Can HP make the memristor a success?

Can HP make the memristor a success?

Summary: HP has announced plans to take their non-volatile memristor storage to the market. Can the world's largest consumer of semiconductors pull it off? Or will WebOS-style marketing kill their good idea?

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HP Labs has pioneered a new non-volatile memory they call the memristor - a form of resistance RAM (ReRAM) that promises to fix many of the problems of NAND flash: limited endurance; future technical viability; and slow write speeds.

They even think it might replace DRAM. That is aggressive.

But can HP - which is still doesn't know if it wants to be in the PC business or not - really drive the entire industry to a new storage technology? Maybe, but it will be an uphill battle.

Why?

  • Marketing. HP buys half the world's disk drives and a big chunk of the world's DRAM, but that isn't the problem. Getting people to buy an unproven technology is. And HP hasn't broken trail on anything rad for years.
  • Cost. No one has ever built memristors in high volume before. While HP knows how to do it in the lab, pounding out tens of millions of devices will take some tweaking. If yields ramp slowly the costs will hurt.
  • Software. It's taken years to get flash to look like disks. When will Windows be ready for memristors?
  • Hardware. Unless it is a drop-in DIMM replacement there will be hardware changes that are low-volume and thus more expensive.

Consumers Most of these issues impact cost. Consumers care deeply about cost - that's why they buy PCs - and not so much about technology. Can HP convince consumers that memristors are a good deal and not just another gee-whiz gadget from Silicon Valley?

More important, can HP convince Microsoft to invest in changes to Windows 8 to take advantage of the memristor's unique features? Historically software companies have been no faster than enterprise users to adapt their software to a new technology.

Enterprise Margins are higher in servers, but so are buyer expectations. No one is going to put a new storage technology into production until it has been out and tested for 3-5 years. It's taken flash drives that long.

The Storage Bits take Chicken, meet egg. Chips need volume, volume needs sales, sales needs customers and customers need a reason to buy.

NAND flash sidestepped this problem by winning the mobile device market where disks couldn't compete. That market justified the factories and economies of scale that drove NAND flash prices below DRAM and woke up the rest of the industry.

For all the hype around flash SSDs they consume less than 10% of all flash production. No cell phones, no SSDs.

HP's strategy to license the memristor to multiple semi houses makes sense. HP buys a lot of semiconductors and can certainly jump start the market.

But will that be enough to overcome the lead that flash has today and will increase over the next 2 years? I hope ReRAM succeeds - we need something better than NAND flash - but the critical piece isn't the technology: it's the volume-building strategy that will make or break flash competitors.

Comments welcome, of course. Best bet: get iPhone 7 as a launch customer. What do you think?

Topics: Processors, Hardware, Hewlett-Packard, Storage

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6 comments
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  • RE: Can HP make the memristor a success?

    If only they had a PC manufacturing industry and tablet line with which to prove this new memory works and can be affordable. Oh wait, they did and they gave it away.
    Socratesfoot
    • No they didn't. They still have the huge PC business and they never had a

      tablet business. All they had was inventory they couldn't make any money on. They couldn't even break even on it. They had to take huge losses on it just to get pennies on the dollar out of it. That's not a business and they couldn't move any volume of memristers that way without going bankrupt. If they bring out some sweet multitouch ultrabooks and W8 tablets they'll get more volume than they can handle and then they'll be able to find a ship vehicle for their memristers.
      Johnny Vegas
  • RE: Can HP make the memristor a success?

    [i]"Unless it is a drop-in DIMM replacement there will be hardware changes"[/i]

    Making a drop-in replacement simply wouldn't make sense. Memristors don't need electricity to keep their data, DIMM's do. Keeping voltage applied will draw current--even if it is only "leakage" current, and that will generate some heat. And why waste money on memory controllers that constantly do refresh if the memory doesn't need to be refreshed?

    Realistically, to use ReRAM in motherboards will require a major redesign of hardware functionality. Actually, UEFI, SATA III and a few of the other technologies starting to hit the mainstream should make it easier, since a "next generation" board could include ALL of them--as well as 8-core CPU's and possibly even liquid cooling. (The latter not recommended, of course, for tablets and laptops ....)
    Rick_R
    • RE: Can HP make the memristor a success?

      @Rick_R Good point. I should have been more specific: if they don't use the DIMM form factor that would require changes.
      R Harris
  • Memristers are f'ing cool. They should partner with Samsung and HTC

    These and ultra capacitors need to come to smart phones to enable them to serve as desktop replacements.
    Johnny Vegas
  • Why SSD took so long.

    SSD's needed special consideration from the OS to utilize them optimally and a lot of this had to do with the the limited lifetime. If those restrictions are relaxed it should be pretty easy to hide it all behind the SATA interface. Microsoft or Linux for that matter didn't really have to do anything to support SSDs. Changes were necessary to use them optimally but that was due to the nature of the beast. ReDRAM sound like it would be a lot easier to interface with.
    DevGuy_z