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HP makes teeny molecular memory chip

Dramatic breakthrough etc.

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HP's boffins have built a tiny 64-bit memory chip using molecular devices as active switches.

This is described as a breakthrough in molecular electronics. For instance the chip is the first to combine both memory and logic on the same nanonscale molecular circuits.

And it's very, very tiny, fitting inside a square micron. To put it another way, a thousand circuits can fit on a end of a single strand of human hair, HP helpfully points out for the benefit of those of us who find it impossible to visualise the tininess of tiny things.

HP made the circuits using a system of manufacture which it calls nano-imprint lithography - "essentially a printing method that allows an entire wafer of circuits to be stamped out quickly and inexpensively from a master".

Molecular-based electronics will one day drive advances in computing much further than silicon, according to HP's Stan Williams, HP Fellow and director of Quantum Science Research at HP Labs. "Capacity and performance could be extended enormously by layering molecular-switch devices on conventional silicon without the need for complex and expensive changes to the base technology," he says.

The physical constraints of silicon in turn imposes limits upon electronics designers to use it to build very tiny things.

Unlike molecules - even today, the bit density of HP's molecular chip is 10x greater than silicon-based memory chips on the market. Also, silicon-based manufacture is extraordinarily expensive - state-of-the-art fabs cost $2-3bn a pop. Molecular-based manufacture will be much cheaper, according to analysts.

Also, HP molecular memory chip is both rewritable and non-volatile, in other words preserving information stored in them after the voltage was removed. AS HP notes, today's DRAM chips do not have this capability. ®

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