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An EPROM (rarely EROM), or erasable programmable read only memory, is a type of memory chip that retains its data when its power supply is switched off. In other words, it is non-volatile. It is an array of floating-gate transistors individually programmed by an electronic device that supplies higher voltages than those normally used in digital circuits. Once programmed, an EPROM can be erased by exposing it to strong ultraviolet light from a mercury-vapor light source. EPROMs are easily recognizable by the transparent fused quartz window in the top of the package, through which the silicon chip is visible, and which permits exposure to UV light during erasing.



Development of the EPROM memory cell started with investigation of faulty integrated circuits where the gate connections of transistors had broken. Stored charge on these isolated gates changed their properties. The EPROM was invented by Dov Frohman of Intel in 1971, who was awarded US patent 3660189 in 1972.

Each storage location of an EPROM consists of a single field-effect transistor. Each field-effect transistor consists of a channel in the semiconductor body of the device. Source and drain contacts are made to regions at the end of the channel. An insulating layer of oxide is grown over the channel, then a conductive (silicon or aluminum) gate electrode is deposited, and a further thick layer of oxide is deposited over the gate electrode. The floating gate electrode has no connections to other parts of the integrated circuit and it completely insulated by the surrounding layers of oxide. A control gate electrode is deposited and further oxide covers it. [1]

To retrieve data from the EPROM, the address represented by the values at the address pins of the EPROM is decoded and used to connect one word (usually an 8-bit byte) of storage to the output buffer amplifiers. Each bit of the word is a 1 or 0, depending on the storage transistor being switched on or off, conducting or non-conducting.

The switching state of the field-effect transistor is controlled by the voltage on the control gate of the transistor. Presence of a voltage on this gate creates a conductive channel in the transistor, switching it on. In effect, the stored charge on the floating gate allows the threshold voltage of the transistor to be programmed.

Storing data in the memory requires selecting a given address and applying a higher voltage to the transistors. This creates an avalanche discharge of electrons, which have enough energy to pass through the insulating oxide layer and accumulate on the gate electrode. When the high voltage is removed, the electrons are trapped on the electrode. [2] Because of the high insulation value of the silicon oxide surrounding the gate, the stored charge cannot readily leak away and the data can be retained for decades.

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