New Type of Computer Memory Could Replace Existing RAM and Flash Drives

  • The new ‘universal memory’ can write or erase data using 100x less energy than DRAM. 
  • It would allow computers to boot up instantly and imperceptibly go into sleep mode, even between keystrokes. 

While different types of charge-based memories are used for different purposes in electronic devices, several flaws in their properties have led scientists to develop more efficient alternatives.

Recently, researchers at Lancaster University in England came up with a new type of computer memory — universal memory — that could solve the digital energy crisis by transforming daily lives with its ultra-low energy consumption.

The existing flash, Dynamic random access memory (DRAM), and Static random access memory (SRAM) have complementary attributes that make them well-suited to their specific roles in data storage, active memory, and cache, respectively. However, all of them have their own shortcomings.

Flash, for instance, can store data for long-term, but writing and deleting data is energy intensive and slow. Data can be written to a given cell of flash storage for a limited number of times only, which makes this device unsuitable for working memory.

DRAM is much faster and uses less energy than flash storage, but data stored on this memory is volatile and must be repeatedly refreshed to retain it on the device. The process is both inefficient and inconvenient.

The research team combined the advantages of both memories (flash and DRAM) and demonstrated universal memory that could replace the $100 billion market for flash drives and DRAM.

Reference: Nature | DOI:10.17635/lancaster/researchdata/275 | Lancaster University

A Promising New Emerging Memory Concept

The data, fueled by Internet of Things and the use of connected devices, is expected to consume 1/5th of global electricity by 2025. This new universal memory has the potential to decrease 80% of peak power consumption in data centers.

In this study, researchers showed charge-based memory cells with compact design, on which data can be written and erased at low-voltage. Unlike conventional RAM, it’s a non-volatile device that features non-destructive read.

New Type of Computer Memory - universalConventional RAM 

To achieve the contradictory requirements of low-voltage switching and non-volatility, researchers exploited quantum-mechanical characteristics of an asymmetric triple resonant-tunneling barrier.

Since the device has a compact configuration and junctionless channel with uniform doping, it is quite easy to scale. The non-destructive read and low-voltage operations would minimize the peripheral circuitry needed in a memory chip.

Moreover, the memory would allow computers to boot up instantly and imperceptibly go into sleep mode — even between keystrokes — saving a significant amount of energy. It can write or erase data using 100x less energy compared to DRAM.

Read: World’s Fastest Optical RAM That Stores Light Instead Of Electricity

Overall, it seems a promising memory concept. Researchers have already patented the technology (one patent is pending), and many private organizations have expressed an interest in the research.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is an experienced science and technology journalist interested in machines, AI, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out what his latest project is, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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