A programmable read-only memory (PROM) is a form of digital memory where the setting of each bit is locked by a fuse or antifuse. (eFUSEs can also be used) It is one type of ROM (read-only memory). The data in them are permanent and cannot be changed. PROMs are used in digital electronic devices to store permanent data, usually low level programs such as firmware or microcode. The key difference from a standard ROM is that the data is written into a ROM during manufacture, while with a PROM the data is programmed into them after manufacture. Thus, ROMs tend to be used only for large production runs with well-verified data, while PROMs are used to allow companies to test on a subset of the devices in an order before burning data into all of them.
PROMs are manufactured blank and, depending on the technology, can be programmed at wafer, final test, or in system. Blank PROM chips are programmed by plugging them into a device called a PROM programmer. The availability of this technology allows companies to keep a supply of blank PROMs in stock, and program them at the last minute to avoid large volume commitment. These types of memories are frequently used in microcontrollers, video game consoles, mobile phones, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, implantable medical devices, high-definition multimedia interfaces (HDMI) and in many other consumer and automotive electronics products.
The PROM was invented in 1956 by Wen Tsing Chow, working for the Arma Division of the American Bosch Arma Corporation in Garden City, New York. The invention was conceived at the request of the United States Air Force to come up with a more flexible and secure way of storing the targeting constants in the Atlas E/F ICBM's airborne digital computer. The patent and associated technology were held under secrecy order for several years while the Atlas E/F was the main operational missile of the United States ICBM force. The term burn, referring to the process of programming a PROM, is also in the original patent, as one of the original implementations was to literally burn the internal whiskers of diodes with a current overload to produce a circuit discontinuity. The first PROM programming machines were also developed by Arma engineers under Mr. Chow's direction and were located in Arma's Garden City lab and Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) headquarters.
OTP (one time programmable) memory is a special type of non-volatile memory (NVM) that permits data to be written to memory only once. Once the memory has been programmed, it retains its value upon loss of power (i.e., is non-volatile). OTP memory is used in applications where reliable and repeatable reading of data is required. Examples include boot code, encryption keys and configuration parameters for analog, sensor or display circuitry. OTP NVM is characterized, over other types of NVM like eFuse or EEPROM, by offering a low power, small area footprint memory structure. As such OTP memory finds application in products from microprocessors & display drivers to Power Management ICs (PMICs).
Commercially available semiconductor antifuse-based OTP memory arrays have been around at least since 1969, with initial antifuse bit cells dependent on blowing a capacitor between crossing conductive lines. Texas Instruments developed a MOS gate oxide breakdown antifuse in 1979. A dual-gate-oxide two-transistor (2T) MOS antifuse was introduced in 1982. Early oxide breakdown technologies exhibited a variety of scaling, programming, size and manufacturing problems that prevented volume production of memory devices based on these technologies.
Although antifuse-based PROM has been available for decades, it wasn’t available in standard CMOS until 2001 when Kilopass Technology Inc. patented 1T, 2T, and 3.5T antifuse bit cell technologies using a standard CMOS process, enabling integration of PROM into logic CMOS chips. The first process node antifuse can be implemented in standard CMOS is 0.18 um. Since the gate oxide breakdown is less than the junction breakdown, special diffusion steps were not required to create the antifuse programming element. In 2005, a split channel antifuse device was introduced by Sidense. This split channel bit cell combines the thick (IO) and thin (gate) oxide devices into one transistor (1T) with a common polysilicon gate.
A typical PROM comes with all bits reading as "1". Burning a fuse bit during programming causes the bit to read as "0". The memory can be programmed just once after manufacturing by "blowing" the fuses, which is an irreversible process.
The bit cell is programmed by applying a high-voltage pulse not encountered during a normal operation across the gate and substrate of the thin oxide transistor (around 6 V for a 2 nm thick oxide, or 30 MV/cm) to break down the oxide between gate and substrate. The positive voltage on the transistor's gate forms an inversion channel in the substrate below the gate, causing a tunneling current to flow through the oxide. The current produces additional traps in the oxide, increasing the current through the oxide and ultimately melting the oxide and forming a conductive channel from gate to substrate. The current required to form the conductive channel is around 100 µA/100 nm2 and the breakdown occurs in approximately 100 µs or less.
- Han-Way Huang (5 December 2008). Embedded System Design with C805. Cengage Learning. p. 22. ISBN 978-1-111-81079-5. Archived from the original on 27 April 2018.
- Marie-Aude Aufaure; Esteban Zimányi (17 January 2013). Business Intelligence: Second European Summer School, eBISS 2012, Brussels, Belgium, July 15-21, 2012, Tutorial Lectures. Springer. p. 136. ISBN 978-3-642-36318-4. Archived from the original on 27 April 2018.
- See US Patent 4184207 - High density floating gate electrically programmable ROM, and US Patent 4151021 Archived 2018-04-27 at the Wayback Machine - Method of making a high density floating gate electrically programmable ROM
- Chip Planning Portal. ChipEstimate.com. Retrieved on 2013-08-10.
- See US Patent 7402855 split channel antifuse device
- Wlodek Kurjanowicz (2008). "Evaluating Embedded Non-Volatile Memory for 65nm and Beyond" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2009-09-04.
- 1977 Intel Memory Design Handbook - archive.org
- Intel PROM datasheets - intel-vintage.info
- View the US "Switch Matrix" Patent #3028659 at US Patent Office or Google
- View Kilopass Technology Patent US "High density semiconductor memory cell and memory array using a single transistor and having variable gate oxide breakdown" Patent #6940751 at US Patent Office or Google
- View Sidense US "Split Channel Antifuse Array Architecture" Patent #7402855 at US Patent Office or Google
- View the US "Method of Manufacturing Semiconductor Integrated Circuits" Patent #3634929 at US Patent Office or Google
- CHOI et al. (2008). "New Non-Volatile Memory Structures for FPGA Architectures"
- For the Advantages and Disadvantages table, see Ramamoorthy, G: "Dataquest Insight: Nonvolatile Memory IP Market, Worldwide, 2008-2013", page 10. Gartner, 2009
- Looking inside a 1970s PROM chip that stores data in microscopic fuse - shows die of a 256x4 MMI 5300 PROM