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May 1, 2008

A Brand New Circuit

Michael Feldman

HP Labs seems to have come up with something pretty cool. Earlier today, researchers there claimed they’d proven the existence of the “memristor,” the fourth fundamental type of electrical circuit. (In case you’re wondering, the first three are resistors, capacitors and inductors.) The memristor — short for memory transistor — can retain its state when the circuit is turned off. It works like flash memory, except you need a lot less silicon and power to make it work.

According to Stan Williams, the project director, the biggest barrier to commercialization is the effort required to learn a new circuit design discipline.

Michael Kanellos at CNET writes:

If memristors can be commercialized, it could lead to very dense, energy-efficient memory chips. Scientists have made devices that function like memristors, but it took a good number of transistors and several capacitors Williams said.

Using memristors to replace main memory DRAM, would allow for instant boot-up, provide a lot better resiliency when the power goes out, and deliver huge savings in datacenter energy costs. HP’s press release also suggests a more adventurous use of the technology:

“Another potential application of memristor technology could be the development of computer systems that remember and associate series of events in a manner similar to the way a human brain recognizes patterns. This could substantially improve today’s facial recognition technology, enable security and privacy features that recognize a complex set of biometric features of an authorized person to access personal information, or enable an appliance to learn from experience.”