‘Racetrack memory’ could be 100,000 times faster than hard drives

A diagram of nanowires used in a Racetrack memory chip

Tired of waiting for your computer to boot up?

Within five to seven years, you may no longer have to. That’s the estimated amount of time it will take to bring Racetrack Memory to market. Racetrack is a proposed new shock-proof system that is said to be 100,000 times faster than current hard drives, while also being 300 times more energy-efficient. Although it incorporates cutting-edge nanotechnology, it’s based on the same principles as the humble VHS videotape.

IBM has been working on developing Racetrack Memory for a couple of years, after Stuart Parkin of IBM’s Almaden Research Center came up with the concept of spintroncs-based memory that has no moving parts, but in which the information moves. Prof. Mathias Kläui of Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) decided to pursue it after he got tired of waiting the two to three minutes for his computer to boot up.

Like a videocassette, Racetrack Memory would store data magnetically. Instead of on a moving tape, however, it would be stored on a tiny unmoving nickel-iron nanowire. The bits of information, which are stored in the wire using the spin of electrons rather than an electronic charge, would be moved around at several hundred meters per second, using a spin polarized current. Adjacent bits would be delineated from one another via domain walls with magnetic vortices.

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