Crossroads

At the intersection of technology, finance and the Pacific Rim.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Technology: It Never Stops

The NY Times reported today that HP is working on new semiconductor technology which may challenge Flash Memory and other devices within 3 years. Some key points (quoting):

Hewlett-Packard scientists on Thursday are to report advances in the design of a new class of diminutive switches capable of replacing transistors as computer chips shrink closer to the atomic scale. The devices, known as memristors, or memory resistors, were conceived in 1971 by Leon O. Chua, an electrical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, but they were not put into effect until 2008 at the H.P. lab here.

The most advanced transistor technology today is based on minimum feature sizes of 30 to 40 nanometers — by contrast a biological virus is typically about 100 nanometers — and Dr. Williams said that H.P. now has working 3-nanometer memristors that can switch on and off in about a nanosecond, or a billionth of a second. He said the company could have a competitor to flash memory in three years that would have a capacity of 20 gigabytes a square centimeter.“We believe that that is at least a factor of two better storage than flash memory will be able to have in that time frame,” he said.

The H.P. technology is based on the ability to use an electrical current to move atoms within an ultrathin film of titanium dioxide. After the location of an atom has been shifted, even by as little as a nanometer, the result can be read as a change in the resistance of the material. That change persists even after the current is switched off, making it possible to build an extremely low-power device. The new material offers an approach that is radically different from a promising type of storage called “phase-change memory” being pursued by I.B.M., Intel and other companies. In a phase-change memory, heat is used to shift a glassy material from an amorphous to a crystalline state and back. The switching speed of these systems is slower and requires more power, the H.P. scientists say.



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