Researchers at HP Labs have proven the existence of a fourth fundamental circuit element in electrical engineering called the memristor -- short for memory resistor. The eventual commercial development of this revolutionary device promises to give PC users instant access to their machines for the first time.
The potential existence of the memristor was first envisioned and named in 1971 by Leon Chua, a distinguished faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley. Such a device, he theorized, could enable computers to retain the machine's system instructions -- even when powered off.
In a paper published in Thursday's edition of the journal Nature, a team of four HP Labs researchers led by R. Stanley Williams demonstrate that Chua's theory can finally be implemented in today's nanoscale chip environments. "This opens up a whole new door in thinking about how chips could be designed and operated," Williams said.
Improving Performance and Energy Efficiency
The memristor is potentially revolutionary because the device exhibits the unique property of retaining a history of the information it has acquired. Moreover, memristor properties cannot be duplicated by any combination of the other three fundamental circuit elements -- the resistor, capacitor and inductor.
One reason why it took 37 years for the existence of the memristor to become proven fact is because the device's atoms need to change location whenever voltage is applied. HP researchers say the occurrence of this change is far easier to detect in today's nanometer chip circuitry.
Based on their formulation of a physics-based model for a memristor, Williams and article coauthors Dmitri Strukov, Gregory Snider and Duncan Stewart were able to build nanoscale devices in the lab that demonstrate all of the operating characteristics that Chua originally theorized for the memristor.
"By providing a mathematical model for the physics of a memristor, HP Labs has made it possible for engineers to develop integrated circuit designs that could dramatically improve the performance and energy efficiency of PCs and data centers," Williams said.
For example, HP researchers envision using memristors to develop a new kind of computer memory that would supplement -- and eventually replace -- today's dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips, which lose the information they store when powered off. By contrast, memristors would be able to retain this information even after losing power -- eliminating the need for a lengthy PC bootup process that wastes the user's time and consumes electrical power. (continued...)
Posted: 2010-04-09 @ 12:39pm PT
Sounds like an amazing discovery. Now if they can just get it into production and prove its reliability. It sure sounds like it will make a great difference in the basic design of electronic circuits, and it has been a long time since anything has done that.
Posted: 2010-04-08 @ 11:43pm PT
I don't want one until it's *proven* to be at *least* as reliable as flash memory.