Quest for More Computer Memory Ongoing

NEW YORK, Aug. 31 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say new technologies may bypass barriers to the miniaturization of computer memory, vital to the consumer electronics revolution.

The limits of physics had loomed as a possible slowdown in the pace of miniaturization that has allowed the ability to pack ever more power into ever-smaller devices such as laptops, smart phones and digital cameras, The New York Times reported.

Now two emerging technologies could overcome that barrier, researchers say.

At Rice University, scientists say they have succeeded in building reliable small digital switches, essential to computer memory, that could be made at a significantly smaller scale than is possible using conventional methods.

Based on silicon oxide, one of the basic building blocks of today’s chip industry, the new technology could yield single chips that store as much as today’s highest capacity disk drives, the Rice researchers say.

Hewlett Packard says it will announce a commercial partnership with a major semiconductor company to produce a related technology that also could advance computer data storage to unheard-of densities in the next decade.

HP and the Rice scientists are both making what are called memristors, or memory resistors, switches that retain information without a source of power.

Meanwhile, IBM, Intel and other companies are promoting a competing technology, phase-change memory, using heat to transform a glassy material from an amorphous state to a crystalline one and back.

Phase-change memory is being pushed as a promising technology for so-called flash chips, which retain information after power is switched off.

“There are a lot of new technologies pawing for attention,” Richard Doherty, president of a consumer electronics market research company, said. “When you get down to these scales, you’re talking about the ability to store hundreds of movies on a single chip.”

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