Hewlett-Packard is about three years away from taking its memristor technology from the research lab to the marketplace.
HP officials announced Aug. 31 that the company has entered into a joint development agreement with memory supplier Hynix Semiconductor to develop and bring the technology to future products.
The two companies together will put in place the necessary materials and processes to commercially develop the memristor technology, which is being developed under the name of ReRAM (Resistive Random Access Memory) and will be manufactured in Hynix's fabs.
The result, according to HP officials, will be a technology that will perform better than the current Flash technology found on such devices as mobile handsets, and that will be 100 times faster, significantly smaller and consume a tenth of the energy.
"This is going to change the memory industry," HP Senior Fellow Stan Williams, founding director of HP Labs' Information and Quantum Systems Lab, said in a video on the HP Website. "This is going to allow us to continue scaling-in other words, go to higher and higher densities-as [the industry did] with Flash, but actually with a product that has the capability and capacity, we all believe, to replace both hard disks and DRAM [dynamic RAM] memory in computers."
The memristor-short for memory resistor-is viewed by HP engineers as the fourth basic circuit element in chip engineering, up there with the resistor, capacitor and inductor. At its core, the memristor is a resistor with memory.
The idea behind the memristor was first broached in 1971 by Prof. Leon Chua at the University of California - Berkeley. HP researchers first showed the memristor's existence in practice.
Two years later, Nature published HP's finding that the memristor exists, and in 2009, engineers at HP Labs showed that memristors could be stacked, suggesting that a chip could offer four to eight times the memory capacity of traditional technologies.
In April 2010, HP officials said company researchers had found that the memristor also could perform digital logic, setting the stage for the creation of a memristor product that could act as both a computing chip and a storage technology, taking the place of traditional storage technologies-including Flash and hard drives-and CPUs.
"Memristive devices could change the standard paradigm of computing by enabling calculations to be performed in the chips where data is stored," Williams said in April. "Thus, we anticipate the ability to make more compact and power-efficient computing systems well into the future, even after it is no longer possible to make transistors smaller via the traditional Moore's Law approach."
Memristor technology is a form of nonvolatile memory that HP officials said they believe could be used in everything from mobile phones and MP3 players, which primarily use NAND flash memory now, to SSD (solid-state disk) and DRAM storage technology.
Memristors, which use less energy than other memory devices and can retain information when the power is off, are built from metal oxides like titanium dioxide rather than silicon.
"The memristor has storage capacity abilities many times greater than what competing technologies offer," S.W. Park, executive vice president and CTO of Hynix, said in a statement. "By adopting HP's memristor technology, we can deliver new, energy-efficient products to our customers more quickly."