Researchers from UC Berkeley, among other institutions, have found that magnetic data stored on computer chips could be switched quickly, opening up opportunities for future computer chip memory.
Magnetic switching, which is the process of switching the polarization of a magnet, allows computer disk drives, such as hard disk drives, to store information on a computer system, according to lead researcher Jon Gorchon. Current commercial magnetic memory computer chips are thousands of times slower than the methods of data storage commonly used today, according to Jeffrey Bokor, co-author and UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences.
The magnetic switching technique that they have developed is faster than commercial magnetic memory computer chips and could store data even when there is no power, Bokor added.
“Magnetic memory is nonvolatile; it’s maintained even if the power is off,” Bokor said. “What’s important is that there is a major effort to bring magnetic memory on the chip, built into transistors, so the memory on the chip is nonvolatile.”
It will take time for companies to be able to develop this technology and produce it at a low cost for widespread commercial use, Bokor said.
Bokor added that it may help enable a later generation of computer chip memory, but the technology is still in its early stages. He noted that this technology could reduce power usage by eliminating the need for data storage methods that require energy while not being used.
According to Gorchon, he started the project in 2015 as a UC Berkeley postdoctoral student before continuing the research in France.
“We will have to build these memories in a reliable, integrable, scalable (& cheap) way so that it can be interesting for industry,” Gorchon said in an email. “We are still far away from that, but this is a good first step!”
Gorchon said in the email that using nonvolatile data has many benefits, including not losing data when the power is turned off, meaning that electricity is not needed to maintain the memory. He added that it could help improve boot-up speeds by removing the need to clear cache memory, which is data stored on devices upon visiting apps or websites for the first time that speeds up the process of reopening those platforms later.
Richard Wilson, UC Riverside assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering and former UC Berkeley postdoctoral student, said the research contributes to scientists’ understanding of using electrical pulses to make magnetic switching faster. He added that although magnetic switching happens quickly, it required them to push the limits of current technology to develop it and it will be years before people get it in their devices.
“Our research shows that we can control the magnetic movement with electrical pulses, which is much much faster,” Wilson said. “Electromagnets are slow. Electrical pulses are fast.”