Enhancing lifetime and security of PCM-based main memory with start-gap wear leveling

Abstract

Phase Change Memory (PCM) is an emerging memory technology that can increase main memory capacity in a cost-effective and power-efficient manner. However, PCM cells can endure only a maximum of 10<sup>7</sup> - 10<sup>8</sup> writes, making a PCM based system have a lifetime of only a few years under ideal conditions. Furthermore, we show that non-uniformity in writes to different cells reduces the achievable lifetime of PCM system by 20x. Writes to PCM cells can be made uniform with <i>Wear-Leveling</i>. Unfortunately, existing wear-leveling techniques require large storage tables and indirection, resulting in significant area and latency overheads. We propose <i>Start-Gap</i>, a simple, novel, and effective wear-leveling technique that uses only two registers. By combining <i>Start-Gap</i> with simple address-space randomization techniques we show that the achievable lifetime of the baseline 16GB PCM-based system is boosted from 5% (with no wear-leveling) to 97% of the theoretical maximum, while incurring a total storage overhead of less than 13 bytes and obviating the latency overhead of accessing large tables. We also analyze the security vulnerabilities for memory systems that have limited write endurance, showing that under adversarial settings, a PCM-based system can fail in less than one minute. We provide a simple extension to <i>Start-Gap</i> that makes PCM-based systems robust to such malicious attacks.

DOI: 10.1145/1669112.1669117

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