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Data Storage Hardware

Researchers Achieve Amazing Memory Density 279

Mr. Fahrenheit writes in with a Wired story on research out of Arizona State, where researchers have "developed a low-cost, low-power computer memory that could put terabyte-sized thumb drives in consumers' pockets within a few years... The new memory technology — programmable metallization cell (PMC) — comes as current storage technologies are starting to reach their physical limits." PMC involves the on-demand creation of copper nano-wire bridges. It's said to promise memories that are 1/10 the cost and 1/1000 the power consumption of conventional Flash memory. Three memory manufacturers have licensed the technology and the first chips are expected on the market in 18 months.
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Researchers Achieve Amazing Memory Density

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  • Other specs? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Harmonious Botch ( 921977 ) * on Sunday October 28, 2007 @09:12PM (#21152681) Homepage Journal
    How about speed, durability, mean time before failure, etc.
    • FTA: "Kozicki says the process is like condensing a crystal from a solution, except that the process is almost infinitely reversible." Remember that gargoyles episode where like half of australia gets covered in nano crystals? That's what your room looks like after a drive failure.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      How about letting them build the thing first? Or do you suggest we form a statistical opinion based on the two or three prototypes that might exist?
      #places in circular file under vaporware for 18 months.
    • Re:Other specs? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Monday October 29, 2007 @06:12AM (#21155255) Journal

      How about speed, durability, mean time before failure, etc
      Man, you guys are a tough crowd. This is a breakthrough for chrissake. I can imagine if Slashdot had been around when they reported Alexander Graham Bell's famous "Watson, come here I need you" experiment. You'd have been saying "But will he be able to get speech enhancement using minimum mean-square error log-spectral amplitude estimators?" And asking about Wiener filters.

      But that's why I love you.

      [he said "Wiener" filter, heh-heh]
  • by Daimanta ( 1140543 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @09:12PM (#21152685) Journal
    Togheher with your flying car. No. Really.
  • Oblig. (Score:5, Funny)

    by thatskinnyguy ( 1129515 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @09:13PM (#21152691)
    Who on earth would ever need more than a terabyte?
  • Vaporware. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Iso ( 1088207 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @09:13PM (#21152693)
    We've all seen this a dozen times before. All "amazing density storage" is vaporware, even if we'll be able to buy it real soon now.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Not to mention the price per gig will be ridiculous. Why not just get a MyBook or something similar and say to hell with all of this vapor nonsense.
    • Re:Vaporware. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bill, Shooter of Bul ( 629286 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @09:24PM (#21152755) Journal
      Are you kidding me? putting 1.44 Mb on a 3 & 1/2 inch disk still blows my mind. If there is a nuclear holocaust, and I'm the smartest person left alive, I'd consider myself a genius if I could get to that stage. Or I suppose, as the smartest person alive, I could just invent a clay tablet and They'd worship me as a god. yeah, that seems easier. But still, man 1.44 mb! un-freaking-believable.
      • Re:Vaporware. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rbarreira ( 836272 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @09:36PM (#21152853) Homepage
        I don't think most people nowdays appreciate how much 1.44 MB is...
        • by nmb3000 ( 741169 )
          Slashdot certainly doesn't. I tried being clever and replying with the first 1.44MB pi (1 char = 1 byte) and got this error:

          No discussion or comments found for this request. To create your own discussion, please use journals.

          Kind of an odd error to get when it seems like something along the lines of "Post too large" would be more appropriate. A possible bug?

          For the record, it was the first 1,509,949 digits of pi and I was quite proud of it.
        • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @10:46PM (#21153323)

          I don't think most people nowdays appreciate how much 1.44 MB is...
          They will if you make them copy it out in punch cards. My high school computer teacher used that as a threat. Then again, she also warned us to keep those little plastic sleeves on the 3.5 disks to prevent the spread of viruses. *shakes head sadly*
        • Re:Vaporware. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @11:01PM (#21153419) Homepage
          It reminds me of an episode from Futurama:
          Fry: "That clover helped by rat fink brother steal my dream of going into space! Now I'll never get there ..."
          Leela: "You went there this morning for donuts."

          I mean, take for example flight. It's one helluva achievement isn't it, to fly like a bird. Ever since the dawn of man we've dreamt of it, like the legend of Icarus, Leonardo da Vinci's attempts at a flying machine and so on until finally some daredevils like the Wright brothers actually did it. I should be thrilled to fly, right? Well, last time I was just annoyed at the security checks, bored by the safety lecture, disgusted by the food and spent most of my time reading a book waiting for time to pass.

