the
integration of emerging non-volatile memory technologies with
SRAM-based field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) have
been the standard focus of reconfigurable computing in the
last two decades. Some FPGAs use flash memory cells
as configuration devices so that the FPGA can retain its
configured state when the power is off, but flash memory
has its drawbacks in terms of cost, speed, and write power
requirements. Furthermore, flash is expected to reach the limits
of scalability by 20 nm technology nodes .
Alternatives to flash memory have been widely explored
for non-volatile memory applications as scaling limitations be-
come imminent. A key difference between flash and the newer
technologies is that a flash memory cell is a three-terminal
active device, whereas the emerging memories discussed in
this section are two-terminal passive devices that exhibit
switching behavior by a change in resistance. A transistor-free
cell structure best enables future scalability for high-density
memory because the cell size can potentially be fabricated as
small as the minimum feature size in a process technology.
Recent developments in non-volatile memory technologies
may make it possible to increase the flexibility of recon-
figurable devices without the limitations of flash memory
cells. This paper serves as a review of emerging memory
technologies and projected future developments toward their
integration into reconfigurable computing architectures.
II. ARCHITECTURAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR
NON-VOLATILE MEMORY TECHNOLOGIES
Hybrid reconfigurable architectures employ a combination
of a CMOS transistor stack and multiple levels of wires with
resistance-switching memory devices serving as routing con-
figuration at the crosspoints of nanowires or interconnect .
These structures typically consist of a sea-of-gates connected
with wires and configurable non-volatile memory elements at
the junctions, as depicted in Figure 1. At the substrate level,
the field-programmable nanowire interconnect architecture im-
plements a structure consisting of logic gates, buffers, and flip-
flops to form a ”hypercell” logic structure that is analogous
to a configurable logic block in an FPGA. Nanowires form
interconnect above the cells . More recently, logic fabrics
consisting of multiplexers have also been explored . In
this work, we assume the fabrication of standard CMOS
process metal wires laid out in the minimum metal width and
pitch. The emerging memory materials discussed here can be
deposited between multiple memory layers, removing the need
for high-density nanowires on a single 2-dimensional plane.
stack with non-volatile configuration devices at the crosspoints.
Multiple levels of interconnect fabricated above a CMOS transistor
A. Target Switch Characteristics
Signal integrity and latency are closely dependent on mem-
ory cell material characteristics in transistor-free interconnect
architectures, as there are no other rectifying devices or buffers
at the switchpoints.
A memory device optimized for non-volatile memory may
not possess the optimal switch characteristics for a routing
fabric. A non-volatile memory device is generally designed
to have low-power, high-speed read and program operations.
These characteristics are certainly desirable for an interconnect
switch, but unlike a memory cell, an interconnect switch is
not augmented by a sense amplifier. A switching device in the
routing fabric should have conductive and capacitive properties
that resemble those of a MOSFET in saturation and cut-
off. The low-resistance state (”on” state) and cell capacitance
determine the speed of signal propagation through a switch. A
low on-resistance is also critical to maintain signal integrity.
The low-resistance state should be as conductive as a transistor
in saturation, otherwise, additional buffers would be needed for
signals passing through multiple switches. The high-resistance
state (”off” state) of the memory device determines the amount
of leakage current that may pass through open switches.
Devices used for non-volatile memory products need to
support high endurance and long retention times, meaning they
need to sustain over 106write and erase cycles and maintain
their data for over 10 years. These properties are not as critical
in reconfigurable computing usage, because an FPGA is not
usually reprogrammed over a million times in its lifetime. Low
write/erase latency is not as crucial, but programming power
requirements must still be taken into account. High-voltage
or wide transistors for programming circuitry would increase
area overhead and slow down the chip.
Defect density and device matching remain important is-
sues when considering non-volatile switching technologies.
Nanowire FPGA architectures have been demonstrated to
tolerate up to a 10% defect density with some optimization ,
but variations in memory cell resistance values may make it
difficult to quantify discrete errors.
III. EMERGING MEMORY TECHNOLOGIES
It is not possible to completely cover the multitude of
memory technologies currently pursued in active research, but
we will briefly discuss the most popular memory technologies
- those based on magnetic switching, resistance-change, and
phase-change materials. Other emerging technologies, such as
ferroelectric RAM and carbon nanotube memory, also have
the potential to serve in non-volatile applications.
