A universal memory expected to go into production by the end of next year will allow computers to turn on instantly. The memory consists of tiny cylinders of carbon called nanotubes.
The new memory works by applying a short electrical pulse to attract a suspended tube to stretch and make electrical contact with a base electrode below it, turning that cell ‘ON’. Once attracted, the tube remains stuck to the base even if the power is turned off, until it receives a repulsive electrical pulse that pushes the tube away, breaking electrical contact and turning the cell ‘OFF’. This ability to hold its state without power will allow computers to turn on instantly, continuing immediately in the same state as when they were turned off.
At present, computers suffer a delay when they start because their fast memory cannot remember information after they are turned off. They must retrieve this information from the slower magnetic memory in the computer’s hard drive.
Carbon nanotubes, so called because they are only a few nanometers wide, have one hundred times the strength of steel. Scientists find them ideal for this application because, unlike other materials, they do not break under repeated stretching.
Nantero Inc., a company based in Woburn, Massachusetts, has developed the new carbon nanotube memory, which it calls NRAM. It is ‘universal’ in that it is superior to, and will likely replace, computer memories such as DRAM and SRAM, while at the same time supplanting the flash memory used in storage cards for digital cameras and in key-chain drives. The superiority stems from NRAM’s extra speed and longer life.
Conceivably, the new memory could even replace hard drives, because it fits more information into a smaller space and is not affected by mechanical shock or magnets. However, Nantero plans to produce small memories initially, for commercial use in cell phones, mp3 players, and PDA’s.