          Or this little magic thingie I have that lets me speak to anyone in the whole world, through thin air (not all the way, but I'll skip the details). I mean, would you believe it? Instead I'm mostly annoyed on how it can't always get through walls, that I have to recharge it every so often and that it's part of the "always on" stress of modern life.

          For that matter, that I can post this comment on a website halfway around the globe is a wonder of technology itself. That doesn't stop me (or everyone else, it seems) from complaining about their ISP and prices, support etc. or some shortcoming of the applications or protocols or whatever.

          I think the point is that if you went around like "oh wow" appriciating common things that much, you'd never do anything but get dazzled all day long. Then again, it probably wouldn't hurt to enjoy what we have a little more, but still... and "how much 1.44 MB is" is rather far down on my list.
          • by Sanat ( 702 )
            Nice comment. It sort of follows the glass half empty vs the glass half full quip and really extends to nearly everything we do in life.

            I've been a systems analyst since 1962 and have watched the computers go from large as a room to something that is portable and yet more powerful.

            The first Hard drive was huge and the heads moved by hydraulics. It had storage of 360KB or so as i recall.

            It is really incredible what mankind has dreamed and have subsequently produced with no slowing down in sight. If anything
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ucblockhead ( 63650 )
            I remember when I first got a 1200 baud modem and was ecstatically excited to have a piece of communications technology that could actually send text faster than I could read it. It was like science fiction!
          • Yeah, I do stop to smell the technological roses frequently. I still get stuff done. Sometimes understanding the way things were helps figure out how things should be. There are a lot of technological dead ends in particular that are really fascinating. Most people don't make the platoesqe separation between the idea behind a device or software and the actual thing itself marred by various flaws.

            I think 1.44 is special to me, because that used to be a back up routing I did as an intern. At the end of th
      • Then you would be right up there with Yoshiro Nakamatsu [].
      • According to the back of this envelope [], on an unformatted floppy disk you can fit about 100 bits on an area the size of the period at the end of this sentence. No wonder the damn things never work. Heh, they were great for getting out of homework back in the day.
    • Yeah....why I remember back in '98 reading a Slashdot article about a clearly vaporware process wherein a magnetic hard disk might someday be able to support almost a terabyte of data. I don't know why they keep publishing vaporware crap like that.
  • Almost Infiniate? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WillRobinson ( 159226 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @09:15PM (#21152703) Journal
    "Kozicki says the process is like condensing a crystal from a solution, except that the process is almost infinitely reversible. If the PMC is fed a positive charge, the copper atoms return to their previous free-floating state, and the nanowires disassemble."

    I would like to know the exact number of cycles this will take, plus or minus a few million times.

    The technology looks like it would eventual deplete the material used for the interconnect. But than again I am not a physicist.
    • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday October 29, 2007 @01:27AM (#21154209) Journal
      This sounds suspiciously like "whiskers".

      These little puppies were first discovered by accident back when AT&T was "The Phone Company". If I've got this right: Bell Labs had come up with a new alloy for terminal blocks that they thought would have some advantages. Western Electric made some up and the Bell Systems deployed them.

      Some time later they started running into trouble. Linemen would try to turn the nut and it wouldn't turn. So they cut some out and sent 'em in for analysis.

      These long, thin, crystals of metal had grown through the boundary of the thread, welding the nuts onto the bolts. They were extremely pure and very strong - in the general neighborhood of the theoretical strength of the material, when things fabricated by normal processes fell short by a "factor of many" (more than one power of ten).

      They cristened them "whiskers". I'm not aware of anything that came of that at the time.

      But when the early satellites were going up (back when the very early printed circuits were the cutting edge of hi-tech), whiskers showed up again - growing between the lines of the printed circuit board exposed to vacuum and zero g, shorting things out. This is why early US satellites (heavily miniaturized to go on the small boosters) tended to flake out while early Russian stuff (big discrete components on terminal strips lifted by their big boosters) kept working - and why that reversed later, when the US had the problem solved and the Russians started miniaturizing and had to go through the same learning curve.

      Once they figured out what was happening and came up with an alloy that didn't whisker, they played around for a bit with self-healing printed circuit boards. These had conductors of a whiskering alloy with a plating of non-whiskering stuff. Idea was that if a trace broke due to vibration during launch, the exposed core would whisker across the gap and make things run again (until it whiskered over to another wire and shorted things out.) During that time they also played with self-healing aluminized mylar capacitors, designed so that if the mylar developed a hole the cap would discharge through the hole, vaporize the aluminum around the hole, and things would then go back to normal operation.

