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This paper reviews the remarkable developments of the magnetic tunnel junction over the last decade and in particular, work aimed at demonstrating its potential for a dense, fast, and nonvolatile random access memory. The initial focus is on the technological roots of the magnetic tunnel junction, and then on the recent progress made with engineered materials for this device. Following that, we discuss the development of the magnetic random access memory (MRAM) technology, in which the magnetic tunnel junction serves as both the storage device and the storage sensing device. The emphasis is on work at IBM, including demonstrations of basic capabilities of the technology and work on a 16-Mb “product demonstrator” design in 180-nm node technology, which was targeted to be a realistic test bed for the MRAM technology. Performance and cost are compared with those of competing technologies. The paper also serves as an introduction to more specialized papers in this issue on MRAM device physics, magnetic tunnel junction materials and device characterization, MRAM processing, and MRAM design.
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