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Nanotechnology Holds the Key to the Ultradense NRAM Digital Memory of the Future, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

In 2008, a team of researchers at HP Labs announced the development of a switching memristor, a fourth basic element in integrated circuits that theoretically could enable the development of computers that power on and off like electric lights.  Memristor is short for memory resistor.

By 2009, Samsung, Micron Technology and Unity Semiconductor were also working on memristor technologies.  HP reported an important advance in memristor technology in early 2010.  The firm developed a three-dimensional array which allows memristors to be stacked in the thousands, making a new class of ultradense computing devices possible.  (A similar technology is known as ReRAM, short for resistive RAM memory, also called RRAM; both ReRAM and memristor chips have great potential to overcome bottlenecks in circuits that we are now encountering.)

Such molecular memory technology should eventually lead to the replacement of hard drives with such chips and to the development of computers and other devices that have nearly instant boot up.  Nantero is among the firms that have made strides in this field, by fabricating nanotube-based semiconductor products, calls its technology Nano-RAM or “NRAM.”  Nantero is collaborating with other firms to accelerate the development of commercial applications for nanotube-based electronics.  The company was producing test batches of NRAM by early 2015, and has at least a dozen early customers lined up for the products.

NRAM has the potential to be produced in five nanometer densities, or perhaps even smaller.  It is vastly denser and powerful than the current NAND flash memory devices that it may replace.  (NAND had progressed to the 15-nanometer density stage by 2015.)  NRAM not only has extremely high-speed read/write capability, it also has an advantage in that it is able to withstand extreme heat. 

NRAM and other ultradense, high-speed technologies may be widely available in commercial quantities by 2022-23.  NRAM does face competition from FRAM (Ferrolectric RAM), as well as from Racetrack Memory (an IBM project), PCM (Phase-Change Memory), MRAM (Magnetoresistive Random-Access Memory) and CBRAM (Conductive-Bridging RAM).  Memristor research at HP and elsewhere is also upping the competition.

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley are finding that memory chips based on nanotubes and iron particles have the possibility of storing data for a billion years or more.  The tiny dimensions a nanotube safeguard it from friction as electrons move repeatedly through the tube.


Memristors:  Beyond the Silicon Era, Enabling HP’s Advanced Computer “The Machine”

Chips based on silicon may be nearing the end of any further, cost-effective advancements in speed and transistor density.  A leading contender to replace silicon chips is known as the memristor.  Features and advantages of this nanoscale chip include:

·         Significantly lower power usage

·         Instant boot-up (memristors do not lose data when the power is turned off)

·         Ultrafast data access

·         Multi-state operation (not limited to binary functions)

Computer maker HP and semiconductor maker SK Hynix are leading pioneers in this field.  HP Labs has been at work on an entirely new type of computer, currently referred to as “The Machine.”  It will be based on memristors made by SK Hynix.  HP engineers expect The Machine to be much more compact, faster, more energy efficient and generally more powerful than any technology currently on the market. 

It will rely on lasers (photonics) for faster. optical circuitry (instead of traditional copper wires.  The designers are attempting to create a computer technology that can be scaled up to replace large data centers, or eventually scaled down to enhance laptops and PCs.  A server built on The Machine platform would be about six times more powerful than existing servers while consuming 80 times less electricity.

HP split into two firms in November 2015:  Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which will focus on solutions for businesses, and HP, Inc., focused on consumer products.  HP Labs has been greatly reduced in size in recent years, but its core research in chips and other devices has been continued.



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