Tha amazing memristor - beyond Moore's law and beyond digital computing

Tha amazing memristor - beyond Moore's law and beyond digital computing

Summary: Hewlett-Packard's researchers see an amazing future for the memristor - a very real, near mythical electronic component...


I recently visited HP Labs and spoke with Stan Williams, senior fellow at Hewlett-Packard and director of Quantum Science Research, about an incredible semiconductor device -- the memristor.

Until fairly recently, the memristor, short for memory resistor, was a mythical electronic component. It had been predicted to exist by a mathematician, Leon Chua, a professor at UC Berkeley, in an 1971 paper. No one had made a memristor until Stan Williams and his team cracked it in 2008.

The memristor can:

- store data like DRAM or Flash but it doesn't require any energy to maintain the data storage.

- the memristor chips can be laid down in layer upon layer upon layer, creating three-dimensional structures that can store and process data.

- the memristor is easy to make and completely compatible with today's CMOS chip making processes.

- it can be scaled to very small geometries without losing its properties.

- the memristor can also perform logic, it can act as a microprocessor!

It's that quality of a memristor, that it can be used for both data storage and data processing that Mr WIlliams and his team recently discovered, and that potentially turns the world of computing on its head. This is a very big deal indeed.

Here are some notes from my conversation with Mr Williams:

- IT systems now take up 2 per cent of the world's electric power. We need IT systems that are 1,000 times more powerful, we need what is called exascale computing (The Need For A Radical New Type Of Computer Architecture). Yet to get there it would take too much electric power. The memristor makes exascale possible.

- My team first started looking at molecular electronics in 1997. We were seeing voltage curves that we couldn't understand, they had a signature figure of eight shape. One of our team came across a paper by Leon Chua that had a similar voltage curve. We had to scrap everything we were doing and focused on trying to create a memristor. We focused on titanium dioxide.

- We weren't getting very far so I decided to take the month of August off (8th month) and read everything I could about titanium dioxide, from geology, physics, chemistry, math. Titanium dioxide was studied separately by all these disciplines, it was known as a ceramic, a mineral, a dielectric, a semiconductor, even a sunscreen. By studying all of this separate research, on August 26, I finally figured it out, and brought all the pieces together.

- It will take us about 3 years before we have commercial memristors. The good news is that they are easy to make and completely compatible with standard CMOS chip manufacturing techniques. They also scale to small features very well. And standard chip design tools work very well for memristors.

- Memristors could save a lot of power in data processing because they don't require any power to maintain their data storage.

- HP is interested in memristors because we are the world's largest buyer of DRAMs.

- Memristors could be used to replace disk drives and DRAMs. They will initially be used in IT systems, in-between disk drives and DRAMs but then they can start to 'eat' into both sides -- disk drives and DRAMs.

- This gets interesting. We have now discovered that memristors can be used for logic -- they can be used as processors. This is very significant because instead of shuttling data to the processor and then back again, which takes time and energy, we could shuttle the processing code to the data -- which is smaller and quicker.

- I used to be worried that we are going to reach the limits of Moore's Law and the what do we do. But with memristors, we can easily lay down multiple layers of memristors, effectively extending Moore's Law by decades.

- Using memristors for processing brings other potential changes. Instead of just two states, on or off, as with transistors, memristors can represent many states. This means we can create new types of computing models, we can also create analog computers, which you don't program, but you let them learn. You can then replicate the learning to other memristor analog computers.

- We might be able to use memristors in a similar way to synapses in the human brain.

- We spoken to Intel about memristors many times. They seem to be more interested in other types of memory such as phase change memory.

- - -

Here is my PearlTree on memristors:


Topics: CXO, Hardware, Networking, Processors, Storage

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  • I for one welcome our robot overlords.

    • RE: Tha amazing memristor - beyond Moore's law and beyond digital computing

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  • RE: Tha amazing memristor - beyond Moore's law and beyond digital computing

    it would take us another decade before this becomes consumer electronics... but this is a huge leap for electronics!
  • terrific

    An amazing advancement to the state of the art. If the manufacturing process pans out, computing hardware, software, and even the science will be forever changed.

    Psychological Computing anyone?
  • the Positronic brain...??

    If each node can represent multiple values, at a minimum you would have a byte per node. Consider the data packing that brings!

    It seems the more the SciFi writers dream of, the more that just turns into a challenge for engineers and scientists.
  • From black and white to shades of gray...

    The possibilities are endless on devices which can act as both CPU and storage. Self-adjusting microcode? Self-designing processors which modify their own design to better fit an algorithm? Subtlety will be introduced. Minor shifts rather than black and white changes will be possible. As they mentioned, analog computing at digital speed will be realized. These devices could seriously be the first to act like a human brain, as both self-modifying controller and storage. It's really exciting technology.
  • video processing

    this would go a long way to assist in moving imaging
    to (where I think) it should go. Instead of using
    waveforms to describe the difference from pixel to
    pixel in the same frame use it to describe pixel to
    pixel between frames, and then just get rid of the
    frames. Process the signal in analog into a mathematical function that describes the analog
    signal. The move from hardware shutters to software.
    (you basically just take a slice of the data you want)
    There would be no difference between a video and a
    picture other than how long you hold down the record
    button. There would be no washed out images as all
    data would be captured. As memory gets cheaper it relinquishes the need for compression. And this little
    memsister would be God.
  • synapse indeed. if the correllation between memory objects can be contained

    within the memory node itself, that will effectively mimic neural activity.
    and if the chip can be arranged into logical segments of 3d video storage with associated audio and text, the world of robotics will be advanced considerably.
    i look forward to the next generation SSD/3D.
    if HP and Samsung can work together in harmony, it will be a pleasure to watch.

  • RE: Tha amazing memristor - beyond Moore's law and beyond digital computing

    I might live to download my personality yet. Or get that
    AI in the false tooth
  • bootstrap to the singularity?

    I might just live to see personality downloads yet.
    And/or that AI/Mem device in the false tooth I read about
    in the Best of S&SF in 1965.;
  • RE: Tha amazing memristor - beyond Moore's law and beyond digital computing

    Now it's just the wait for biomemristors-THEN we can download our personalities directly to our new stem cell brains.
    Tool Hand Luke