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IBM Power Hardware

IBM Dipping Chips In 'Ionic Liquid' To Save Power 68

Nerval's Lobster writes "IBM announced this week that it has developed a way to manufacture both logic and memory that relies on a small drop of 'ionic liquid' to flip oxides back and forth between an insulating and conductive state without the need to constantly draw power. In theory, that means both memory and logic built using those techniques could dramatically save power. IBM described the advance in the journal Science, and also published a summary of its results to its Website. The central idea is to eliminate as much power as possible as it moves through a semiconductor. IBM's solution is to use a bit of 'ionic liquid' to flip the state. IBM researchers applied a positively charged ionic liquid electrolyte to an insulating oxide material — vanadium dioxide — and successfully converted the material to a metallic state. The material held its metallic state until a negatively charged ionic liquid electrolyte was applied in order to convert it back to its original, insulating state. A loose analogy would be to compare IBM's technology to the sort of electronic ink used in the black-and-white versions of the Kindle and other e-readers. There, an electrical charge can be applied to the tiny microcapsules that contain the 'ink,' hiding or displaying them to render a page of text. Like IBM's solution, the e-ink doesn't require a constant charge; power only needs to be applied to re-render or 'flip' the page. In any event, IBM's technique could conceivably be applied to both mobile devices as well as power-hungry data centers."
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IBM Dipping Chips In 'Ionic Liquid' To Save Power

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  • by ExploHD ( 888637 ) on Saturday March 23, 2013 @06:12AM (#43255681)
    For an ionic liquid there should be no charge.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      "We'll be happy to give you the ionic liquid for free. The license for the patent? You go grab your check book and I'll start writing '0's."

    • by vuo ( 156163 )
      Joking aside, ILs are expensive, because they're yet nothing but custom-manufactured small-batch chemicals for research. We're talking about 500-1200 €/kg for low grade (2-5% impurities). For high purity, you need very deep pockets, since producing pure ILs is not routine and may need expensive custom synthesis and research. If production is scaled up, though, then we're in the normal custom manufacturing range, order of magnitude being 10-100 €/kg. In this case, though, I think the price of the I
      • by vuo ( 156163 )
        And just to clarify, their IL was 1-hexyl-3-methylimidazolium bis(trifluoromethylsulfonyl)imide, or better known as [hmim][NTf2], fairly nonexotic as far as ILs go. Although I didn't find the price for this, the butyl version (whose synthesis is very similar) goes for 1150 €/kg at SigmaAldrich.
      • Well, most ionic liquids are expensive. Not all, though -- you can make one with a eutectic mix of choline chloride and urea that's liquid at room temperature, and the components are available for pennies per kilogram. (Choline chloride is chicken feed, and urea is a bulk fertilizer.)

        I'm sure a semiconductor manufacturer wouldn't be using anything so mundane. Then again, they'd probably be using micrograms at most per chip.

    • by slick7 ( 1703596 )

      For an ionic liquid there should be no charge.

      A liquid that flip flops back and forth? Squeeze it out of the politicians and reduce the price a thousand-fold.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That's a pretty garbled summary.

    • That's a pretty garbled summary.

      Oh, absolutely, that it's actually marginally intelligible is rather worrisome.

      I suspect that one of our Slashdot editors has been secretly replaced with Folger's Crystals.

    • Yeah, it's basically another nonvolatile memory press release. Sounds close to phase-change memory.

      The background would be that flash might not be scaling well, or might eventually stop scaling, so there are a lot of other types of nifty nonvolatile memory types that would aim to replace it. Magnetoresistive, ferroelectric, phase change, memristors, nanotubes, whatever. That's not to say that those sorts of things can't perhaps escape their niche and make create a whole new class of computing machines
    • It's actually easier to read if you read 'ionic liquid' in an Arnold voice like 'mimetic poly- alloy'.

      Which is not in fact the title of a song by Austrian Death Machine [] but arguably should be.

  • But... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 23, 2013 @06:18AM (#43255695)

    ... does it have electrolytes?

  • As a non-hardware engineer, I am not sure I understood the article, but would this make it possible to literally hard-code software to improve performance? I.e. a logic board having some standard components and a "changable" chip that could improve performance of much-used software?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      You mean, something like an FPGA?

