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Data Storage Hardware Technology

NCSU's Fingernail-Size Chip Can Hold 1TB 227

Posted by timothy
from the proof-of-concept dept.
CWmike writes "Engineers from North Carolina State University have created a new fingernail-size chip that can hold 1 trillion bytes (a terabyte) of data. They said their nanostructured Ni-MgO system can store up to 20 high-definition DVDs or 250 million pages of text, 'far exceeding the storage capacities of today's computer memory systems.' Using the process of selective doping, in which an impurity is added to a material whose properties consequently change, the engineers worked at nanoscale and added metal nickel to magnesium oxide, a ceramic. The resulting material contained clusters of nickel atoms no bigger than 10 square nanometers — a pinhead has a diameter of 1 million nanometers. The discovery represents a 90% size reduction compared with today's techniques, and an advancement that could boost computer storage capacity. 'Instead of making a chip that stores 20 gigabytes, you have one that can handle one terabyte, or 50 times more data,' said the team's leader, Jagdish 'Jay' Narayan, director of the National Science Foundation Center for Advanced Materials and Smart Structures at the university."
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NCSU's Fingernail-Size Chip Can Hold 1TB

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  • by vertinox (846076) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:32PM (#29840413)

    Are we talking in units of man hands or lady hands?

  • Dang it! (Score:4, Funny)

    by mhajicek (1582795) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:33PM (#29840427)
    I'm going to have to buy The White Album again!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      I'm going to have to buy The White Album again!

      I just bleach my shaded albums.
         

  • damn (Score:2, Funny)

    by LiquidCoooled (634315)

    that is tiny.
    If that had been available earlier this year, I wouldv had it implanted :D

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Rei (128717)

      Implanted? Just like that? Are you one of these people [xkcd.com]? ;)

    • by wjh31 (1372867)
      you only got 1TB in your chip? man you should see all the HD 4D holo video i can fit on my Exabyte implant.

      Signed:
      Time Traveler from 2030
    • by Culture20 (968837)

      If that had been available earlier this year, I wouldv had it implanted :D

      Until we hit the Moore's Law wall, implanting anything will result in multiple surgeries for upgrades or useless tech stuck in your body.

  • What is the ETA? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mr_stinky_britches (926212) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:35PM (#29840451) Homepage Journal

    Sounds promising, but how many months/years/decades before we can reasonably expect to see this used on a wide scale?

  • There is no chip. (Score:5, Informative)

    by victim (30647) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:37PM (#29840475)

    They have made a material which could if you designed a suitable chip and associated circuitry, and figured out how to manufacture it at large scale, would let you store a terabyte of data on a fingernail sized chip.

    The whoever wrote the article title should be embarrassed, as should timothy for propagating it.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      Two words: Page hits.

    • Re:There is no chip. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Phat_Tony (661117) * on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:22PM (#29840915)
      I found an even more impressive material, and I can already manufacture it myself in bulk.

      Each base of DNA can be AGT or C, so that's 2 bits worth of data per base pair.

      A terabyte = 1.1259E+15 bits, so a terabyte of DNA is 5.6295E+14 base pairs.

      For mass, [5.6295E+14 base pairs] x [660 daltons per base pair] = [3.71547E+17 daltons] = 6.169686786411827E-7 grams = .62 micrograms per terabyte.

      That's smaller than my fingernail by a pretty good margin. In fact, my actual fingernail already contains maybe a petabyte of storage.

      Unlike their new super material, I've already developed (well, OK, discovered. Well, no, read about other people discovering) techniques for reading, writing, and copying data with this storage medium.

      However, like them, I haven't worked out any computer interface yet.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        In fact, my actual fingernail already contains maybe a petabyte of storage.
         

        You need to wash your hands more often

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by belthize (990217)

        The resulting storage of 1,000,000 people typing away on slashdot will eventually encode a monkey.

    • Re:There is no chip. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by shadowofwind (1209890) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:42PM (#29841093)

      Years ago I worked a product that had an IC feature that could be manufactured reliably 99.99% of the time. For a real device with millions of such features that averages to almost zero yield, and this problem was not overcome. For some technologies the manufacturing yield hurdle can be overcome, for others it can't be. So although seeing a small number of memory cells work correctly is interesting and worthwhile, by itself that doesn't tell us whether we will ever see this technology in an actual product.

      • Re:There is no chip. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by marcansoft (727665) <[moc.tfosnacram] [ta] [rotceh]> on Thursday October 22, 2009 @11:42PM (#29842877) Homepage

        These days the quality of memory is crap though. Just look at NAND flash: there are hundreds of failed blocks on most chips, and these days sectors with a bad bit or two are used and just error corrected. Same with hard disks. You work around this by shoving large amounts of error detection, correction, and relocation logic into the controller.

