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Nov 30 2019

Ferroelectric Random Access Memory Technique

Ⅰ. Introduction

With the improvement of computer technology, the demand for non-volatile memory is increasing, their read and write speed requirements are getting faster and faster, and the power consumption  are becoming smaller and smaller as required by users. But the traditional non-volatile memory such as EEPROM , FLASH, etc. have been difficult to meet these needs.

Traditional mainstream semiconductor memories can be divided into two categories: volatile and nonvolatile. Volatile memory includes static random access memory (SRAM) and dynamic random access memory (DRAM). Both SRAM and DRAM lose their saved data when power off. Although RAM is easy to use and performs well, a big disadvantage of it is data loss.

Non-volatile memory does not lose stored data in the case of a power failure, because all mainstream non-volatile memories are derived from read-only memory (ROM) technology. ROM, what is called a read-only memory is definitely not easy to write, in fact, it cannot be written at all. All memories developed by ROM technology are difficult to write data, including EPROM, EEPROM and Flash. And these memories not only have a slow writing speed, but also can only be erased and written in a limited number of times.

Based on improving semiconductor technologies, ferroelectric memory, a new type of memories, has some unique characteristics. Ferroelectric memory is compatible with all the functions of RAM, and it is a non-volatile memory like a ROM. In other words, ferroelectric memory bridges the gap between these two types of storage, a type of non-volatile RAM. Compared with traditional non-volatile memory, it has attracted much attention due to its advantages such as low power consumption, fast read and write speed, and strong anti-irradiation capability.

 Non-Volatile Ferroelectric RAM

Ⅱ. Terminology

This vedio shares the industry view of 1st generation FRAM (F-RAM, FeRAM), how it works, and when to choose it.

Ferroelectric memory (FRAM) is a type of random access memory with fast read and write speed, and the ability to retain data after power is turned off (such as read-only memory and flash memory) is combined, which is the most commonly used type of personal computer memory. Since it is not as dense as dynamic random access memory (DRAM) and static random access memory (SRAM), that is, it cannot store as much data as they do in the same space. In other words, it cannot replace DRAM and SRAM technologies. However, because it can store data quickly with very low power conditions, it is widely used in consumers small devices, such as personal digital assistants (PDA), mobile phones, power meters, smart cards, and security systems. FRAMs read and write speed is faster than flash memory. In some applications, it may also replace electrically erasable read-only memory (EEPROM) and static random access memory (SRAM), and will become a key component of future wireless products.

 

Ⅲ. Working Principle

A ferroelectric is a material containing a crystal that can spontaneously polarize. It has two states that can be reversed by an external electric field. When an electric field is applied to the ferroelectric crystal, the central atom moves in the crystal following the electric field direction. When an atom moving, it passes through an energy barrier, causing charge breakdown. Internal circuits react to the charge breakdown and set the memory. After the electric field is removed, the central atom remains polarization state, which makes the materials non-volatile, so the state of the memory is preserved. Because there is no atomic collision in the entire physical process, the ferroelectric memory has the characteristics of high read and write speed, ultra-low power consumption, and unlimited writes, making it very suitable to act as temporary storage memory in important systems to transfer various data between subsystems, for each subsystem to read and write frequently.

Therefore, with an external electric field, the polarization characteristics of ferroelectric materials will change. When this electric field is removed, the data can still be saved. Without an external electric field, there are two stable states of polarization characteristics. Figure 1 is a hysteresis loop of a ferroelectric material capacitor, showing the different polarities of the ferroelectric capacitor under different applied electric fields. Among them, the two most important parameters are the degree of residual polarization Pr, and the coercive field Ec. In the absence of electric field effect, +/- Pr represents two states of 0 and 1. To obtain these two states, the applied electric field must be greater than +/- Ec, at this time, the required threshold voltage is also determined.

