The study was completed by European and Russian scientists. Published in the Nature journal
, it proposes using terahertz radiation (commonly referred to as "T-rays") instead of magnetic fields to perform the cell-resets in computer memory. This could speed up the process by as many as 1,000 times, creating a new era of ultrafast memory well suited to supercomputers.
T-rays are currently used most commonly in airport body scanners. The researchers believe they could use the waves to switch
memory cells in a trillionth of a second. The speed at which cells can be flipped currently limits the operation rate of computer memory because the switching is done by an external magnetic field. T-rays use electromagnetic waves oscillating in the 0.3THz to 3THz range, 1,000 times faster than the magnetic field in current systems can be changed.
The system is comparatively energy efficient as well as being extremely fast. The researchers believe that applications of the technology could range from faster gaming PCs to eventual widespread access to quantum computers capable of solving new problems. The research has been hailed
as "a milestone of photonics" by Professor Rupert Huber, leader of the study at the University of Regensburg, Germany.
The technology isn't ready for use just yet though. There's still several years to go before it comes anywhere near to commercialisation. So far, the researchers have successfully demonstrated their concept on thulium orthoferrite, a weak ferromagnet. However, they have yet to actually test the theory on computer memory cells. Further work will be required to establish the real world benefits of terahertz waves in memory. It's going to be a while before this crops up in any mainstream computers.
Terahertz waves are cropping up a lot lately in experiments and
scientific research projects. The waves are receiving a lot of attention for their ability to enable technology that is not achievable using current systems. Recently, MIT demonstrated a camera
that uses terahertz waves to read closed books. In another experiment, the waves were used to
examine the internals of a broken micro-chip.
In the near future, consumer computer memory will see significant performance improvements from the introduction of
third-generation High Bandwidth Memory (HBM). The technology is being widely hyped as critical to bringing virtual reality and high-quality gaming to the masses.
It enables more memory to be placed in smaller spaces on graphics cards, creating a denser structure that could make tiny but very powerful graphics cards a reality. These would be ideal for integrating into virtual reality headsets without adding any additional bulk.