APRIL 30TH 2008 might well go down in electronics history. Megaboffins at the HP Labs in Palo Alto have conjured up something that was theorised back in 1971 (by Leon Chua at UC Berkeley), a fourth basic element of electronics: the memristor (a non-linear resistor with memory).
A memristor works by altering its resistance between two states (read like a 0 or a 1), and retains the state when powered down. However, they do this very fast, DRAM-fast. This technology complements current resistors, inductors and capacitors that we all know and love but has been, until the development of nanotechnology, impossible to build.
This is where Stanley Williams, Director of HP’s Quantum Science Research and henceforth known as Stan the Man, enters. Stan the Man and his team of researchers published their work in Nature magazine this Wednesday, demonstrating the mathematical model and producing a physical example of the memristor.
To create the memristor, Stan’s crew sandwiched a film of Titanium Oxide in between two slivers of platinum – all this just 5nm wide, according to the article in Nature. It sounds simple, but getting there wasn’t easy, states Stan.
This technology has the potential to provide the speed of DRAM with the storage ability of non-volatile memory, gradually replacing both. In fact, memristors have tremendous potential in just about everything electronic and could potentially usher in a new age of computing and storage, real-time and power efficient, that would allow any sort of memory-based product to be instant-on/instant off with no loss of data or power consumption.
Servers, for starters, would benefit massively from the power savings and data speeds, but even the simplest of consumer electronics stands to make some serious gains from this.
Since RAM would effectively become non-volatile, the risk of data loss through power failure would become almost negligible – whether we’re talking servers or personal computing.
This could also spell doom for HDD, DRAM and Optical disk tecnologies – one at a time - although there is no set timeframe for this technology to reach our computers.
Stan the Man’s QSR unit is already responsible for several groundbreaking technologies (and royalty earners for HP). It wouldn’t surprise us if Stan and his crew got slapped with one of these, this does represent a paradigm shift in the accepted theory of electronics, after all. µ
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