        Let's say each individual bit (!) can be manufactured reliably 99.99% of the time. For a 2048-byte sector (typical for NAND flash), using sector-granularity remapping, there's a ~20% chance of a sector being good. That's not very good, but it still gives you 19% usable capacity. At a terabyte per chip, that's still 190GB of storage. If you add single-bit error correction, you'd get 500GB of storage. At 2-bit correction, 750GB. Current generation Flash memory already uses multiple-bit ECC for MLC level flash memory (where typically 2 bits will fail at once), and sectors with one bad bit(pair) are considered "good enough" and corrected away. If you can manufacture this 1TB storage chip at 99.99% per bit, and especially if most of the failures will happen at manufacture time and not develop later during use, I'll gladly take it given a reasonable amount of error correction wrapping it. It's not like we don't already rely on ECC for our day-to-day storage.

        Yield issues affect mainly things like CPUs with no redundancy. With memory, you just lose the damaged parts. Even RAM these days is manufactured with spare blocks that can replace blocks that came out wrong, to increase yield (though it's usually only a few and the remapping is burned in at the factory).

    • They have made a material which could if you designed a suitable... and figured out how to manufacture it at large scale, would let you....

      The whoever wrote the article title should be embarrassed, as should timothy for propagating it.

      Unless the article is a sham, they already have mass manufactured this memerrific material — and it's also comprised of some mimetic polyalloy that's already replaced them. Then won't you be embarrassed.

  • It had to happen eventually. Whether or not this is the actual limit, deponent answereth not.
  • by dschuetz (10924) <slash AT david DOT dasnet DOT org> on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:40PM (#29840521) Homepage

    Or just a demonstration of an artificial structure with resolution / density that'd permit 1 TB in whatever their size is?

    I didn't see anything in the article that leads me to believe it's an actual storage device. Come to think of it, I'm not sure it's even necessarily a "fingernail-sized" chip they made, just that if you scaled their research to that size it'd hold 1 TB.

    Any information other than this incredibly vague article? (I swear, more and more frequently we're seeing useless articles that say even less than the press release they're drawn from. And aren't the press releases often DESIGNED to be vague and over-promising, possibly to attract more research dollars?) Be nice if we'd just see their actual research, or a rough draft of a paper, or even just a frank interview with the geeks involved.

  • . . . so now I know how the Monty Python crew pulled off that trick . . . this music was stored on his fingernail!

  • Performance? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by saleenS281 (859657) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:47PM (#29840597) Homepage
    It's great that you can store 1TB on it, but what does the performance look like? If it takes me 4 hours to pull a gig of data off of it, it's nearly useless. I could see some very, very corner cases where you need to store data indefinitely, and would be able to recover it with no timeline attached, but that's awfully rare nowadays. I want to see IOPS and access time ;) I'm also wondering how you would even read and write data. They seem to have left that detail out.
  • nanotech on its way (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dissy (172727) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:49PM (#29840623)

    While they are light on details, the article implies this is a long term storage system (IE a flash chip replacement)

    One would think creating RAM with a similar density would be possible as well.

    I've used a super computer that had 74 TB of main memory, but clearly is something one can not afford nor fit in the home, to put it mildly. In a few years, will we have 1tb dimms at home? That would be sweet.

    Even lacking that, a 1tb flash-like chip (not as in technology, but as in purpose/use) is still a huge improvement.

    Let's just hope it doesn't go the way of the 100tb optical discs that are 'going into production within a year' for the last 10 years.

    On a happier note, just imagine the reactions the RIAA/MPAA lawyers would have to such a thing existing!
    "Now all of your 'IP' fits on a nine finger-nail-sized set!"

    • Yeah, I mean, I haven't used a super computer before, but I did use a Mac Pro once.

      I'll be happy when I can Grab a Dell with those specs at a decent price.

  • ...athletes have been making millions that way for years!

  • Wait!!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:53PM (#29840661)

    can store up to 20 high-definition DVDs or 250 million pages of text

          Wait, how many Libraries of Congress is that??? Now I'm totally confused, you keep switching the units on me!

          On second thoughts, it can probably store 1 copy of Windows 8.

  • by Gordo_1 (256312) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:00PM (#29840741)

    how we go from the below scientific journal abstract to the Slashdot headline: "NCSU's Fingernail-Size Chip Can Hold 1TB"?

    We have investigated the magnetic properties of the Ni-MgO system with an Ni concentration of 0.5 at.%. In as-grown crystals, Ni ions occupy substitutional Mg sites. Under these conditions the Ni-MgO system behaves as a perfect paramagnet. By using a controlled annealing treatment in a reducing atmosphere, we were able to induce clustering and form pure Ni precipitates in the nanometer size range. The size distribution of precipitates or nanodots is varied by changing annealing time and temperature. Magnetic properties of specimens ranging from perfect paramagnetic to ferromagnetic characteristics have been studied systematically to establish structure-property correlations. The spontaneous magnetization data for the samples, where Ni was precipitated randomly in MgO host, fits well to Bloch's T3/2-law and has been explained within the framework of spin wave theory predictions.

    Seriously, do you see anything about a chip in there? Anyone? Bueller?

  • LoC? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by swanzilla (1458281) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:01PM (#29840749) Homepage
    Ten fingernails, each with 1/10 LoC capacity...the future is here, my friends.
  • I find this article a bit confusing, because it speaks of "harnessing the energy of a spinning electron":

    "Most energy used today is harnessed through the movement of current and is limited by the amount of heat that it produces, but the energy created by the spinning of electrons produces no heat," the university state in a press release.

