Thinking Tech

HP memristor ready for manufacturing

HP memristor ready for manufacturing

Posting in Design

The HP memristor works by moving electricity through a thin film of titanium dioxide, reading the shift of an atom at a crossbar junction by as little as a nanometer as a change in resistance. The shift remains after the power is then turned off.

HP, demonstrating the scientific chops usually attributed to IBM, has made a memristor -- a combination resistor and memory storage device -- that's as fast as current memory chips.

The company first publicized its discovery in 2008, even producing a 3D memristor, but now has had a paper posted at Nature explaining both the concept and its work.

In addition to making them switch on-and-off just as fast as current memory, the paper says HP has now shown them to be reliable.

This is a game-changer in several ways:

  • Memristors are smaller than conventional devices -- HP is already working with 3 nanometer devices where the state-of-the-art of silicon memory is at 40 nm.
  • Memristors can be packed in three dimensions, meaning devices can be smaller.
  • Memristors can store a charge and switch it as well, previously separate computer functions.
  • Memristors can retain data while off, allowing for "instant-on" computing.
  • Memristors can allow for the design of computers that more closely mimic how real brains work.

The idea of a memristor is credited to Leon Chua, who published his first paper on the concept in 1971, 37 years before HP was able to demonstrate it in its lab. Chua is still at UC-Berkeley.

HP has been active in memory research for a long time. Back in 2006 I wrote about their work on memory spots, a combination radio and memory chip that could power wireless sensor applications.

The HP memristor works by moving electricity through a thin film of titanium dioxide, reading the shift of an atom at a crossbar junction by as little as a nanometer as a change in resistance. The shift remains after the power is then turned off, unlike conventional memory which must be reloaded from storage.

As Simon Bisson and Mary Brunscombe note over at ZDNet UK, the challenge now is to get memristors out of the lab and into production, not just as devices but as products. That will take a few years.

But Moore's Law just went into hyperdrive.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure