IBM unveils Racetrack fast memory chip prototype

IBM scientists are testing a memory chip technology they claim can achieve data access speeds hundreds of thousands of times faster than traditional hard drives or flash disks.

IBM scientists are testing a memory chip technology they claim can achieve data access speeds hundreds of thousands of times faster than traditional hard drives or flash disks.

The prototype chip consists of 256 cells, each consisting of a single magnetic nanowire, enabling information to be stored as magnetic patterns on the tiny wires, a fraction of a millimetre in size.

Magnetic read/write heads are used to create binary magnetic patterns to regions created when electric pulses are applied to the wires.

The small magnetic regions can be "raced" at speed along the wires, giving the technology its name of “Racetrack” memory.

"This breakthrough could lead to a new type of data-centric computing that allows massive amounts of stored information to be accessed in less than a billionth of a second," IBM said a statement.

The company also claims Racetrack will be more durable, with the capability of being rewritten millions of times, while many flash memory drives can become unreliable after 100,000 writes.

Despite its speed and durability, Racetrack faces a challenge from other next-generation memory technologies being explored by other companies, according to the BBC.

The IBM scientists acknowledge that more work needs to be done to optimise their process and improve "cell operation repeatability", which means there is time for competitors such as Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, Micron Technologies and even other IBM researchers to complete work on alternative memory storage techniques that they hope will become future standards.

IBM plans to release more details of the Racetrack technology at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' annual International Electron Devices meeting in Washington DC on 7 December.

“Proving this type of memory is feasible, IBM researchers are detailing the first Racetrack memory device integrated with CMOS technology on 200mm wafers, culminating seven years of physics research,” the company said.


Photo: Thinkstock

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