Remember when a 1TB hard drive seemed enormous? There was also a time when the idea of having even 8GB of memory in our personal computers seemed like extreme overkill. Today, that's basically the starting point for most PCs. As time goes on, and tech improves, even today's storage types and sizes are bound to seem hilariously lacking.
For storage and memory companies, the challenge is to shrink dies ever smaller, or increase the amount of data that can be crammed into mechanical storage. Both methods need to continue progressing at a smooth enough rate so as to not bottleneck the other. Just as mechanical storage used to be the biggest bottleneck in our desktops, today's solutions are proving a bottleneck for the advent of artificial intelligence.
Large-scale illustration of Stanford's and MIT's chip design
Researchers at both Stanford University and MIT have come up with at least one solution, and it's an intriguing one. Today, our system processors have to handshake constantly with our system memory (RAM), and because there's a physical separation between the two, it limits the amount of data that could be processed. A better solution, these universities believe, is to create a new chip that combines both processing horsepower and non-volatile memory together.
This solution involves a 3D design, which currently wouldn't be possible with traditional silicon transistors, and for a good reason: at 1,000°C, stacking two layers of silicon transistors will damage the underlying layer. What wouldn't destroy the underlying layer are carbon nanotubes built with graphene, which can be done at a far more modest 200°C.
The first chip these researchers have produced features over 1 million RRAM (resistive RAM) non-volatile cells, along with 2 million carbon nanotube field-effect transistors, which they claim makes it "the most complex nanoelectronic system ever made with emerging nanotechnologies".
While speed isn't the only name of this game, it's a perk of the design that many companies crave for. The same goes for the fabricators, as producing these chips uses far less energy than current designs, bringing secondary benefits along with it. In essence, this is a win win, all around.