Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends
How new technologies are modifying our way of life

vendredi 9 mai 2003

It's been a dream for many years to build "non-volatile" memories which would allow our computers to start in a second. Some companies, like IBM, have taken the magnetic RAM route, while others are experimenting with exotic materials.

In this article, The Economist says there is a new contender: carbon. And it describes a new technology from Nantero, a firm based in Woburn, Massachusetts, named NRAM -- the N standing for nanotechnology. Here are some details.

Nantero's memory chips consist of billions of nanotubes [or "buckytubes" after Richard Buckminster Fuller, whose geodesic domes have a framework similar to the arrangement of the atoms in a nanotube], each a few hundred nanometres long, suspended from a silicon wafer. Another wafer sits about 100 nanometres below the first. Because the nanotubes that Nantero uses conduct electricity, a small electric charge at one point on the second wafer will draw several dozen nanotubes towards it. Once they are there, they stay there.
[Because nanotubes are extremely small], Nantero's technology can already achieve a data density considerably higher than existing RAMs. And because the wafers are so close together, those data can move rapidly from place to place. Nantero's new memory can read or write a bit in as little as half a nanosecond (billionth of a second). The best RAM chips, by contrast, need ten nanoseconds to perform a similar operation.

When this technology will be available? Very soon.

At the moment, Nantero has only a working prototype. But the firm aims to have memories on the market within a year.

Still, some technical hurdles remain with these buckytubes. But because carbon-nanotube technology is pretty young, we can expect new developments.

Nantero's boss, says that within the next few years the firm's engineers may be able to achieve data densities of a trillion bits per square centimetre (more than 1,000 times that available on existing RAM) and it will be possible to read those memories 100 times faster than can be done at the moment. The days of silicon-based memory may be numbered.

Here is a link to more information about Nantero's technology.

Source: The Economist, May 8, 2003

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