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article imageEssential Science: The invention of universal computer memory

By Tim Sandle     Jun 24, 2019 in Science
Technologists have created an alternative form of computer memory, designed to solve the digital technology energy crisis. This discovery turns decade old computer science theory into something practical.
The researchers have developed so-called 'Universal Memory'. This development has the potential to replace Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) and flash drives (a market that is capitalized in excess $100 billion). The new computer memory system carries the advantage of ultra-low energy consumption. This could mean computers that do not need to boot up, along with other energy saving measures, such as the ability of a computer to ‘sleep’ between keyboard strokes.
Conventional memory
Conventional forms of computer memory have drawbacks. Flash memories, which we’ve been using since 1984, are metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors which have with an additional floating gate for charge storage. Flash memory is energy dependent. Writing and erasing with flash memory requires application of a large voltage, and the process is also relatively slow.
A computer in a small office running Microsoft Windows.
A computer in a small office running Microsoft Windows.
In contrast, DRAM single bit operations are considerably faster. The downside is that data is lost from DRAM cells when it is read. DRAM is also prone to energy expenditure due to charge leaks.
For these reasons there is considerable interest in ‘universal computer memory’. The term universal signifies the aim to replace these different memory types with one single type to reduce the cost and increase performance.
Universal memory
The newly developed electronic memory device works on the basis of ultra-low energy consumption. This is seen as necessary by the researchers, who hail from Lancaster University in the U.K., since by 2025 they estimate that the growth of data will consume a fifth of global electricity. The irony is that as technology provides ever greater solutions for energy savings, such as more efficient lighting and appliances that require lower levels of power, the ever-expanding quantities of data that form part of a digital society require massive levels of energy consumption for storage and processing.
The researchers are predicting that their new memory system will lower peak power consumption in global data centres by a fifth. There are savings as well for computers, allowing them to enter sleep mode instantly during periods of activity and then spring to life in under one second when a key is pressed.
An office worker using a laptop.
An office worker using a laptop.
According to lead researcher, Professor Manus Hayne of Lancaster University: "Universal Memory, which has robustly stored data that is easily changed, is widely considered to be unfeasible, or even impossible, but this device demonstrates its contradictory properties."
In terms of the innovative nature of the technology, a patent has been awarded for the electronic memory device and several major technology companies are interested in driving the concept forwards.
The technology itself was the product of quantum mechanics Such computations were necessary in order to address the issues of achieving both stable, long-term data storage and low-energy writing and erasing.
Hayne adds: "The ideal is to combine the advantages of both without their drawbacks, and this is what we have demonstrated. Our device has an intrinsic data storage time that is predicted to exceed the age of the Universe, yet it can record or delete data using 100 times less energy than DRAM."
Research paper
The research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports. The research paper is titled “Room-temperature Operation of Low-voltage, Non-volatile, Compound-semiconductor Memory Cells.”
Essential Science
Inmates workout at a gym inside the Quezon City Jail
Inmates workout at a gym inside the Quezon City Jail
Noel Celis, AFP
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we considered how the differences between morning or evening effects on the body in terms of exercise regimes. Here scientists from the University of Copenhagen have discovered that the impact of exercise appears to differ according to times of day.
The week before our topic was about the best time drink coffee? And how can you avoid drinking too much? An algorithm has the answers.
More about Computers, Memory, universal computer memory, Dram, Flash
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