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IBM fields 'racetrack memory' for handhelds

Posted: 15 Apr 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IBM racetrack memory? flash memory? handheld gadget?

IBM Corp. researchers are working on a technology dubbed as "racetrack memory," which uses tiny magnetic boundaries to store data for handheld gadgets storing hours of film footage.

This is according to a BBC News report, which cited a paper in the journal Science that said IBM's Almaden lab team in California had outlined ways to make the building blocks of the storage medium.

With the technology, capacity of MP3 players could increase 100 times from present levels. However, the team disclosed that the racetrack memory is still seven to eight years away from commercial use.

Memory push
Most desktop computers use a more durable but slightly more expensive flash memory, and cheap but less durable HDDs, to store data. The work being done on racetrack memory by IBM fellow at the Almaden laboratory, Stuart Parkin, and his colleagues could produce a storage medium that is cheap, durable and fast.

Parkin claims that the racetrack memory could even replace both flash and HDDs in computers and other gadgets. He added that it is possible to build the racetrack memory although they haven't built one yet.

The new technology stores data in the boundaries, known as domain walls, between magnetic regions in nanowires. The data races around the wire or track as it is read or written. Meanwhile, domain walls are read by exploiting the weak magnetic fields generated by the spin of electrons.

The less amount of power needed to exploit the fields allows the racetrack memory to generate less heat than existing devices.

In progress
Parkin, Masamitsu Hayashi and colleagues also described in the paper their progress towards making the building blocks of racetrack memory.

The team has been able to create, move and detect the tiny magnetic boundaries "properly timed, nanosecond long, spin-polarized current pulses." The development has paved the way towards creating working racetrack memory systems. In addition, the team has exhibited how to fabricate the slim wires that would form the racetracks on which data is stored.

If the expected data densities of the technology are realized, it could enable a portable MP3 player to hold up to 500,000 songs. Parkin disclosed they are working on building a prototype but that it could take up to four years to produce and another three or four to refine it for commercial use.

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