With the computing world anticipating more innovations like quantum processing that would push new frontiers in digital technology, MIT just announced that it might have the answer in its new hardware memory to make computers even faster.

The current computer memory is not seamless, so to speak. You have your very high-speed cache memory in the CPU, fast RAM, and not-so-fast secondary storage unit. While secondary storage devices like a hard disk drive or SSD can retain information without power (non-volatile memory), the cache and RAM need electricity to keep data (volatile memory).

In a typical computer, operating system, application programs, and user data are stored in a secondary memory. A microprocessor uses codes in its cache memory from the transient RAM. Since RAM capacity is usually limited, an OS pages codes from the secondary memory to be used in the RAM. The transfer of data between different memory units results in delays, although they are in milliseconds.

MIT M13 Phase-change Memory

A Viable Phase-change Memory Option

This may all change with the new findings from the scientists at MIT and the Singapore University of Technology and Design. With this discovery, a biological virus is used to manufacture or rather culture Phase-change memory. This results in non-volatile RAMs.

In a research paper published last month in ACS Applied Nano Materials, a virus codenamed M13 bacteriophage has shown its capability in the synthesis of modular nanostructure phase-change switching materials. The result is a new memory technology with the switching time of just tens of nanoseconds. This means a very high-speed non-volatile primary memory in a computer. In essence, volatile RAM will be a thing of the past if this new technology succeeds in product development.

Phase-change memory is not a completely new concept. However, the conventional processes require a high temperature during the fabrication. This would preclude the assembly of the Gallium Antimonide-based systems which become unusable in extreme heat.

M13 bacteriophage surface binding takes advantage of the electrostatic aggregation instead of heating at a high temperature of the semiconductor substrate.

MIT Phase-change memory M13
Abstract : Biological-Templating of a Segregating Binary Alloy for Nanowire-Like Phase-Change Materials and Memory, Credit ACS

What to look for?

With Phase-change memory, electronic devices like computers, smartphones, or embedded systems in driverless cars will be much faster. The number of input/output operations per second will be in nanoseconds instead of milliseconds.

Millisecond and Nanosecond comparison

If Phase-change memory is included on a motherboard instead of on modules, then that would mean a facelift for the main circuit board in your electric device.

The non-volatile nature of the new RAM means the Operating System kernel codes could be stored on RAM instead of a secondary memory. This is a paradigm shift for the computer memory concept.

As with any new technology, expect to see a premium price when this technology becomes available. However, with new advancements in manufacturing processes, we could expect Gigs of these on a motherboard. Until that happens, you would still need your HDD or SSD to store your applications and data.

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