Ferroelectric Hysteresis Loop

Figure 1. Ferroelectric Hysteresis Loop

The industry explores the use of ferroelectric materials for DRAM: using them as dielectric materials in DRAM capacitors. That is, ferroelectrics are used to replace high-K dielectric materials in standard logic devices, and finally non-volatile transistors are formed, which are FeFETs. The two stable polarization states of the ferroelectric gate oxide change the threshold voltage of the transistor, even when the supply voltage is removed. Therefore, the binary state is encoded in the threshold voltage of the transistor. The writing operation of the memory cell can be completed by applying a pulse on the gate of the transistor, which will change the polarization state of the ferroelectric material and affect the threshold voltage. For example, applying a positive pulse will reduce the threshold voltage, making the transistor in the on state. Reading is done by measuring the drain current. This memory mode is similar to the operating mode of a NAND flash: electrons are injected and drawn out of the floating gate, which adjusting the threshold voltage of the transistor.

In contrast, the leakage current factor of ferroelectric capacitors is not as important as traditional non-volatile memories such as EEPROM and FLASH, because the information storage of FeRAM is realized by polarization, not free electrons.

 

Ⅳ. FRAM Material Features

Ideal ferroelectric materials need to meet the following characteristics:

  • Small dielectric constant

  • Reasonable self-polarization degree (~ 5μC/ cm2)

  • High Curie temperature (outside the storage and operating temperature range of the device)

  • The thickness of ferroelectric materials should be thin (submicron) to make the coercive field EC smaller. 

  • Ferroelectric materials should stand a certain breakdown filed strength.

  • Internal switching speed should be fast (nanosecond level)

  • The ability to keep the data and the long-lasting ability will be good.

  • If used by the military, it is also required to be able to resist radiation exposure. 

  • Good chemical stability

  • Good processing uniformity

  • Easy to integrate into CMOS process

  • No bad effect on the surrounding circuits

  • Small pollution

 

After years of research and development, there are currently two main types of mainstream ferroelectric materials: PZT and SBT.

PZT is lead zirconate titanate PbZrxTil-xO3; SBT is strontium bismuth tantalate Sr1-yBi2 + xTa2O9. The structure of these two materials is shown in Figure 2.

Schematic Diagram of PZT and SBT Material Structure 

Figure 2. Schematic Diagram of PZT and SBT Material Structure

PZT is the most studied and widely used. Its advantage is that it can be made at lower temperatures by sputtering and MOCVD. It has the advantages of large residual polarization, cheap raw materials, and low crystallization temperature.; its disadvantages are fatigue degradation problems, and lead pollution to the environment. Moreover, the film deposition process of these materials has proved to be very challenging. At the same time, the extremely high dielectric constant (about 300) of these materials is a big obstacle to their integration into transistors.

In addition, scientists have discovered the presence of a ferroelectric phase in a less complex material, hafnium oxide (HfO2), which raise a new concept of storage concept. The researchers found that the ferroelectric phase) can be stabilized by doping silicon (Si) into HfO2. Compared with PZT, HfO2 has a lower dielectric constant and can deposit thin films in a conformal manner (ie, the atomic layer deposition (ALD) process). Most importantly, scientists are familiar with HfO2, because it is the HK gate oxide material in the logic device HKMG. By modifying this CMOS-compatible material, logic transistors can become non-volatile FeFET memory transistors.

Functional verification of FeFETs has been implemented in a two-dimensional planar architecture. At the same time, the HfO2 conformal deposition process makes 3D stacking possible, for example, depositing ferroelectric materials on vertical “walls’ to stack transistors in a vertical direction.

In terms of materials, 3D FeFETs can solve some of the challenges brought by 2D FeFET structures. One challenge is related to the polycrystalline nature of the HfO2. Scaling the thickness of the HfO2 film will significantly reduce the number of grains in this layer. Because not all the crystal grains have the same polarization direction, the reduction of crystal grains will affect the consistency of the transistor’s response to the external electric field, and eventually lead to large differences between the tubes. By 3D stacking, this drawback is overcome in physical filed. That is, HfO2 does not need to be compressed too thinly, thereby reducing tube-to-tube variation.

