IBM Touts 'Racetrack Memory' Breakthrough

memory storage disk

IBM Fellow Parkin and colleagues have published two papers in the April 11 issue of Science that detail a breakthrough in "metal spintronics" that overcomes the complexity and expense of storing information in magnetic domain walls, a goal of scientists for some 50 years, according to Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM.

The result, according to Parkin and his team, is the possibility of mass-produced racetrack memory devices with no moving parts that combine the low cost of hard disk memory and the durability of solid-state memory, with lower power consumption and orders-of-magnitude more storage.

Parkin described the possibility of mp3 players that could store 500,000 songs or 3,500 digital movies thanks to the new memory technology, dubbed "racetrack" because data "races" around a wire "track" using the "spin" of electrons to store the data with no need for moving, mechanical parts.

Racetrack memory "has no wear-out mechanism and so can be rewritten endlessly without any wear and tear," according to Parkin, who also believes the technology could provide considerable opportunities for players in the storage arena at the very high-end and low-end of the market.

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"This type of memory offers big opportunities for storage. Disk drives are very unreliable. The failure rate is very high, so backing up the data is crucial and expensive in case any drive fails," he said Friday.

But Parkin noted that current solid-state memory, while more reliable than mechanical hard disks, is only available for relatively comparative prices at the very low-end, where it costs "maybe a factor of two to replace a hard disk with Flash memory." Meanwhile, Flash has a finite lifespan because it becomes slightly damaged by each data rewrite.

That means racetrack memory, with its greater storage capacity and theoretically limitless lifespan could be very attractive to makers of handheld devices like mp3 players. But there could also be a considerable play for racetrack in the high-end of storage, as well, said Parkin.

"With high-end storage systems, people are willing to spend a lot of money for systems with very large amounts of transactions per second. At financial institutions, for example. So racetrack memory could have a very clear role there. The interesting thing is that, at the very high-end and the very-low end, there are opportunities for racetrack," he said.

"With our latest results published in Science, based on the gains we have made, we have a very good possibility to have the technology commercially available in the next 10 years, but we still have a long way to go," he added.

Racetrack memory explained, courtesy of IBM: