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Engineers Develop Improved Computer Memory Device

Server farm (Simon Law/Flickr)Researchers from North Carolina State University in Raleigh have developed a new device that its inventors say can make large banks of computers more energy efficient, and allow computers to start more quickly. The advance, developed by a faculty-student team from NC State’s engineering school, will be published in an upcoming issue of the IEEE publication, Computer Magazine.

The new device merges the current two main types of computer memory into one. Slow, or non-volatile, memory devices are used in persistent data storage technologies such as flash drives, which allow the saving of data for extended periods of time. Fast, or volatile, memory devices allow computers to operate quickly, but they cannot save data when the computers are turned off, and need constant source of power.

To combine these capabilities into one device, NC State’s team developed a floating-gate field effect transistor (FET). Paul Franzon, an engineering professor and co-author of the paper, explains that existing nonvolatile memory for data storage devices use a single floating gate, which stores a charge in the floating gate to signify a 1 or 0 in the device, or one bit of data. With two floating gates, the device can store that same data bit in a nonvolatile mode, or store the bit in a fast, volatile mode like the computer’s normal main memory, or both simultaneously.

The double floating-gate FET could allow computers to start immediately, since the computer would retrieve data from its main memory — formerly volatile and lost from the last session — rather than retrieving the data from its hard drive.

The device would also let large banks of computers called server farms, like those used by Google, to use energy more efficiently. Server farms today have enormous continual power needs, even during low levels of activity, because the server farms cannot turn off their power without affecting their main memory. The floating-gate FET would enable the servers to shut down without losing their data.

Read more: N.C. State Patents Computer Chip Materials Technology

Photo: Simon Law/Flickr

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