January 26, 2011

A Revolution For Computer Memory

A team of US researchers has developed a new form of computing memory that could lead to faster user-friendly computers.

The device, developed by a team at North Carolina State University, claims to combine the technology of two common types of memory used in today's computers.

The "unified" memory device is still undergoing testing. But the team believes it could form the basis of PCs that start immediately.

Currently, computers rely on two distinct forms of memory: volatile and non-volatile.

The type of memory used depends on whether data needs to be accessed quickly or stored permanently.

Volatile technologies such as random access memory (RAM) and the new variation --DRAM -- store data in such a way that it can be written and read rapidly, but the data is lost once the power is turned off.

Non-volatile devices such as flash drives and mp3 players can retain information for long periods without power.

Dr Paul Franzon and his colleagues combined the speed of DRAM with the longevity of data storage. The combination would potentially enable computer builders to produce machines that boot up almost instantly, as the information needed to start the machine could be stored in fast memory, said Franzon.

It could also lead to servers that can be powered down when not in use.

Currently, servers found in most data centers continue to eat energy when their processors are idle because the server memory cannot be turned off without affecting performance.

The device developed by Franzon and his team -- known as a double floating-gate field effect transistor -- stored data in the form of a charge, like non-volatile memory but uses a special control gate to enable the stored data to be accessed quickly.

Flash memory devices of today use a single floating gate to store an electrical charge, which represents data. "We realized that a second gate would allow us to transfer charges really quickly," Franzon told BBC News.

The team has shown they can transfer charges -- which also changes the data -- in as little as 15 nanoseconds. "That's comparable with DRAM speeds," he added.

When in non-volatile mode, the data will be stored safely for a couple of years.

The researchers published their data in the journal IEEE Computer.


Image 2: Researchers have developed a single "unified" device that can perform both volatile and nonvolatile memory operation, with applications that could affect computer start times and energy efficiency for internet servers.


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