These vertical FeFETs are expected to have more advantages than complex 3D NAND flash memory, including simple process, lower power consumption and faster speed. Compared to 3D NAND flash memory, vertical FeFET can be programmed at a lower voltage, which improves memory reliability and scalability.

Ferroelectric RAM Structure Diagram

The biggest advantage of SBT is that it does not have the problem of fatigue degradation, and it does not contain lead, which meets EU environmental standards; however, its disadvantages are that the process temperature is higher, which makes the process integration difficult, and the degree of residual polarization is small. The comparison of the two materials is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Comparison between PZT and SBT


PZT

SBT

Structure

ABO3

Layered structure

Deposition technology

Sol-gel,MOCVD

Sol-gel,MOCVD

Process temperature

450~700

750~850

Residual polarity

30

12

Fatigue

1010

1010

Data hold

85@10a

-

At present, from the perspective of environmental protection, PZT has been banned, but from the perspective of performance and process integration of ferroelectric memory and cost, SBT has no advantages compared to PZT. Therefore, the selection of ferroelectric materials is worth discussing.

 

Ⅴ. Circuit Structure

The circuit structure of the ferroelectric memory is mainly divided into the following three types: 2 transistors-2 capacitors (2T2C), 1 transistor-2 capacitors (1T2C), 1 transistor-1 capacitor (1T1C), as shown in Figure 3. The 2T2C structure has two opposite capacitors for each bit as a reference to each other, so the reliability is better, but occupies too much space, which is not suitable for high-density applications. The transistor / single capacitor structure can be used like a DRAM to provide a reference for each column of the memory array, compared with the existing 2T2C structure, they effectively reduce the required space of the memory cell by half. This design greatly improves the efficiency of ferroelectric memory and reduces the production cost of ferroelectric memory products. The 1T1C structure has a higher integration density (8F2), but its reliability is poor. And the 1T2C structure is a compromise between these two structures. 

Ferroelectric RAM Structure (a)

Ferroelectric RAM Structure (b)

Ferroelectric RAM Structure (c)

Figure 3. Three FRAM Structures

At present, in order to obtain a high-density memory, 1T1C structure is mostly used (as shown in Figure 4). In addition, a chain structure is also adopted, thus Chain FeRAM is made. This structure is similar to the NAND structure. Through this method, a higher storage density than 1T1C can be obtained, but this method will also greatly increase the access time. Chain FeRAM (CFeRAM) structure is shown in Figure 5.

1T1C Layout 

Figure 4. 1T1C Layout

 Chain FeRAM (CFeRAM) Circuit Structure

Figure 5. Chain FeRAM (CFeRAM) Circuit Structure

Ⅵ. Reading and Writing Process

According to the polarity of the electronic memory cell, a small charge amount is 0 and a large charge amount is 1. This charge is converted into a reading voltage, which is 0 when it is less than the reference voltage and when it is greater than the reference voltage represents 1. The stored information is read out as shown in Figure 6.

Reading and Writing Process of FRAM 

Figure 6. Reading and Writing Process of FRAM

During the reading process, the word line voltage is increased to turn on the MOS transistor, and then the drive line voltage is increased as VCC, so that different charges of the storage capacitor are distributed to the bit line parasitic capacitance, so different voltages appear on the BL to identify the data. During a writing process, the word line is raised to turn on the MOS transistor, and a pulse is applied to the drive line, so that different data on the bit line are stored in two different steady states of the ferroelectric capacitor.

By adding a positive voltage or a negative voltage, these two voltages can make the capacitor into two different polarities. In this way, the information is written into the memory.

