HP Labs engineers claim they have discovered a long-sought circuit element that could lead to new ways of creating memory.
HP Labs engineers are claiming a breakthrough in the field of electrical
engineering that could lead to an entirely new class of chip memory that might
one day replace traditional DRAM technology.
In the journal Nature, engineers with HP
Labs published a paper April 30
that details the discovery of a fourth
fundamental circuit element within electrical engineering called a memristor,
short for memory resistor.
Since Leon Chua, a well-known scientist working in the computer sciences department
of the University of California at Berkley, first theorized about the existence
of the memristor more than 35 years ago in an academic paper, other electrical
engineers have been trying to prove that this element exists.
According to the paper from HP Labs, the memristor-an electrical resistor
with memory properties that retain data it has received-is the fourth element
of a circuit along with the capacitor, which stores energy in an electrical
field; the resistor, which resists the flow of electricity; and the inductor,
which resists any change to the flow of the electrical current. The properties
of the memristor cannot be duplicated by a combination of the other three
Although engineers have theorized about the memristor for decades, it was
nearly impossible to observe without close observation of nanoscale devices.
"The proof of its existence remained elusive-in part because
memristance is much more noticeable in nanoscale devices," said a summary of
the research posted on Hewlett-Packard's Web site.
"The crucial issue
for memristance is that the device's atoms need to change location when voltage
is applied, and that happens much more easily at the nanoscale."
HP Labs engineers, led by HP Senior Fellow Stanley Williams, were able to
build a model of the memristor and then build nanoscale devices in the lab that
demonstrated that the memristor did indeed exist, according to the company.
From a practical standpoint, microprocessors based on the memristor element
could form a whole new class of memory chips that could replace DRAM
(dynamic RAM). Under current conditions, a
system that uses DRAM chips lacks the
ability to retain memory in case of power failure.
To read about HP's $499 ultraportable notebook, click here.
A DRAM system would have to retrieve data
from a magnetic disk, which requires a slow boot and consumes a large amount of
power. With memristor technology, a computer would retail all the data even
after a power failure. It would also require less power to reboot after a
This type of memory could prove additionally valuable as more companies turn
toward cloud computing, in which a series of server and storage devices
consumes a large amount of power and a power failure could wipe out data for an
entire enterprise. A cloud system based on memristor technology could save
power and ensure that data would be protected in case of a power failure.
The release of this paper on April 30 marks the first
major announcement from HP Labs since Hewlett-Packard announced that it would
reorganize its lab division in March to get researchers to focus on larger
projects instead of smaller initiatives.