A. Magnetic Switching Technologies
Magnetic random-access memory, or MRAM, uses two
ferromagnetic plates separated by a thin insulating layer for
a memory cell. The lower plate is set to a fixed polarity,
while the polarity of the upper plate is free and can be
switched during a write operation. The electrical resistance
of the memory cell changes depending on whether or not
the polarity is aligned between the two plates. The switching
accuracy is a function of the applied voltage. The write current
has to be high enough to ensure devices are switched to desired
states, while still remain low enough to avoid junction barrier
Newer MRAM memories have been demonstrated to have
higher-speed performance than flash, better reliability and
endurance, and can be fabricated with only four additional
postprocessing masks . The integration of magnetic ma-
terials into a standard CMOS logic process is still a major
Magnetic tunneling junctions have been demonstrated to
have a resistance-area value of approximately 5 Ωµm2and up
to 1056% tunneling magnetoresistance . These respective
resistances would increase with scaling as the memory cell
area is reduced, making the switches less conductive and
possibly unsuitable in the ”on” state.
B. Resistance-change Memory Technologies
Resistance-change memories (RRAM) are designed for de-
tectable changes in conductivity, similar to an MRAM cell,
but typically employ a structure consisting of metal-insulator-
metal to serve as the memory element. The resistance-
switching is caused by the creation and destruction of con-
ductive filaments in the material. The low resistance gener-
ally stays constant with cell size, while the high resistance
increases with decreased cell size.
Metal oxides are highly compatible with modern CMOS
processes and require as few as two additional mask steps for
fabrication. Furthermore, they have demonstrated high-speed
and low-power switching abilities .
A big challenge still facing resistance-change memory tech-
nology is that of wide resistance-switching distributions, as
shown in Figure 2. In a resistance-switching metal-oxide, the
position of the conductive filament formation may change each
programming cycle, resulting in some resistance variation.
resistance ranges . Right: Erasing (setting a device to a high-resistance
state) yield as a function of the select transistor gate voltage to control current
compliance for Cu2O memory .
Left: Weibull plot showing probability density of high and low
C. Phase-change Memory Technologies
Phase-change memory operates by using a resistive heater
to melt and recrystallize a chalcogenide memory cell in either
a crystalline (low-resistance) or amorphous (high-resistance)
state. The material is melted using current pulses, and the
programmed state of the memory cell depends on the rate at
which the current decreases in the falling edge of the pulse.
Recent work has demonstrated the successful integration of
phase-change material in 90nm standard CMOS technology,
with a factor of 25 difference in conductivity between the
high- and low-resistance cells . Phase-change memory
cells scale favorably, with reduced program power consump-
tion and increased operation speed with smaller sizes. The
stability of the programmed state is expected to deteriorate
at the nanoscale, but successful implementations have been
demonstrated down to 45 nm .
Phase-change memories have shown sufficient endurance
and reliability to serve in commercial products as random-
access non-volatile memory. It has received much attention as
a future replacement for NOR flash because of its scalability.
However, thermal disturbance effects become a significant
consideration in densely packed arrays, where using a heater
to program adjacent cells could cause a change in the high-
resistance state as well as the threshold switching voltage 
Fig. 3. Read current distributions indicating the spread of low-resistance and
high-resistance cells collected over a 4Mb array. .
D. Memory Technology Summary
Representative memory cell attributes for each of the mem-
ory technologies are summarized in Table I. Even within the
three emerging memory technologies surveyed, there is a wide
range of materials and structures under development, and the
parameters in the table only serve as a sample of the memory
devices that may be suitable for reconfigurable computing.
DEMONSTRATED MEMORY MATERIAL CHARACTERISTICS.
90 nm STT MRAM 
180 nm HfO2RRAM 
1 µm CuO RRAM 
90 nm Phase-change 
Metal-oxide resistance change materials and phase-change
materials are particularly attractive due to their scalability and
adaptability to CMOS logic processes. Metal oxides in particu-
lar have the lowest programming current requirements and thus
transistors for write circuitry can be sized more conservatively.
Furthermore, their resistance values come closest to matching
an actual transistor switch.
Aside from memory cell material characteristics, the overall
feasibility of integrating a memory material into a hybrid
FPGA architecture needs to be evaluated. Table II summa-
rizes the higher-level attributes associated with each memory
A. Defect Tolerance and Reliability
Defects in non-volatile memory switches may be exhibited
as a non-programmable cross-point defect, or an incompletely
programmed switch that either causes an excessive voltage
drop across an ”on” switch or allows signal leakage through
an ”off” switch. Non-programmable defects can be dealt with
simply by provisioning adequate spares and implementing
a matching strategy at configuration time . Incompletely
SUMMARY OF MEMORY TECHNOLOGY ATTRIBUTES .
programmed switches are more difficult to quantify in terms
of bit-error rate. Device-level simulations will need to be
performed to verify the tolerability of varying resistance levels.
