Tuesday, April 28, 2009

IBM Memory Faster and Cheaper

IBM Racetrack MemoryMemory is one of the biggest things people have to deal with in their computers. It seems everytime you turn around you are needing to upgrade your memory because you ran out or your computer crashed. This is a particular problem due to the price of some memory.

But the new memory from IBM plans to change everything we know about memory. According to England's university of Leeds physicist Christopher Marrow, "Racetrack memory will be a vast improvement over today's leading computer memory technology - flash and hard disk - which each have serious limitations." IBM shows it's new Racetrack memory, as it has been named, has been more reliable in recent tests than hard disks which hopefully will make frequent computer crashes obsolete.

Racetrack is also said to be cheaper than the current prices for hard disk memory. According to Marrows, "This technology will have the best of both worlds - cheap nano-size with huge memory in 3G phones, MP3 players, camcorders, and other devices. But more importantly there will be more sites that will be able to give away storage for free like YouTube and Gmail."

The main point of racetrack is speed, hence the name, and reliability. In hard disks, a motor-operated head, like the ones seen in record players, has to move to the data to read it. Data stored on the Racetrack is moved around on a wire which is pushed by spiraling magnetics. The moving parts in the hard disk makes it very susceptible to crashing. "Hard disks are so good because they are so cheap. But they are bad because of the moving parts." says Marrows.

The other memory device, flash memory, was created in 1980 by Toshiba. But, like hard disks, flash memory has its own problems as well. On the good side, flash memory has no moving parts and is a solid-state storage device. This makes it more reliable and faster than disks. However, on the flip side flash memory has a limited number of erase-write cycles it can perform before the memory capacity begins to deteriorate.

The thing for Racetrack is to have the speed and durability of flash memory combined with the hard disk affordability. According to Stuart Parkin, IBM fellow and inventor of Racetrack, "Racetrack will have cheap memory with the possibility of being one million times faster than hard disks without the risk of wearing out." Unlike hard disks, there is no need to search for information. According to Parkin, this will allow computers to boot up almost instantly.

And, like everything else in the world, Racetrack memory will use less energy making it green. Parkin says, 'The tremendous amount of storage, faster performance, and reduced energy requirements make it a nice green and smart technology."

One of the biggest, and smartest, innovations of Racetrack is that it is designed vertically which allows it to take up less room than the current memory. This will make it extremely less expensive due to the fact that the price of a chip is based on the space it uses. This design makes Racetrack the first 3-D memory allowing it to obtain more bits per transistor. According to Parkin, "This will allow us to take a chip and increase the transistor size 10 to 100 times, breaking Moore's Law." Moore's Law was founded by Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel. In 1965, Moore observed that the number of transistors per square inch on a circuit board will double every 18 months.

Some experts believe that Moore's law will hold true for another couple of decades. However, Parkin is hoping that his Racetrack will quash that ide in about 5 to 7 years. It is at this point Parkin hopes the Racetrack memory will be fully operational and available. Zeljko Zilic, associate professor of the Department of Electrical Computer Engineering at Montreal's McGill University, says that, "As technology enabler, racetrack fits within the 'universal memory' concept, where one type of memory could be used across the full spectrum, replacing the need for multiple types of internal memory. Currently, flash memory comes closest to the ideal, but disadvantages of flash will become more and more apparent."

The goal of IBM is not, in any way, to improve current technology. Their goal is to absolutely replace it all together. Racetrack has the potential to replace both hard disk and flash," Parkin says. "Our goal is to replace all flash memory as it will get rid of the concept of trading performance for cost."

While there are still a few years before Racetrack comes out, people are already waiting with high anticipation. The thought of completely replacing the memory system we have used for the past 60 years is no small feat. But with the brains at IBM, we can bet that they will give it their all to give us the best quality tehy can.

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