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IBM announces solid-state memory breakthrough

Dec 27, 2010 — by Jonathan Angel — from the LinuxDevices Archive
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IBM announced what appears to be a breakthrough in its development of “racetrack” memory, which stores data by manipulating the magnetic state of regions — magnetic domain walls — within nanowires. The “radically new” storage technology could result in storage devices with the speed and reliability of flash memory, along with the low cost and storage capacity of magnetic disk drives, the company says.

According to IBM, the racetrack memory project started in its Almaden Research Labs in San Jose only six years ago. Instead of making computers seek out the data they need, as is the case in traditional storage systems, it use "spin momentum" to slide data back and forth along nanowire "racetracks" — 1,000 times finer than a human hair — the company says.

In a paper published last week in the journal Science, IBM researchers say they have been able to measure the time and distance of domain wall acceleration in response to electric current pulses for the first time. As a result, the company says, it will be possible to move domain walls at speeds of hundreds of miles per hour and then stop them precisely at the position needed — allowing massive amounts of stored information to be accessed in less than a billionth of a second.

The Science abstract reads:

The motion of magnetic domain walls induced by spin-polarized current has considerable potential for use in magnetic memory and logic devices. Key to the success of these devices is the precise positioning of individual domain walls along magnetic nanowires, using current pulses.

We show that domain walls move surprisingly long distances of several micrometers and relax over several tens of nanoseconds, under their own inertia, when the current stimulus is removed. We also show that the net distance traveled by the domain wall is exactly proportional to the current pulse length because of the lag derived from its acceleration at the onset of the pulse. Thus, independent of its inertia, a domain wall can be accurately positioned using properly timed current pulses.

Dr. Stuart Parkin, an IBM Fellow at IBM Research who's one of the paper's authors, stated, "We discovered that domain walls don't hit peak acceleration as soon as the current is turned on, and that it takes them exactly the same time and distance to hit peak acceleration as it does to decelerate and eventually come to a stop. This was previously undiscovered in part because it was not clear whether the domain walls actually had mass, and how the effects of acceleration and deceleration could exactly compensate one another. Now we know domain walls can be positioned precisely along the racetracks simply by varying the length of the current pulses even though the walls have mass".

Research regarding racetrack memory is ongoing, and IBM provided no timetable for its commercialization. However, the company promises, "this memory could someday enable a single portable device to store all the movies produced worldwide in a given year — and run on a single battery for weeks at a time.

This article was originally published on LinuxDevices and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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