Earlier this month, IBM announced that it is currently working on a new form of storage-memory technology that could very well become universal, meaning that no longer will consumers need to choose between various types of memory/storage mediums. According to the company, this new memory--based on spintronics--is capable of storing more data in the same amount of space used in today's hard drives (10 to 100 times more data than flash on a single nanowire apparently), and also offers "lightning-fast" boot times, lower cost, stability, and durability.
What will make this new technology beneficial is that it combines the performance and reliability of solid state random access flash memory with the price and storage size of the magnetic hard disk drive, but without the cost and hardware limitations of both. As an example, hard drives may cost less and provided large volumes of storage, but are much slower than flash memory and feature moving parts that will eventually fail over time. Flash memory may be compact and fast to read data and write but has flash wear issues as well as being quite expensive. The new "racetrack" technology doesn't rely on an electronic charge to store data, but rather uses the "spin" of electrons and its associated magnetic moment. The new technology also doesn't use moving parts, so there's nothing to wear out, and unlike flash SSDs, can be rewritten to endlessly.
So how does this new technology work? A video provided by IBM offered a simplified definition, explaining that information is stored as a magnetic pattern on a nanowire. Pulses of special "spin-polarized" electrical current actually cause the patterns to "race" along the wire track; data can be read and written in less than a nanosecond, and can even be moved and read in either direction. Data is written by placing a second nanowire (with a special pattern) near the first nanowire. The data on the first wire changes by moving the pattern along the second wire.
IBM's Almaden Research Center, the team behind the project, believes that its "racetrack" memory could lead to solid state electronic devices within the next ten years. The group gives an example of an MP3 player using the technology, saying that it would be able to store around 500,000 songs or around 3,500 movies using the same amount of space offered today, built with far lower costs and requiring less power consumption, thereby generating less heat. Ultimately, the device would be indestructible, would not feature any moving parts, run on a single battery for weeks, and even last for decades.
"It has been an exciting adventure to have been involved with research into metal spintronics since its inception almost 20 years ago with our work on spin-valve structures," said Dr. Stuart Parkin, an experimental physicist leading the team. "The combination of extraordinarily interesting physics and spintronic materials engineering, one atomic layer at a time, continues to be highly challenging and very rewarding. The promise of racetrack memory - for example, the ability to carry massive amounts of information in your pocket - could unleash creativity leading to devices and applications that nobody has imagined yet."
Although the project is still in the early stages of development, Dr. Parkin and his team plans to move the racetrack technology into the third dimension with the construction of a "novel" 3D racetrack memory device.