Researchers at Hewlett-Packard Co. have made a breakthrough discovery they hope will lead to memory chips that store more data but consume far less power than those found in today’s personal computers and other digital devices.
The newly discovered circuit element, called a Memristor, could enable cell phones that can go weeks or longer without a charge, PCs that start up instantly, and laptops that retain your session information long after the battery dies.
It also could challenge flash memory, which is now widely used in portable electronics due to its ability to retain information even when power is off. Chips incorporating the HP discovery would be faster, suck up less power and take up far less space than today’s flash.
Scientists have suspected since the 1970s that along with the three well-known elements of a basic circuit, the resistor, the capacitor and the inductor, a fourth basic building block is promising.
The memristor built by HP Labs researchers is made with a layer of titanium dioxide sandwiched between two metal electrodes. The researchers discovered that the amount of resistance it exerts depends on how much electric charge had previously passed through it.
That characteristic gives the memristor an innate ability to remember the amount of charge that has flowed through it long after the power to it is turned off. That means the circuit itself can be built with a memory function baked in.
Otherwise, data have to be stored in power-hungry transistors configured for storage. That also takes up valuable real estate on microprocessors or requires separate memory chips.