HP Unveils ‘The Machine’ Computer Architecture Based On Memristors And Silicon Photonics

Once a revered giant in the tech world, HP has floundered in recent years. With a new CEO in Meg Whitman, though, the company has taken steps to reassert itself in various marketplaces, but no effort is as bold or as risky as its current endeavor: HP is trying to completely revolutionize computing from the ground up with something it’s calling “The Machine”.

When we say “ground up”, we mean that HP is working on a different operating system than currently exists and new memory and data transfer technologies, according to Businessweek.

Fink HP memristor module
HP CTO Martin Fink holding the memory module (Credit: HP via Business Insider)
Instead of the DRAM we know today, HP is working with its memristor technology, which can both offer long-term storage and the high performance afforded by traditional DRAM. Thus, memristors could obviate both DRAM and HDDs/SSDs. HP invented memristors (long a theoretical technology) back in 2008 and announced its innovation in 2011.

The other revolutionary technology that HP is leveraging for The Machine is silicon photonics, which in a nutshell allows for the sending and receiving of messages on standard silicon using light instead of copper. 

HP Fink Machine motherboard
HP CTO Martin Fink holding the motherboard (Credit: HP via Business Insider)

Businessweek noted that The Machine could ostensibly “replace a data center’s worth of equipment with a single refrigerator-size machine”.

HP has been developing these technologies for a year and a half, and the timeline (posted by Business Insider) will continue for years to come. This year, HP is developing the Machine OS (what an awesome name) and reeling in partners, and it will start sampling memristors, establish core infrastructures, and open source the Machine OS SDK in 2015.

memristor experiment
Memristor experiment (Credit: Richard Lewington/HP via Businessweek)

In 2016 HP expects to actually launch the memristors, and the following year will see edge devices and a public beta of the Machine OS. The Machine is scheduled to become a Real Thing in 2019.

I love how ambitious HP is with this endeavor, and even though Whitman is betting the farm on a moonshot project, she should be applauded for her courage. The Machine will most likely go down in computer history as either the sad end of HP or the dawn of a new era of computing.