    Anyone who knows anything at all about quantum mechanics knows that the spin of an electron is quantized and cannot change.

    The Wikipedia article has this to say about spintronics:

    Electrons are spin-1/2 fermions and therefore constitute a two-state system with spin "up" and spin "down". To make a spintronic device, the primary requirements are to have a system that can generate a current of spin polarized electrons comprising more of one spin species—up or down—than the other (called a spin injector), and a separate system that is sensitive to the spin polarization of the electrons (spin detector). Manipulation of the electron spin during transport between injector and detector (especially in semiconductors) via spin precession can be accomplished using real external magnetic fields or effective fields caused by spin-orbit interaction.

    This makes MUCH more sense! Reporters are always notorious for getting the science wrong.

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      the spin of an electron is quantized and cannot change

      Except for the two states, spin up and spin down, as you mention below (though real systems are not necessarily that simple).

      However, it's strictly impossible for an information-processing machine to produce no heat, as information processing is an entropy-reducing process.

  • that can hold 1 trillion bytes (a terabyte) of data

    What's the point of saying "1 trillion"? Do you honestly expect anyone on this site to not know what a terabyte is? Or what is that good for?
    Because, you know how the world works: When you lower your standards, and allow dumber people to use it... Then dumber people you shall have!
    But not just dumber people. A Gaussian curve of dumber people. Including some, that don't even get *that*.
    So if you then continue to sustain that endless cycle, you will soon find out, that only retards you will have left.

  • Now I will be one step closer to having a complete backup of the internet.
  • The Abstract. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jason Pollock (45537) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:33PM (#29841015) Homepage

    Here is the paper's abstract:

    Abstract: We have investigated the magnetic properties of the Ni-MgO system with an Ni concentration of 0.5 at.%. In as-grown crystals, Ni ions occupy substitutional Mg sites. Under these conditions the Ni-MgO system behaves as a perfect paramagnet. By using a controlled annealing treatment in a reducing atmosphere, we were able to induce clustering and form pure Ni precipitates in the nanometer size range. The size distribution of precipitates or nanodots is varied by changing annealing time and temperature. Magnetic properties of specimens ranging from perfect paramagnetic to ferromagnetic characteristics have been studied systematically to establish structure-property correlations. The spontaneous magnetization data for the samples, where Ni was precipitated randomly in MgO host, fits well to Bloch’s T3/2-law and has been explained within the framework of spin wave theory predictions.

    Now, my question is, how do you store information in that? If the material is paramagnetic [wikipedia.org], that implies it isn't stored like a disk (read/write using a magnetic field)? How are they planning on storing information in a clump of nickel atoms? (Note: I know absolutely nothing about this stuff)

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:39PM (#29841063) Homepage

    This is yet another of those articles where somebody did something vaguely promising in materials science [harvard.edu], and it's immediately being touted as if it were a product.

    They're not talking about a "chip" at all. The material they've produced sounds more like something that might work as a disk surface. "Under these conditions the Ni-MgO system behaves as a perfect paramagnet." It's not clear what you'd use as a read/write head, even if they can create a surface of "nanodots".

  • I mean...they could be going by these:
    http://thechive.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/longest-fingernails-world.jpg [thechive.com]

    Which, to be honest..would not be too impressive to stick 1TB on a fingernail like that.

  • Alex: "Two geeks penetrating a system backdoor?"

    Contestant: "What is DDRASSRAM?, Alex."

    Alex: Painfully correct sir, painfully correct.
  • The resulting material contained clusters of nickel atoms no bigger than 10 square nanometers -- a pinhead has a diameter of 1 million nanometers

    We are so close to answering the ancient question — how many angels would fit on a pinhead? The prevailing opinion [answers.com] is, angels are ethereal beings, and thus infinite number of them would fit anywhere. But information is not tangible either (some even refuse to accept, that it can be owned), and yet obvious — if ever shrinking — limits exist to info

  • a pinhead has a diameter of 1 million nanometers

    Also, 1 millimeter, a giga-picometer, a tera-femtometer, a....

  • I wasn't sure at first if they were setting the data by doping the material, but on closer reading
    "The engineers manipulated the nanomaterial so the electrons' spin within the material could be controlled, ..."
    makes it sound electrically re-writeable. Which is probably the only thing anyone's really interested in,
    unless it was super-cheap. (i.e. cheap enough to replace pressed optical discs with ROM USB-storage.)

    As bobjr94 hopes, it would be nice if it is that cheap, though, and optical discs are replaced

  • OK, I've done the RTFM, and I've read most of the posted comments here too. But I can't find the answer to the most basic question of all, just what type of memory is this? Is it some sore of flash memory? Is it volatile RAM, and if RAM is it Static or Dynamic and what is it's access speed (also worth knowing if it is some sort of flash RAM). And of course that includes all of the other related technical data, like how how many read/write cycles it can survive. I can't get too excited about thinking this m

"If that makes any sense to you, you have a big problem." -- C. Durance, Computer Science 234

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