HP Breakthrough Promises Ultrafast Computers

Memristor technology could take chip performance beyond limitations imposed by Moore's Law.

Antone Gonsalves, Contributor

April 8, 2010

2 Min Read

Hewlett-Packard says it has made a discovery in electrical engineering that could one day lead to computer systems and handheld devices that are dramatically faster and more energy efficient than what's possible using today's technology.



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The discovery relates to technology based on a basic element of electrical engineering called a "memristor," which an HP Labs team first demonstrated in 2008 as a resistor with memory. While researchers initially believed the memristor-based technology would only be useful in storage devices, they have recently learned that it can perform logic.

If such technology can one day be used in developing a new type of chip, then the silicon will be able to perform computations where data is stored, which could greatly increase processing speeds, according to HP. CPUs used in today's computer systems process information brought from other parts of a computer system.

HP has designed a new architecturewithin which multiple layers of memristor memory can be stacked on top of each other in a single chip. As a result, the company believes devices incorporating memristor-based chips could hit the market in five years.

Such devices would include handheld gadgets offering 10 times greater embedded memory than exists today. In addition, supercomputers could be made "dramatically faster" than what's predicted in Moore's law.

Moore's law, named after 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 microprocessor.

HP researchers say incorporating the memristor element in chips, rather than shrinking transistors, could lead to faster computers that are more energy efficient. That's because memristor-based chips require less energy and can store at least twice as much data in the same area as a solid-state drive used today.

"We anticipate the ability to make more compact and power-efficient computing systems well into the future, even after it is no longer possible to make transistors smaller via the traditional Moore’s law approach," R. Stanley Williams, senior fellow and director of Information and Quantum Systems Lab at HP, said in a statement.

HP's latest findings, announced Thursday, were detailed in a paper published this week in the journal Nature.

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