      I'm not sure that any of this actually worked out.

      If these ARE whiskers-on-demand as storage elements, it's nice to see whiskers actually do something useful. B-)
  • Finally! (Score:4, Funny)

    by WK2 ( 1072560 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @09:18PM (#21152727) Homepage
    Finally, they will have a viable means to distribute Duke Nuke'm Forever!
  • "researchers have developed a low-cost, low-power computer memory that could put terabyte-sized thumb drives in consumers' pockets within a few years"

    Screw consumers - think of the reviewers!

    That should give fresh momentum to the "how much is too much?" [] swag topic taco seems to love so much...heaven forbid we should walk too close to the edge on that one.

    In other news - Boston wins series. Yawn...
  • It's always fun when a 'disruptive technology' comes along and devalues all the research in similar fields. Assuming that this is what it claims to be, I wonder where 'moving parts' storage will be in 5 years?
  • Cost vs. Price (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Boogaroo ( 604901 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @09:40PM (#21152909) Homepage
    It may cost 1/10th the cost to make, but I submit that we'll be charged double the current price simply because it's "new and improved." Just look at CDs vs. Tape or VHS vs. DVD.
    • And also compare the price of VHS in it's heyday to the price of a DVD now.

      When tech is new, it's always more expensive. That's why it costs so damn much to be on the cutting edge. But the prices curve down in decent time, as new super-expensive tech is invented and replaces it.

      It's simple economics.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Artraze ( 600366 )
      I doubt it. CDs were a different product, and therefore a chance to extract mondo bucks from consumers. The "new and improved" argument had a little to do with it, but copyright and forced obsolescence of tapes was what actually allowed for the higher price. (i.e. Consumers had to buy the expensive new option because they had no choice otherwise, not because they were willing to pay the artificial premium for the newness.)

      For this, however, there is no similar mechanism. To most consumers it will just l
      • Interesting thoughts on this angle of the discovery. I had expected the "cost of development" and "new tech is always more expensive because it's not selling as many units," but you've gone another step. To wit, I'd not thought thoroughly about the fact that my examples weren't as "apples to apples" as I had intended.
        It's interesting to think about the implications for space travel and the physical aspect of the media this offers. It'll be interesting to see if this tech plays out as well as we're imagining
  • by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @09:45PM (#21152941)
    Conventional memories rely on moving electrons in and out of insulating wells. This works both reliably and quickly. Reliable because it's a simple electrical process. Quickly because electrons are very light.

    Now building copper bridges is a whole different kind of animal. It's more akin to chemistry. Reliability is likely to be poor, as impurities and dust bollix things up. Speed and power consumption are not going to be great, as you're moving copper atoms, many thousands of times heavier than electrons.

    This device may be more in the running as a disk-drive replacement than as a substitute for flash memory.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Now building copper bridges is a whole different kind of animal. It's more akin to chemistry. Reliability is likely to be poor, as impurities and dust bollix things up. Speed and power consumption are not going to be great, as you're moving copper atoms, many thousands of times heavier than electrons.

      Did you even read the article? It talked about the technology being 1000 times more energy efficient than what's currently in use. This isn't actually that hard to believe. The statement from the article t

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Waffle Iron ( 339739 )
      If I'm not mistaken, the signaling delay of conventional circuits is dominated by the reactance of the electromagnetic fields, not by the momentum of the electrons. Therefore, there's not much basis to conclude that the momentum of copper atoms moving over a couple of nanometers distance will cause a significant delay reletave to an electronic circuit saddled by its capacitance and inductance.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Actually the technology they present is quite realistic. I did look at the article and the technical paper available on their website. They are talking about building the conducting bridge in an heavily doped material where the conductible material are sphere of approximately 20nm with a spacing of approximately 2nm(approximately 2 atoms diameter).Submitting such a solution even if it a "solid material" to a differential potential will create a field who could cause something like electro migration. Dependi
  • 1 TB (Score:2, Funny)

    by dgun ( 1056422 )

    It would be great if they made it look just like a floppy. I would pull up a command prompt and format it everyday, just so I look like a smarty computer guy to all my coworkers.

    And what a great excuse, "Sorry sir, I will get that report to you as soon as this thing formats. Oh, look at the time. See you in the morning."

  • by SamP2 ( 1097897 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @09:52PM (#21152993)
    Cheap? Cool. Large size? even better. Energy efficient? Meh, I'm not in Greenpeace, but sure. And I'm even willing to believe it's reasonably reliable.

