Jan 232011
 

(Credit: Image courtesy of North Carolina State University)

Making large-scale “server farms” more energy efficient and allowing computers to start more quickly

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new device that represents a significant advance for computer memory, making large-scale “server farms” more energy efficient and allowing computers to start more quickly.

Traditionally, there are two types of computer memory devices. Slow memory devices are used in persistent data storage technologies such as flash drives. They allow us to save information for extended periods of time, and are therefore called nonvolatile devices. Fast memory devices allow our computers to operate quickly, but aren’t able to save data when the computers are turned off. The necessity for a constant source of power makes them volatile devices.

But now a research team from NC State has developed a single “unified” device that can perform both volatile and nonvolatile memory operation and may be used in the main memory.

“We’ve invented a new device that may revolutionize computer memory,” says Dr. Paul Franzon, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. “Our device is called a double floating-gate field effect transistor (FET). Existing nonvolatile memory used in data storage devices utilizes a single floating gate, which stores charge in the floating gate to signify a 1 or 0 in the device — or one ‘bit’ of information. By using two floating gates, the device can store a bit in a nonvolatile mode, and/or it can store a bit in a fast, volatile mode — like the normal main memory on your computer.”

The double floating-gate FET could have a significant impact on a number of computer problems. For example, it would allow computers to start immediately, because the computer wouldn’t have to retrieve start-up data from its hard drive — the data could be stored in its main memory.

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