‘Spintronic’ Ultra Fast Computer Chips for Fail-Safe Data Retention

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Many of you who work at a desktop in an office will probably have been in a situation where the lights flicker, and your co-workers then quickly urge everyone in the vicinity to ‘save’. It’s nice if you could know in advance of power outage coming, and sometimes you do get little warnings like these ones. But if you don’t and you’ve done a bunch of work without saving any time recently, well that’s going to be a problem.

Or at least it’s a problem for now, as there’s a new type of computer chip that’s been developed that has the potential to save you from the frustration of having to do work over or anything of the sort. This is something that most of us can relate to if you spend the majority of your day working in front of a screen, and of course here at 4GoodHosting we’re like that in the same way that most Canadian web hosting providers would be too.

Truth is the new technological advances in computing are coming fast and furious these days, and that’s a darn good thing. Spintronic devices are appealing alternatives to conventional computer chips, providing digital information storage that is extremely energy efficient plus relatively easy to manufacture on a large scale.

The only current drawback for these devices, which depend on magnetic memory, is that they’re impeded by their relatively slow speeds in comparison to conventional electronic chips.

Superior Speeds

Magnetization switching is the term used for writing information into magnetic memory, and that’s what happens when data is saved to computer chips. What’s happened now is that there is a new technique for it where the speeds are nearly 100 times faster than state-of-the-art spintronic devices. This creates the potential for ultrafast magnetic memory in computer chips, and so fast in fact that data would be retained even if there was no power.

This is achieved using very short, 6-picosecond electrical pulses to switch the magnetization of a thin film in a magnetic device. And the key is that being done with great energy efficiency. A picosecond is one-trillionth of a second.

Whereas with conventional computer chips, the 0s and 1s of binary data are stored as either ‘on’ or ‘off’ states of individual silicon transistors. Not so with magnetic memory; this same information can be stored as the opposite polarities of magnetization, typically described as the ‘up’ or ‘down’ states.

We can reference the Cloud in all of this too, as magnetic memory is the basis for magnetic hard drive memory. This is the technology used to store the vast amounts of data in the cloud.

Suitably Stable

How magnetic memory works to prevent data loss when power supply is discontinued is by it being ‘non-volatile’. What this means is that even if no electricity is being provided, the information is still retained. Now given the often catastrophic nature of power failures in data centres – or at least ones without regular daily backups like we have here at 4GoodHosting with ALL our data centres in Canada – the potential for this technology in places of the world where monetary constraints prevent more extensive data center protocols is quite huge.

What this will do is allow local data on-chip to be retained when the power is off, as well as enabling the information to be accessed way faster than pulling it from a remote disk drive. This technological advance may have other applications too, and particularly for integration with electronics and controlling multiple conventional electronic circuits all on the same chip.

More on How

A key component of spintronics is spin-orbit torque device. It’s a small area of a magnetic film that is deposited on top of a metallic wire, and a current is then directed through the wire leads to a flow of electrons with a magnetic movement. What comes out of that is magnetic torque that’s put onto the magnetic bit to switch its polarity.

The types of these ones developed so far require current pulses of at least a nanosecond to switch polarity on the bit, and that needed to be improved upon. Which is where the focus is now, getting it up to the picoseconds speeds that will make the grade for what’s going to be asked of these spintronics. One thing they’ve learned so far is that ultrafast heating promotes better magnetization reversal.

In this study, the researchers launched the 6-picosecond-wide electrical current pulses along a transmission line into a cobalt-based magnetic bit. The magnetization of the cobalt bit was then demonstrated to be reliably switched by the spin-orbit torque mechanism.

Preliminary energy usage estimates are looking good, as the energy needed for these ‘ultrafast’ spin-orbit torque device is significantly smaller than with conventional spintronic devices operating on much longer time frames for polarization reversal.

This is definitely a technology that’s worth keeping an eye on for anyone who has extensive data storage needs on site and it’s something we’ll definitely be keeping track of too.


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