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HP Maps Memristor Structure, Function

The nascent memory resistor technology holds the promise of making computing systems much faster and power efficient.

HP, Hynix Semiconductor ReRAM
(click image for larger view)
HP, Hynix Semiconductor ReRAM
HP scientists have made a breakthrough in their ongoing studies of memristor circuit elements, which could help expedite a new era of computer memory and processing.

In a paper published Monday in the journal Nanotechnology, researchers from HP Labs and University of California Santa Barbara report they have identified and mapped out the structure of what happens inside a memristor during its electrical operation.

A memristor is a memory resistor and the fabled fourth fundamental circuit element alongside the familiar resistor, capacitor, and inductor. A memory resistor has the potential to "remember" the total electrical charge that passes through them, even after the current is gone.

"As a result (memristors) can potentially underpin the next-gen of high density, non-volatile memory chips and logic circuits that mimic biological synapses," said Elisa Greene from HP corporate communications in the HP blog.

The latest breakthrough by HP and UC Santa Barbara was caused by using X-rays to pinpoint the 100-nanometer channel within the memristor where resistance switching takes place. They were able to then map out the chemistry and structure of that channel, which helped them gain a better understanding of how memristors operate.

While memristors were first theorized in 1971, HP proved the existence of them in 2006 and first demonstrated them in 2008. Last year, HP partnered with Hynix Semiconductor to develop and manufacture a memristor memory product called resistive random access memory (ReRAM). ReRAM holds the financial promise HP has been looking for in its studies, with the potential to replace flash and DRAM memory. ReRAM is non-volatile memory, meaning it can retain data after the power supply is turned off. It also offers lower power consumption and much greater storage capacity.

ReRAM could also change the standard computing paradigm of having a CPU, or central processing unit, handle computation. Memristors can switch on and off in a nanosecond, making systems much faster and power efficient. Memristors can also store information and perform processing, which could drastically alter the processing and storage architecture of computers and electronics.

"Memristors hold great promise for enabling new types of memory that have very high endurance (meaning they can be written, erased, and re-written many times), are highly scalable and stable, and consume little power." according to the HP blog.

HP believes devices incorporating memristor-based chips could hit the market by 2014. This would include handheld devices like phones and tablets with 10 times greater embedded memory than current devices. Also, supercomputers could be made "dramatically faster" than what's predicted in Moore's law.

Moore's law, named for Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore, states that the number of transistors placed on an integrated circuit doubles about every two years. The trend has led to dramatic increases in performance at lower energy consumption in each new generation of microprocessors.

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