  • by hcs_$reboot ( 1536101 ) on Saturday March 23, 2013 @07:10AM (#43255857)
    but there have been so many "IBM new revolutionary technologies" during the (recent) past years nobody has even been able to see in actual life, let's hope this one makes it up to the shops in a reasonably near future...
    • by mrmeval ( 662166 )

      The IBM article is slim on about everything. It seems to imply you have to put a liquid on the gate to turn it on and another to turn it off.

      I'd need a lot more info from them to even try and understand WTF they have.

    • but there have been so many "IBM new revolutionary technologies" during the (recent) past years nobody has even been able to see in actual life, let's hope this one makes it up to the shops in a reasonably near future...

      What was not mentioned was the switching speed. If the speed is in microseconds, then the technology could be used in SSD type devices. If it is in nanoseconds, then of course, it can be used for live memory.

    • Like "pixie dust"? A lot of this stuff does end up in available technology, but you don't hear about it because companies licensing it don't want to admit it's an IBM invention.
  • 3 questions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <> on Saturday March 23, 2013 @07:27AM (#43255909) Homepage

    The really important things that were not mentioned are:

    • * How fast is it -- to store/retrieve a bit
    • * What is its life -- how many times can I do it before it breaks
    • * How much heat does it generate ?
    • by rriegs ( 1540879 )
      While neither of the articles talk about the speed of the process, comparing it to e-ink makes it sound like it may take around 1 second before the conductor/insulator becomes reliable. If so, this may be hundreds of times slower than even an HDD and many millions of times slower than conventional RAM. That being said, after the conductor/insulator is formed, I imagine that read speeds would be similar to conventional RAM, as "reading" is still basically the same: testing whether current passes through a
      • by smaddox ( 928261 )

        Just came here to make sure someone made this point. This process is useless for high-speed electronics because it requires very low-speed drift of ions through an oxide. Why IBM made a press release about this is completely beyond me.

    • I tried to find the Science article, but couldn't. An explicit reference seems to be given nowhere, not even on the IBM page.

    • Also, how big is it? From the picture in the article it looks like 20um technology which wouldn't be viable for ICs unless they find a way to shrink it substantially.
  • ...wouldn't this lead to exploits that are currently considered impossible due to the volatile nature of RAM? I'm thinking of something along the lines of those guys who jailbroke a mobile phone by putting it in a freezer. Not that this would be an insurmountable problem, but it is something to think about.


    • What exploits would this enable which hibernating doesn't?

    • The researchers freezing the phone weren't doing it for anything as trivial as a root exploit; they were doing it to break the filesystem encryption. Freezing the phone (with it switched on) slows down the RAM decay enough so that quickly (~0.5sec) popping out the battery will reboot the system without the RAM erasing. From there, they start the phone up into "fastboot" mode, which is a pre-OS state that allows the device to be attached to a computer and have a custom OS loaded. That OS sniffs the RAM for t

  • This reminds me of our meatbag bodies and homeostasis. Instead of waiting for electrons to come flowing down the wire transistors can draw electrons from surrounding 'Ionic Liquid'?

  • ...they'll rebuild it using bionic liquid to make it better than before. Better, stronger, faster.
    • And then a virus will take over it and we'll have our first T-1000 [].

      • And then a virus will take over it and we'll have our first T-1000 [].

        You realize my post was more of a Six Million Dollar Man joke than Terminator joke, or are you a youngster?

        • I realize that, but I thought I could squeeze a Terminator joke in there as well. You know, kind of a "Steve Austin turned evil by technology" theme.

  • I have a shot of ionic liquid every day.
  • Always go for the double-dipped ones...
  • I'm going to run out and dip my chips in Corinthian and Doric liquids to see what happens.

  • by Required Snark ( 1702878 ) on Saturday March 23, 2013 @05:46PM (#43259477)
    This is a phase change device []

    The track record of this type of technology has not been good. Ovonic device have never seen any significant deployment. They change state via an electric pulse that heats a cell and causes it to change between a crystalline and amorphous form. The cell holds the state without power consumption, and reading the value requires very little power.

    The HP memristor is similar. The energy pulse moves oxygen ions in titanium dioxide which changes the conduction properties of the TiO2, which is a semiconductor. This has not hit the market so far either.

    The IBM ionic liquid is even farther away from deployment. All they've shown is a phase change. They haven't even figured out how to do logic or non-volatile memory. It's interesting research, but nothing more so far.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle