Magazine article Science News

Down with the Transistor: New 'Memristor' Could Radically Transform Computer Chips

Magazine article Science News

Down with the Transistor: New 'Memristor' Could Radically Transform Computer Chips

Article excerpt

AFTER GOING UNCHALLENGED FOR decades, the transistor's supremacy could come to an end. Researchers have demonstrated a new type of electronic component that could replace transistors as the building blocks of computer chips and lead to faster, more powerful and less energy-thirsty computers.

Stanley Williams and his collaborators at HP Labs in Palo Alto, Calif., have created the memristor, a piece of an electric circuit with baggage: Its history determines its electrical resistance. Depending on the voltage recently applied to it, a memristor switches from acting as an insulator ("off") to acting as a conductor ("on") and back.

This on-off capability offers a way to build circuits that manipulate and store bits of information, representing a 'T' in the "on" state and a "O" in the "off" state. "All of a sudden, you have a new tool in your toolbox," Williams says.

Memristors could be packed into chips up to 100 times more densely than transistors can. And information isn't lost when the device is shut down, similar to the non-hard drive memory in flash drives, cell phones and mp3 players. Williams says that his lab has already built prototypes of memristor-based computer memory that is tens of times denser than current flash drive memory or state-of-the-art RAM.

For decades, progress in electronics has relied on shrinking the features of computer chips, roughly doubling the number of transistors per chip every two years--a trend that has become known as Moore's law, after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore. …

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