Imagine turning on your computer from a powerless state and instantly seeing your desktop without having to wait through a lengthy loading process. NC State researchers have developed a device that could make that happen.
Your computer makes use of two types of memory. First we have the hard drives, the SD cards, the USB sticks - long-term memory. You store data on this nonvolatile type of memory, secure in the knowledge that it'll most likely be there when you come back to it. It's slow, but it gets the job done.
Then there's volatile memory. This is your computer's RAM. It's memory used to allow your system to access data extremely quickly, but it only lasts as long as power is applied. Once the PC shuts down, the memory is clear.
So we have slow and semi-permanent memory and lightning-fast temporary memory. Why not combine the two? That's more or less what the NC State researchers did, and they may revolutionize how computer memory works. Dr Paul Franzon says so.
"We've invented a new device that may revolutionize computer memory," says Dr. Paul Franzon, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. "Our device is called a double floating-gate field effect transistor (FET). Existing nonvolatile memory used in data storage devices utilizes a single floating gate, which stores charge in the floating gate to signify a 1 or 0 in the device – or one ‘bit' of information. By using two floating gates, the device can store a bit in a nonvolatile mode, and/or it can store a bit in a fast, volatile mode – like the normal main memory on your computer."
Basically this is a device that enables memory with the same storage capabilities of non-volatile memory that can still function as volatile computer memory as well. This means that instead of your computer starting up and spending time loading data from your hard drive into system memory, it's already there. Instant booting, more or less. Certainly faster than it is now.
Not only is the device a time saver, it's also an energy saver as well. They're calling it "power proportional computing", and it works by allowing computers that are normally always using power to retain data in their system memory to take a break, storing the data in the non-volatile portion to be retrieved immediately when needed.
"The double floating-gate FET would help solve this problem," Franzon says, "because data could be stored quickly in nonvolatile memory – and retrieved just as quickly. This would allow portions of the server memory to be turned off during periods of low use without affecting performance."
It sure sounds revolutionary to me. Franzon says the double floating-gate field effect transistor should maintain data in non-volatile mode for quite some time. If it proves as reliable as he says it is, I expect memory manufacturers will be bashing down his door in no time.
A full paper on the device will be published in February 10's IEEE's Computer.
New device may revolutionize computer memory [Physorg.com]