Universal computer memory could replace DRAM
A new type of computer memory that could solve the digital technology energy crisis has been invented and patented by scientists from Lancaster University.
The inventors of the device used quantum mechanics to solve the dilemma of choosing between stable, long-term data storage and low-energy writing and erasing. They have thus realised a ‘universal memory’, the search for which has preoccupied scientists and engineers for decades.
“Universal memory, which has robustly stored data that is easily changed, is widely considered to be unfeasible, or even impossible, but this device demonstrates its contradictory properties,” said Professor Manus Hayne of Lancaster University.
The device could replace the $100bn market for dynamic random-access memory (DRAM), which is the ‘working memory’ of computers, as well as the long-term memory in flash drives. While writing data to DRAM is fast and low energy, the data is volatile and must be continuously ‘refreshed’ to avoid it being lost; and while flash stores data robustly, writing and erasing is slow, energy intensive and results in deterioration, making it unsuitable for working memory.
“The ideal is to combine the advantages of both without their drawbacks, and this is what we have demonstrated,” Prof Hayne said. “Our device has an intrinsic data storage time that is predicted to exceed the age of the universe, yet it can record or delete data using 100 times less energy than DRAM.”
It is expected that the device’s ultralow energy consumption would immediately reduce peak power consumption in data centres by one-fifth. It would also allow, for example, computers which do not need to boot up and could instantaneously and imperceptibly go into an energy-saving sleep mode — even between key strokes.
A US patent has been awarded for the electronic memory device with another patent pending, while several companies have expressed an interest or are actively involved in the research. The research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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