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HP's Memristor tech - better than flash?

It will be, says HP

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HP will claim today to have pushed Memristor technology to equal the switching speed and endurance shown by current NAND flash cells.

The Memristor or memory resistor is said to be a fundamental electrical circuit element, along with the resistor, capacitor and inductor. Its electrical state remains unaltered between a device being switched on and off - just like flash memory, for which it is a follow-on candidate. In this it competes with Phase-Change Memory (PCM). Once NAND flash runs out of process shrinkage room it stops working reliably and new technology is needed.

HP implemented the first Memristor device in 2008 and said it might have a working prototype in 2009. It has since claimed to have found a way to build three-dimensional Memristor devices, with 2D switch arrays stacked on top of each other like chip towers, to build relatively huge capacity devices.

HP is expected to reveal it has increased Memristor switching speed and endurance to that seen in current NAND flash cells, the New York Times reports. The company thinks it can do even better and scale the technology to far lower process geometries than flash. It is working on 3nm Memristors that switch at one nanosecond. Today's most advanced flash is transitioning to 25nm process geometries. The next level is thought to lie in the 24-20nm area, potentially with a 19-15nm follow-on. Problems are then expected to mount as flash's operational reliability could be compromised.

However, flash density could be increased by upping the cell count in multi-layer cells (MLC). Two-bit flash is common now, three bit is coming and SanDisk has four-bit MLC patents. But flash write performance and endurance slows as more bits are added to cells, and flash controllers have to overcome this obstacle to make 3X and 4X MLC flash usable.

HP thinks it can build a competing Memristor device with a density of 20GB/sq cm to flash chips by 2013, which it reckons will be double what flash can do. HP thinks Memristor technology is better than PCM as well, since PCM involves heating cells to change their physical state - requiring more power - and has a slower switching speed.

If HP is right and it can actually build Memristor chips in large capacities and large numbers and at an acceptable price, then it could blow Numonyx, Samsung, Toshiba and SanDisk's flash businesses and PCM follow-on efforts to blazes, and make a killing in license fees.

HP scientists are also claiming that the human brain uses quasi-Memoristor equivalents, so HP could build a Memristor-based brain that could learn and do human stuff. This could well be hot air - the brain's operations have been likened to most technology advances before and every single one has been shown to be inadequate.

For now the best known way to create a human brain is to start with two humans, one man and one woman, and bring them into conjunction. ®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

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