Everybody knows that a computer needs three key elements to work: a processor, memory chips and a disk drive. Now, in "Magnetic Memory Makes Logic," Technology Research News writes that some German researchers want to speed up future computers by using memory for computations.
Magnetic random access memory (MRAM), slated to become commercially available next year, is as fast as random access memory chips, but is also non volatile, meaning it retains information when a computer is turned off.
Researchers from the Paul Drude Institute (PDI) for Solid-State Electronics in Germany have shown that it is also possible to use magnetic random access memory for computation. Because memory is configurable, such circuits could be optimized to run any given application more efficiently.
They are in fact turning the memory elements into logic elements by "attaching three input wires to its top magnetic layer and an output wire to its bottom layer."
These wired elements can be used as any of the four basic logic gates needed to carry out computations by setting the two layers to one of four possible pairs of polarizations before sending input to the device.
These researchers are quite creative. Here is the PDI logo built by atomic manipulation of single copper atoms (Credit: PDI Nanoacoustics group).
You can expect prototypes within two years, "but it will take a decade to develop a small universal magnetic logic processor."
For more information, here is the abstract of the research paper published by Nature, "Programmable computing with a single magnetoresistive element."
The development of transistor-based integrated circuits for modern computing is a story of great success. However, the proved concept for enhancing computational power by continuous miniaturization is approaching its fundamental limits. Alternative approaches consider logic elements that are reconfigurable at run-time to overcome the rigid architecture of the present hardware systems.
Implementation of parallel algorithms on such 'chameleon' processors has the potential to yield a dramatic increase of computational speed, competitive with that of supercomputers. Owing to their functional flexibility, 'chameleon' processors can be readily optimized with respect to any computer application. In conventional microprocessors, information must be transferred to a memory to prevent it from getting lost, because electrically processed information is volatile. Therefore the computational performance can be improved if the logic gate is additionally capable of storing the output.
Here we describe a simple hardware concept for a programmable logic element that is based on a single magnetic random access memory (MRAM) cell. It combines the inherent advantage of a non-volatile output with flexible functionality which can be selected at run-time to operate as an AND, OR, NAND or NOR gate.
Sources: Technology Research News, October 10, 2003; Nature, October 2, 2003; Paul Drude Institut für Festkörperelektronik
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