HP Reveals Memristor Breakthrough

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HP scientists said they have uncovered the chemistry of what happens inside a memristor while it is being deployed

Hewlett-Packard Labs research scientists on 16 May reported a new breakthrough in their continuing development of memristors – next-generation memory that some industry people see as an eventual replacement for NAND flash and DRAM storage.

A memristor, basically a resistor with memory, apparently has more capabilities than anybody expected. HP Labs has previously reported discovering that a memristor can perform logic, potentially enabling computation to be performed in chips where data is stored. This could mean a radical change in the way future IT is designed and built.

Memristor chemistry

HP scientists reported in the 16 May edition of the journal “Nanotechnology” that they have figured out the chemistry of what actually happens inside a memristor while it is being deployed. Up until now this had been mostly a mystery.

Although HP is confident it will eventually commercialise memristors, this discovery is important because it will enable HP to greatly improve its performance, Senior Fellow Stan Williams wrote in the article.

“We were on a path where we would have had something that works reasonably well, but this improves our confidence and should allow us to improve the devices such that they are significantly better,” Williams wrote.

The Fourth Basic Circuit Element

The memristor – short for memory resistor – is viewed by HP engineers as the fourth basic circuit element in chip engineering, up there with the resistor, capacitor and inductor.

At the Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara, California, in August 2009, Williams described the memristor this way: “This is sort of the missing element of the processor puzzle. It takes its place alongside the resistor, capacitor and inductor [as the fourth basic circuit element in chip engineering]. And it could change the way we do IT.”

In summary, let’s just say adding a memristor to a solid-state NAND flash drive can be like putting it on steroids.

Since flash media already owns the fastest I/O speeds known to IT science, increasing that speed tenfold or by a higher magnitude – HP’s conservative estimate at this time – is certainly an intriguing proposition for processor engineers and IT systems makers.

The idea behind the memristor was first publicised in 1971 by Prof. Leon Chua at the University of California, Berkeley. HP researchers first showed the memristor’s existence in practice.

Two years later, Nature magazine published HP’s finding that the memristor exists, and in 2009, engineers at HP Labs showed that memristors could be stacked, suggesting that a chip could offer four to eight times the memory capacity of traditional technologies.

In April 2010, HP officials said its researchers had found that the memristor also could perform digital logic, setting the stage for the creation of a memristor product that could act as both a computing chip and a storage technology, taking the place of traditional storage technologies – including flash and hard drives – and even CPUs.

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