For the most part, metal-oxide resistance-change materials are
most desirable because they have the lowest low-resistance
states, and variations tend to be evidenced as higher resistance
values in the ”off” state.
Phase-change memory and MRAM have demonstrated suf-
ficient reliability to successfully serve in commercial non-
volatile memory applications. Each memory technology has
particular susceptibility to different failure mechanisms that
could be more apparent in a densely-packed hybrid architec-
ture. Phase-change and resistance-change memory are suscep-
tible to incomplete programming due to current and voltage
variations, which could be problematic as programming in-
dividual cells in a cross-point array can cause disturbances
to adjacent cells. Temperature-induced variation is also a
significant issue for phase-change memory because switches
are placed close together in a hybrid architecture. MRAM is
more likely to see complete device failure and switches can
be disturbed by stray fields.
Given the switching mechanisms described for each of the
non-volatile memory technologies, we do not expect lifetime
defects to become an issue. The non-volatile memory tech-
nologies described in the previous section all have demon-
strated retention times of 10 years or longer and can endure
at least 106write/erase cycles.
B. Area, Cost, and Scalability
Not only can the alternative memory technologies be fabri-
cated in a much smaller area than SRAM switches due to their
lack of transistors, but a hybrid reconfigurable architecture
provides more efficient use of silicon by moving routing and
interconnect resources from the area between logic modules
to the metal layers above the substrate. Thus, logic blocks can
be immediately adjacent, resulting in a much smaller die size.
The main cost benefit comes when considering the fact that
SRAM-based FPGAs do not retain their data and configuration
data must be reloaded to the SRAM through an external
non-volatile memory device. External memory is no longer
necessary when implementing integrated non-volatile memory
throughout the FPGA. Absolute fabrication costs are difficult
to estimate as the emerging non-volatile memory technologies
are not yet in mass production. But because they are not built
in the substrate, they can be combined with back-end-of-the-
line processing. Resistance-change metal oxides require the
fewest additional mask steps for fabrication.
The write voltage of MRAM, phase-change, and resistance-
change memories are all expected to scale down with more
advanced technology processes. While SRAM may face reli-
ability challenges with scaling due to the increasing rate of
single-event upsets (SEUs) , the emerging memory tech-
nologies do not use electron-based storage mechanisms and
are not susceptible to radiation-induced errors. Phase-change
and metal-oxide resistance-change memories are expected to
be functional beyond 10 nm process technologies .
C. Performance Considerations
The biggest factor affecting on-chip latency will be the
interconnect capacitance. The small size of the non-volatile
memory switches can lead to dense interconnect and high
parasitic capacitance. In a 65-nm process technology, the
lateral parasitic capacitance between two metal lines fabri-
cated at the minimum pitch is 0.148 fF/µm, and the vertical
parasitic capacitance between interconnect is 0.0214 fF/µm.
Segmentation of routing resources can be used to minimize
the effects of interconnect capacitance by allowing for unused
routing wires to be disconnected . Alternately, it may not
be necessary or even desirable to lay out interconnect at the
minimum metal pitch.
D. Tools and Architectural Development
Fig. 4. Hierarchical 3D interconnect structure.
When considering the multilayer interconnect of a hybrid
3D FPGA, a number of architectural modifications can be
performed to optimize defect tolerance. Current non-volatile
memory materials do not yet exhibit ideal characteristics for
implementation in reconfigurable interconnect, but designing
hierarchical interconnect where upper layer wires have sparser
arrays can provide longer connections and improve routing
efficiency. Lower interconnect layers should be partitioned
into electrically isolated segments as they will have denser
switch placement, and short wire lengths will avoid leakage
current problems presented by insufficiently high resistance
when bypassing ”off” switches. This is depicted in Figure 4.
Current placement and routing tools can be adapted to map
logic as a sea-of-gates onto a hybrid architecture while imple-
menting redundancy and signal buffering as needed. Because
current non-volatile memory technologies cannot yet match
an actual transistor in terms of resistance-switching charac-
teristics, mapping optimization should minimize the routing
of signals past switches in the high-resistance state and avoid
segmentation. Tools for mapping logic to accommodate non-
ideal switch characteristics are currently under development.
Future work will also involve the derivation of analogous
circuit design parameters to provide metrics for comparing
hybrid architectures with traditional island-style layouts.
Different non-volatile memory technologies have been eval-
uated in terms of their potential application to a hybrid
reconfigurable architecture. Hybrid FPGA architectures can
be cost-effective as the routing interconnect and configuration
switches can be fabricated above the logic blocks. The lower
endurance requirements and higher defect tolerance can allow
reconfigurable computing architectures to support emerging
memory technologies that may not yet be well-developed
enough for commercial memory applications.
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