HP Labs Improves Next-Generation Memristor Technology
Memristors are a 'Holy Grail' technology—they could change computing nearly as much as the invention of the transistor. The word 'memristor' is a portmaneau of "memory resistor." Unlike DRAM, memristors are non-volatile—they do not require constant electrical power in order to refresh data. This vastly simplifies the design of any theoretical memristor memory device. Since memristors don't require constant refreshes, cell densities can be much higher. The non-volatile nature of the storage combined with fast switching theoretically allows memristors to replace both DRAM and primary storage at the same time.
An array of 17 oxygen-depleted titanium dioxide memristors. Each is about 50nm wide.
Highly focused X-ray bursts have proven capable of capturing the process. According to Stan Williams, a senior fellow at HP, the new discovery will significantly improve the quality of eventual products. We were on a path where we would have had something that works reasonably well, but this improves our confidence," Williams said. "[It] should allow us to improve the devices such that they are significantly better."
Because memristors remember their own charge states, they can be used to create self-programming devices. Amplifying the charge of Memristor A can begin a series of changes that program an entire array of memristors to perform Task B. Change the charge of Memristor A, and we change the programmed task. This has implications for both neural networks and simulated AI, and it may allow computer scientists to improve / simplify computer logic.
The first memristor-based equipment that comes to market will still use a significant amount of 'traditional' silicon—even once we've managed to commercialize memristor products, the control circuitry for the circuits themselves will likely be conventionally designed. At present, HP believes it can deliver storage densities of approximately 12GB/cm
Companies often ludicrously underestimate time-to-market; commercial wide-screen OLED televisions have been "just a few years away" for over a decade. ReRAM may break that trend. Although neither technology is expected to bottom out by 2013, both DRAM and Flash face significant scaling problems as process technology shrinks. It's not clear that Intel's new 3D manufacturing method will offset the issues both technologies face. Memristors—even relatively slow, low-density designs—may be ready to provide equivalent performance with promises of future scaling by the time conventional techniques are exhausted.