Memristors to Push Performance Power Envelope

Michael Vizard

If the folks at Hewlett-Packard have their way, CTOs should start thinking about the implications of memristorsas they begin to construct their three year plans in the New Year.

A memristor is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a resistor with the ability to store memory. That memory is stored by applying voltage that changes the properties of the resistor in a way that allows it to store more than just ones and zeros, says Marc Hamilton, HP vice president of high performance computing, Industry Standard Servers and Software.

With a memristor, there can now be degrees of ones and zeros that increase the density and memory capacity of a system that makes use of memristors. Ultimately, HP says systems that make use of memristor technology could be 10 times faster while consuming 10 times less power than Flash memory.

The implications of being able to increase performance while reducing the amount of power consumed could be profound in an IT world that is increasingly concerned by all things "green." At the current rate we're on, IT systems could wind up consuming a massive percentage of the global electricity produced unless we find more energy-efficient systems.

It's a little too early to say what kind of systems memristors will show up in first. If they are true to industry form, they will show up in high-performance computing environments for specialized tasks, followed by consumer electronics devices that will provide enough demand to drive the pricing down to a point where they can be economically used in any IT system.

Assuming that HP and its Hynix Semiconductor manufacturing partner are able to deliver memristors in systems by the 2013 to 2014 time period, odds are good that the economics of IT will be substantially changed by 2015.

Of course, there are many fine universities and vendor research organizations working on the same problem. That may mean that memristors are not the ultimate answer to the long-term, performance power conundrum that the IT industry currently faces. But it's good to know that there should be at least one option available to solve the problem.

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