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NEC outs spintronics content-addressable memory tech

Holds data when power cut, Flash style

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NEC has claimed to have come up with the World's first memory cell to use new form of storage that's as quick as Ram yet as non-volatile as Flash.

The memory - co-developed with Japan's Tohoku University - is based on 'spintronics' technology: kit that utilises electrons' rotational characteristics and their resulting ability to influence a current by magnetic force, and vice versa.

Essentially, the NEC memory cell stores a bit by setting the spin direction of the electrons flowing through it.

The spin characteristics are retained when the cell's power is cut, so the data is retained too, as it is with Flash.

Unlike Flash, however, once powered the NEC cell's stored value can be read in 5ns, the company claimed. That's the same as 1600MHz DDR 3.

That said, NEC was keeping mum on how fast - or not - the cell is when it comes to writing the data value.

The cell consumes 9.4mW of power when running.

That said, NEC's memory isn't equivalent to a simple Ram cell. It is a "content-addressable memory" (CAM) unit, so rather than taking an address and sending back the data, the system searches - in one operation - its entire bank for the data passed to it and return the addresses or addresses at which the data can be found.

The upside is speed, the downside is complexity, each storage cell being accompanied by logic that compares the cell's stored value with the input data. Still, by some clever transistor-sharing jiggery-pokery, NEC reckons its new cell is half the size of a standard Ram-based CAM cell.

Handy, that, because CAM chips are big, making them pricey to make and power hungry.

NEC and co. have now to refine the cell and work out how to produce a version that can be manufactured for use in real machines.

Reducing the write-time is central to the technology's commercialisation too.

So don't expect spintronics storage chips in your fast-boot laptop any time soon. ®

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