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IBM's racetrack memory prototype — DRAM speed, magnetic hard disk density

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IBM showcased a working prototype of its racetrack memory project at the International Electronic Devices Meeting in Washington, D.C. today. Racetrack memory is a new type of storage technology that reads and writes digital bits on nanoscale magnetic wires.


It’s good to know IBM hasn’t been wasting all its time working on ways to make your photos look old. The company demonstrated a new working prototype of its racetrack memory technology at the International Electronic Devices Meeting today in Washington, D.C. Racetrack memory, a non-volatile storage technology, operates by sending electrical impulses along nanoscale wires to write digital bits. It aims to combine the speed of DRAM (the RAM module in your computer) with data density (the amount of data you can fit on a given volume of medium) approaching what's offered by conventional hard disks. To put things in perspective, current racetrack speed projections are on the order of 20–32ns to read or write a bit, vs 3 million ns for a conventional hard drive.

While racetrack memory isn't a new idea (IBM's been working on it since at least 2008), it's the first time it has showcased a working prototype with all of the necessary components on a single chip, marking a new milestone on the way to an actual production unit. That said, the demonstration only shows IBM's ability to store and retrieve single bits on each nanowire, not the many bits necessary for a functioning racetrack-based drive. Solid state storage technology hasn't been standing still, though, having seeing recent improvements in speed, capacity, and price per GB.