Multi retention level STT-RAM cache designs with a dynamic refresh scheme


Spin-transfer torque random access memory (STT-RAM) has received increasing attention because of its attractive features: good scalability, zero standby power, non-volatility and radiation hardness. The use of STT-RAM technology in the last level on-chip caches has been proposed as it minimizes cache leakage power with technology scaling down. Furthermore, the cell area of STT-RAM is only 1/9 ∼ 1/3 that of SRAM. This allows for a much larger cache with the same die footprint, improving overall system performance through reducing cache misses. However, deploying STT-RAM technology in L1 caches is challenging because of the long and power-consuming write operations. In this paper, we propose both L1 and lower level cache designs that use STT-RAM. In particular, our designs use STT-RAM cells with various data retention time and write performances, made possible by different magnetic tunneling junction (MTJ) designs. For the fast STT-RAM bits with reduced data retention time, a counter controlled dynamic refresh scheme is proposed to maintain the data validity. Our dynamic scheme saves more than 80% refresh energy compared to the simple refresh scheme proposed in previous works. A L1 cache built with ultra low retention STT-RAM coupled with our proposed dynamic refresh scheme can achieve 9.2% in performance improvement, and saves up to 30% of the total energy when compared to one that uses traditional SRAM. For lower level caches with relative large cache capacity, we propose a data migration scheme that moves data between portions of the cache with different retention characteristics so as to maximize the performance and power benefits. Our experiments show that on the average, our proposed multi retention level STT-RAM cache reduces 30 ∼ 70% of the total energy compared to previous works, while improving IPC performance for both 2-level and 3-level cache hierarchy. © 2011 ACM.