UltraRAM Would Merge Memory and Storage

John Lister's picture

A new form of computer memory could cut costs and storage space. "UltraRAM" would combine storage and memory on a single unit.

Historically computers have always had to use separate units for memory (which is only needed temporarily) and file storage (which needs to be available until intentionally deleted or altered). As a rough analogy, file storage is like a filing cabinet, while memory is more like an in-tray, holding information to hand for quick access during the current task.

Today many machines use flash memory for both RAM (the main memory on a PC) and solid state drives (a quicker and more reliable form of hard drive). However, the two still work in a different way. RAM needs a constant electricity supply to maintain data, while an SSD continues to hold data even after a computer is switched off.

Permanent Storage Slower

Bridging the gap between the two is difficult because permanent "non-volatile" storage is slower to access. Computer engineers have struggled to find a way to replace RAM that doesn't compromise performance with noticeable delays to access and use data.

Researchers at Lancaster University in the UK have developed a new physical design for RAM that they should overcome this dilemma. It's incredibly complex stuff, but one key is the way the components are arranged. (Source: pcworld.co.nz)

Another is that it uses compound semiconductors, meaning they are made from two or more elements and can harness qualities from both.

1,000 Year Lifespan

It's still very much at the theory stage, though the researchers performed some tests on a sample unit. They said they were able to write, erase and rewrite data 10 million times without any read errors.

They also said that based on their testing, the unit could store and hold data for 1,000 years and still be able to retrieve it. That's inherently impossible to test for real, though even with a massive margin of error that should still make it practical.

If the technology proves practical, it would reduce the need for separate hard drive and memory units in computers. The questions now are whether big-scale production follows through and whether the production costs make it financially viable.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you pay much attention to the memory in your computer? Does this technology sound viable? Would it be more suited to phones and tablets?

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