IBM working on racetrack memory

April 14, 2008 // 11:52 a.m.

Tags: #almaden #big-blue #ibm #nanotechnology #racetrack #solid-state #spintronics #storage

IBM has announced a new technology which could massively increase the storage available to portable devices whilst correcting some of the shortcomings of current flash memory.

In the April 11th issue of Science magazine, IBM researchers detailed experiments in storing information in columns of magnetic nanowires which they dubbed “racetracks” arranged on a silicon wafer. These columns store data on the spin of the electrons, rather than as a magnetic impulse, a technique known to nanotechnologists as spintronics. No, really: spintronics.

Stuart Parkin, IBM Fellow and one of the researchers over at the company's Almaden Research Center, believes that the technology could lead to a “nonvolatile memory device with the high performance and reliability of conventional solid-state memory but at the low cost of conventional magnetic disk drive storage.” Parkin describes the work as "an exciting adventure" and believes that racetrack memory has the potential to "unleash creativity leading to devices and applications that nobody has imagined yet."

The hope is to produce three-dimensional racetracks which will be able to store vast quantities of data in a remarkably small space, with no moving parts to drain batteries or crash at critical moments. Another major advantage of the technology is that the racetrack memory can be written to an unlimited number of times, unlike the limited write lifespan of current flash memory.

As with most of the exciting technology reported in the annals of Science, the team is quite some way away from a marketable product: the best guess is that we'll be stuck with flash memory for at least the next ten years, by which time the cost of solid-state drives might have come down to a level at which racetrack memory loses the price advantage. Still, an infinitely-writeable non-volatile solid-state memory device will be worth waiting for.

Hoping to see IBM make a go of racetrack memory, or is it just another pie-in-the-sky idea? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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