Asymmetry of MTJ switching and its implication to STT-RAM designs

TitleAsymmetry of MTJ switching and its implication to STT-RAM designs
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsY Zhang, X Wang, Y Li, AK Jones, and Y Chen
Conference NameProceedings Design, Automation and Test in Europe, Date
Date Published05/2012

As one promising candidate for next-generation nonvolatile memory technologies, spin-transfer torque random access memory (STT-RAM) has demonstrated many attractive features, such as nanosecond access time, high integration density, non-volatility, and good CMOS process compatibility. In this paper, we reveal an important fact that has been neglected in STT-RAM designs for long: the write operation of a STT-RAM cell is asymmetric based on the switching direction of the MTJ (magnetic tunneling junction) device: the mean and the deviation of the write latency for the switching from low- to high-resistance state is much longer or larger than that of the opposite switching. Some special design concerns, e.g., the write-pattern-dependent write reliability, are raised by this observation. We systematically analyze the root reasons to form the asymmetric switching of the MTJ and study their impacts on STT-RAM write operations. These factors include the thermal-induced statistical MTJ magnetization process, asymmetric biasing conditions of NMOS transistors, and both NMOS and MTJ device variations. We also explore the design space of different design methodologies on capturing the switching asymmetry of different STT-RAM cell structures. Our experiment results proved the importance of full statistical design method in STT-RAM designs for design pessimism minimization. © 2012 EDAA.