NEC and Tohaku University claim to have developed the world's first content addressable memory system that uses spintronics to store data even when there is no standby power.
Spintronics is a technology for controlling not only individual electronics, but their spin as well, increasing the amount of information that can be stored per electron. The technology promises to increase the efficiency with which devices consume power.
Because data is stored in the spin of an electron, rather than its presence, information is encoded without moving the electron at a transistor gate level, which allows less power to be used in the encoding process.
The system that NEC and Tohaku University have developed uses magnets to maintain "the same high operation speed and non-volatile operation as existing circuits when processing and storing data on a circuit while power is off", NEC wrote in a statement on Monday.
The electrons retain their spin orientation when no longer exposed to the magnetic field, so data can be stored with no power running through the system. The magnetic field runs through the domain wall elements of the logic, so that data is stored within the content addressable memory (CAM) circuit rather than a separate memory pool.
By using spintronics in the CAM system the researchers claim to have halved the circuit area in comparison with existing technologies and cut power consumption.
However, NEC and Tohaku University did not disclose the temperature at which the CAM system operated. Room temperature spintronics is seen as highly desirable, as it increases the potential range of consumer applications. Traditionally, most experiments are done at close to absolute zero so as to reduce the amount of factors that can disturb electron spins. For spintronics to be worked into consumer hardware it will need to be achievable at normal temperatures or the cost will balloon.