 

Ⅶ. FRAM Structure

At present, the most common device structures of ferroelectric memories are planar and stack structures. The difference between the two is the location of the dry ferroelectric capacitor and the way in which the capacitor is connected to the MOS tube. In the planar structure, the capacitor is placed above the field oxide, and the electrode of the capacitor is connected to the active area of the MOS tube through metal aluminum. The process is relatively simple, but the unit spacing is large. In the stack structure, the capacitor is placed in the source region, the lower electrode of the capacitor is connected to the source terminal of the MOS tube through a plug based on CMP process, which has a high integration density. In addition, the stack structure can adopt the method of making ferroelectric capacitors on metal wires, thereby reducing the mutual influence during the formation process. The following schematic diagrams of the two structures are shown in Figure 7 and Figure 8.

Planar Structure 

Figure 7. Planar Structure

 Stack Structure

Figure 8. Stack Structure

The process of the planar structure is relatively simple. The isolation uses the LOCOS structure, and the planarization does not require the CMP. The stacked structure has a high degree of integration based on advanced technique, and STI is used for isolation, in addition, CMP is required for planarization, and copper wires can be used.

In addition, there is a structure that uses a ferroelectric material as the gate. Such a device can eliminate the destructive problem of data readout, and theoretically it is more space-saving and can make more greater integration. However, there are still serious problems with this structure, that is, the data storage capacity is very poor, only one month or less, so it is far from practical. Figure 9 is a schematic diagram of such a structure.

 FeFET Structure

Figure 9. FeFET Structure Diagram

At present, the ferroelectric memory generally adopts a planar structure with the line width more than 0.5 μm, and generally uses a stack structure when the line width is less than 0.5 μm.

 

Ⅸ. Comparison of FRAM with Other Storage Technologies

At present, Ramtrons FRAM mainly includes two categories: serial FRAM and parallel FRAM. Among them, serial FRAM is divided into I2C two-line FM24×× series and SPI three-line FM25xx series. Serial FRAM is compatible with the traditional 24xx and 25xx E2PROM pins and timing, which can be directly replaced.

FRAM products have the advantages of RAM and ROM, and fast read and write speed, in addition, they can be used as non-volatile memory. Due to the shortcoming of ferroelectric crystals, the number of accesses is limited, beyond which FRAM is no longer non-volatile. The maximum access times given is 10 billion, but it not means FRAM will be scrapped when over this upper limit. In the terms of it, FRAM is not non-volatile, but it can still be used as an ordinary RAM.

  • FRAM vs E2PROM

FRAM can be used as a second option for E2PROM. Except the performance of E2PROM, the FRAM access speed is much faster. When using FRAM, it must be determined that once there are 10 billion accesses is down to FRAM in the system, there is no damage.

  • FRAM vs SRAM

In terms of speed, price, and convenience, SRAM is better than FRAM; but from the perspective of the entire design, FRAM has certain advantages.

Non-volatile FRAM can hold startup programs and configuration information. If the maximum access speed of all the memories in the application is 70ns, one piece of FRAM can be used to complete the system, making the system structure more simpler.

  • FRAM vs DRAM

DRAM is suitable for applications where density and price are more important than access speed. For example, DRAM is the best choice for graphics display memory. There are a large number of pixels to be stored, and the recovery time is not very important. If you dont need to save the last content at the next boot, use volatile DRAM memory. The role and cost of DRAM are reasonable compared with FRAM. In short, it turns out that DRAM cannot be replaced by FRAM totally.

  • FRAM vs Flash

At present, the most commonly used program memory is Flash, which is more convenient and cheaper to use. The program memory must be non-volatile, and easier to rewrite, but the use of FRAM is limited by access times.

Ferroelectric RAM Technology

Ⅹ. Summary

Ferroelectric memory is an emerging non-volatile memory. It started early and realized industrialization. Because of its advantages such as low power consumption, fast read and write speed, and strong anti-irradiation capabilities, there is a market for small-scale storage areas with low power consumption and radiation resistance. Having the characteristic of anti-radiation, in the case of electromagnetic waves or radiation, the data is still safe, so it has important applications in space science, medicine and other specific fields. However, the ferroelectric memory also has the disadvantages that it is difficult to improve the integration, the process is more contaminated, and it is difficult to be compatible with the CMOS techniqueSo that it needs further research and solution.

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