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Hynix and HP sign agreement to develop memristors

by Pete Mason on 1 September 2010, 15:41

Tags: Hynix, Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ)

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qazt2

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Memristors have been promised as the future of high-speed, low-power, non-volatile storage for some time, but until now they've remained largely in the labs.  Today's announcement of a partnership between HP and memory-maker Hynix means that this technology may finally start to become a reality.

Mem-what-now?

After resistors, capacitors and inductors, memristors are considered the fourth type of passive circuit-element.  The basic principle is that its resistance will increase or decrease depending on the direction that a charge is passed through the circuit.  Then, when the power is cut-off, the memristor is able to retain the last resistance until a charge is applied to it again.  In that way, it is able to 'remember' how much current flowed through it.

The engineers at HP's research labs have been working on this for some time and in 2006 were the first to show that these sorts of circuits actually existed - earning themselves a publication in Nature for their efforts.

A better memory

One of the advantages is that memristors can be stacked on top of each other, allowing for very high-density memory.  Last year the company showed that the increase could be between four- and eight-times that of conventional memory.

According to Hynix CTO Dr S W Park, "The memristor has storage capacity abilities many times greater than what competing technologies offer. By adopting HP's memristor technology we can deliver new, energy-efficient products to our customers more quickly".

The partnership means that the two companies will work together to bring the technology out of the lab and into consumer hands.  If HP has its way, Resistive RAM (ReRAM) will replace flash in phones and MP3 players, though it has ambitions to use the memory as DRAM and in SSDs in the future.

Of course, memristors are still a long way off, but this announcement brings them one step closer to reality.



HEXUS Forums :: 8 Comments

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I was reading about this earlier, it's a really fascinating technology.

This could fundamentally change computing if it's full potential is realised. They have said it could be as fast as DRAM but used like an SSD. So if that is right, then does there need to be a “hard drive” as well as RAM in a PC? Why not just have a few hundred GB of ReRAM and install everything into the system memory?

That would be like having every application on your PC loaded and in RAM at the same time including the OS and all your files. Want to load photoshop and every other Adobe app at the same time? That would be pretty much instant.

Press the power button or pull the plug and as long as you can flush the processor cache* when you turn it on again you are back where you left it. No spooling to disk on suspend and no need for power for sleep mode.


*how about the cache made from this stuff, so then you wouldn't loose a single thing when you loose power.

Or have I got the complete wrong end of the stick on this? :)
I believe you are holding the correct end of the stick.
Funkstar
Or have I got the complete wrong end of the stick on this? :)

I think you're probably right. There's may be a capacity/speed trade off, though. I'm sure they could make DRAM speed SSDs, but it would cost so much to make decent capacity that it would be prohibitive.

The other barrier may be connecting an SSD like capacity drive over a fast enough interface that it wouldn't be a bottle neck. It would have to be incredibly high density to fit a few hundred gigabytes into traditional RAM slots.

Of course, by the time this comes out, the tech may exist to make it happen, who knows.
Funkstar
Press the power button or pull the plug and as long as you can flush the processor cache* when you turn it on again you are back where you left it. No spooling to disk on suspend and no need for power for sleep mode.


*how about the cache made from this stuff, so then you wouldn't loose a single thing when you loose power.

Or have I got the complete wrong end of the stick on this? :)
If, as you say, it can be as fast as DRAM, then what about SRAM? That's what you need for caches. Obviously the refresh requirement for DRAM goes away, not sure about the space saving vs SRAM though (but seeing as SRAM is made from <= 6 transistors, I expect a saving can be had).

As for sleep mode, it's a little more complicated that just keeping the state of your RAM and caches consistent, as you need to tell all your I/O what to do when power is cut, and what to do when power comes back, so that they behave properly when you resume activity.

But apart form that, yes it would be great. But Magnetic RAM was supposed to be great too…
Funkstar
Why not just have a few hundred GB of ReRAM and install everything into the system memory?

I'd guess for the same reason that we currently don't have more than a handful of MB of L3 cache on our processors - cost ;) Also, given that it's a nascent technology, I'd question whether it will be able to maintain speed parity with DRAM in the short to mid term. I think storage is the right short term goal as that's where the consumer is unlikely to flinch away from non-volatile RAM storage.

But if this stuff is as good as it sounds, then I don't see any reason it couldn't become ubiquitous in time… and that's another scary thought for PC security right there…