HP takes computing closer to the atomic level

Memristors could replace transistors on processing chips

In the race to bring computing down to the atomic level, Hewlett-Packard recently cleared a pretty big hurdle. The company announced that it had proved the existence of the memristor, described as the fourth basic element of integrated circuits.

The upshot: Memristors, which is short for memory resistors, could replace transistors on processing chips. HP has built memristors at the 3-nanometer scale — current transistors technology is at 32 nanometers — with the ability to turn on and off in a billionth of a second and retain information even after the power is off. Switches could be stacked vertically, and HP scientists told the New York Times that they expect to be able to put 20G of storage in a square centimeter within three years. And they could scale up from there.

The devices also could expand the range of what computers could do, giving them the pattern-matching abilities of a human brain, HP said.

How small is the scale of these chips? Consider that a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick. It’s so small, in fact, that the existence of memristors was at first a theory, like that of quarks within atoms. They were first proposed in 1971 by Leon Chua of the University of California at Berkeley as an element of integrated circuits, along with the resistor, capacitor and inductor. Now, 39 years later, scientists at HP’s Information and Quantum Systems Lab have the proof, and Moore’s Law continues to look safe.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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