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Revolution ahead in data storage, say IT wizards

In the olden days...
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Nov 1, 2007
The world's smallest hard drives have already shrunk to the size of a postage stamp, but nanoscale computing may soon make that achievement look elephantine, say some of the stars of information technology.

Breathtaking change is on the horizon in personal and industrial data storage, the experts say in a review of vanguard technology, published on Thursday in the British journal Nature Materials.

The newest developments in "spintronics", for example, are poised to go beyond the electrical charge of classic electronics to harness the quantum "spin" state of electrons, writes Albert Fert, co-winner last month of the Nobel Prize for Physics.

That could usher in dramatic advances in hard disk storage capacity and date retrieval, says Fert.

Along with Peter Gruenberg of Germany, Frenchman Fert was lauded for discovering the principle, called giant mangetoresistance (GMR), that lies at the heart of the past decade's most popular electronic devices, from iPods to cell phones to Blackberries.

Fert's new holy grail -- called Magnetic Random Access Memory (MRAM) -- could essentially collapse the disk drive and computer chip into one, vastly expanding both processing power and storage capacity.

"MRAM potentially combines key advantages such as non-volatility, infinite endurance and fast random access -- down to five nanoseconds read/write time -- that make it a likely candidate for becoming the 'universal memory' of nanoelectonics," forecast Fert and his colleagues.

Experimental engineers at IBM, which was the first company to commercialize GMR devices, are already hard a work on this new generation of disk-drives, which promise to boost data storage by a factor of a hundred.

The race for space is driven by consumer hunger for data-rich formats such as on-demand television and high-definition video.

But keeping pace with demand depends on a constant stream of technological breakthroughs, and until recently it seemed that certain chokepoints -- such as the size of transistors -- were finally going to disprove Moore's Law.

More than forty years ago, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore said that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit would double roughly every 24 years, a prediction that has largely held true ever since.

"We literally got to the stage where we couldn't make it any smaller," Intel's Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner said in an interview with Nature.

The transistor, used as an amplifier or an electrically-controlled switch, is the fundamental building block of the circuitry in computers and most consumer electronic devices.

But an innovation in materials -- a nanoscale changeover from silicon to metals inside the transistor "gate" -- has given rise to "the dawn of a new era," Rattner said.

Nature's review of state-of-the-art storage technology also includes a survey of advances in the materials used for making rewritable optical disks, giving rise to the development of high-definition DVDs and Blu-ray.

Blu-ray is a optical disc format jointly developed by many of the world's leading consumer electronics and media manufacturers, including Apple, Dell, Hitachi and a dozen others.

The format enables recording and rewriting and playback of high-definition video, as well as five times the storage capacity of traditional DVDs.

Finally, Charles Lieber and Wei Lu of Harvard University discuss so-called "bottom up" assembly of nanotubes and nanowires in electronic circuits that could one day replace silicon technology in nanoelectronics.

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Small is beautiful: Incredible shrinking memory drives new IT
Paris (AFP) Oct 9, 2007
Over the past decade, hard drives have shrunk to the size of postage stamps while their storage capacity has improved fifty-fold, a feat that can be traced to two men who won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Physics on Tuesday.

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