    But how come nobody's concerned aobut the the IO speed? I wouldn't be too concerned about reading, but if writing/rewriting requires real-time rebuilding of gates, wouldn't it be snail-slow?

    The IO of even regular hard drives already becomes a significant factors as drives grow exponentially larger and speed stays the same as always. If this is even slower, it'd become a serious deterrent.
    • by safXmal ( 929533 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @10:02PM (#21153059)
      I went to the website [] . and found following description;
      "Key Benefits
      PMCm has a number of unique attributes that make it a highly attractive component for future systems on silicon:
      Operation at low voltages ( 0.3 V)
      High speed write and erase operations
      ( 30 ns)
      Low energy to change state ( 1 pJ)
      Physical scalability to tens of nm
      Easy integration with IC logic circuitry
      Operation as a low refresh-rate DRAM or as a true non-volatile memory with high endurance (based on the programming mode).
      These features define a class of devices that are essential for projected electronics systems and which will be difficult to realize using developed versions of today's circuits. "

      Hope that answers some of your questions

    • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @10:19PM (#21153157)
      Energy efficiency is not at all arbitrary if it is coming out of a battery.
    • Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that a single write takes 100ms.

      All you have to do is thread it. You can't do this with normal hard drives, short of RAID. But, like a well-designed flash array, you can pretty much parallize any write you want.

      Of course, it means that the filesystem would have to know to do this, but I don't see it really having any serious implications on performance. If it functions as a solid-state device, then I'd assume it could theoretically perform better, actually.
  • ... my gut says "no". In my experience, announcements of revolutionary technology that are much more than just a few months away from commercialization are typically attempts at funding for research on a proposed project, rather than an actual announcement of an existing viable product.
  • Bla..bla..bla.....

    Lots of cool stuff promised by lots of people (some of whom are cool).

    Wake me when I can buy it.
    • Well yeah questions not asked/answered

      1. Yield, what are the production hazards, just because it's smaller than NAND flash doesn't mean it's cheaper.

      2. Wear. How many re-writes can it suffer?

      3. What temperatures can it run at, etc, etc, etc ...

  • The technology sounds great, and if they come through with it I am sure it will lead to many innovations. However, am I the only one who feels a little uncomfortable with research done at a state university, funded by the public, and performed by unpaid or low-paid grad students being licensed by "Arizona States business spin off, Axon Technologies"

    I know that type of arrangement may be common place today but I sure would like to follow the money trail.
  • Holy cow, that's fantastic. If I could carry my whole DVD collection on my iPod, I would. Not to mention, that dropping the storage cost like that would also make 4K video feasible.


  • Someone mentioned that it takes an extraordinarily small amount of energy (1 pJ) to flip bits.

    Will this be stable in the field? I mean, EMF should be able to elicit those kinds of potentials fairly easily.
  • How long would it take to fill a 1TB "Thumb Drive" over USB2? or even USB3?
    Some Numbers...
    1TB = 1024^4 = 1,099,511,627,776 bytes []
    USB 2.0 Transfer Rate = 480 Mbit/s []
    USB 3.0 Transfer Rate = 4.8 Gbit/s []
    1 megabit = 10^6 = 1,000,000 bits which is equal to 125,000 bytes or 125 kilobytes. []
    1 gigabit = 10^9 = 1,000,000,000 bits (which is equal to 125 decim
    • Ummm, why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by phorm ( 591458 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @11:29PM (#21153591) Journal
      When would you ever have to transfer a full terabyte at a time? Unless you're doing a really bigass backup to this thing, you probably won't.
      And if you are, well that's a hell of a lot faster and more convenient than burning 233 standard DVD-R's (about what it would take with non dual-sided discs) or writing the equivilent tape or network-based backup method. Heck, that beats out most disk-to-disk transfers.
  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @11:43PM (#21153665)

    Three memory manufacturers have licensed the technology and the first chips are expected on the market in 18 months.

    Hey, stick to The Rules. No new, paradigm-changing technologies are allowed to be announced as arriving in less than 5 years.

    For that matter, they can't be more than 5 years out either!

  • by Kingrames ( 858416 ) on Monday October 29, 2007 @12:33AM (#21153959)
    Since this probably means that game producers will be able to put their games on flash drives instead of CDs and DVDs, it would be even more convenient than having a backup disk.

    That, and they'd be able to shrink down the size of game boxes again, from dvd size to, dare I say it, cigarette pack sized. Your next video game could be dispensed by a vending machine.

Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. -- Christopher Morley