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IBM's new racetrack storage takes advantage of advanced quantum mechanics to move tiny magnetic domain walls on which information is stored.  (Source: IBM)
IBM bets big on spintronics, new type of memory which it says will deliver terabyte MP3 players

With computer hardware ever advancing and improving steadily, the question in the hardware development world is not so much "if" but "how?"  IBM believes that it has developed the storage solution for next generation of consumer electronics and computers.  IBM's new storage technology is known as spintronics, and it is betting that it will replace both the solid state drives (flash) and traditional magnetic drives, by offering higher densities at a lower price.

The basic premise of IBM's technology is storing the data on a wire track.  IBM calls the memory "Race Track" memory due to the fact that the data "races" around the memory's track design.  It was developed by IBM Fellow Stuart Parkin and his colleagues, whom are firm believers that the new technology will make older storage methods obsolete.  According to Parkin the benefits are across the board-- much improved read/write times, higher capacities, improved stability, improved durability all at a lower cost than today's memory.

Solid state electronic devices based on the new memory could theoretically store 500,000 songs or around 3500 movies on a standard MP3 hard drive, and be accessed at lower power consumption.  The data would be safe, according to IBM from degradation for decades.  Further the power consumption would be so low the battery could run for weeks on a single charge.

While Parkin's enthusiasm is certainly infectious and the idea remains intriguing, it turns out the technology relies on some exotic science that prevents it from being commercially realized today.  The new memory utilizes a field of quantum computing known as spintronics, which involves reading and writing data by altering an electron's spin.  Currently no known commercial ventures using such technology exist, so its commercial implementation remains far off.

Undeterred, Parkin states, "It has been an exciting adventure to have been involved with research into metal spintronics since its inception almost 20 years ago with our work on spin-valve structures.  The combination of extraordinarily interesting physics and spintronic materials engineering, one atomic layer at a time, continues to be highly challenging and very rewarding. The promise of racetrack memory - for example, the ability to carry massive amounts of information in your pocket - could unleash creativity leading to devices and applications that nobody has imagined yet."

The research of Parkins and his colleagues is outlined in their paper "Current Controlled Magnetic Domain-Wall Nanowire Shift Register”.  As is evident by the title, the current working concept of the memory utilizes the exotic carbon compound nanowires.  Fortunately, nanowires are a bit better researched and understood than quantum computing, and have seen limited commercial development.

On a technical standpoint the memory's operation is reliant on a phenomena in spintronics known as spin momentum transfer.  This allows for a magnetic shift register, which shifts a series of closely space domain walls.  Basically data is continuously pushed along through a nanowire.  The rotation of data through the looped circuit is analogous to the spin of the drive platter on traditional magnetic hard drives, albeit much faster, in that it brings the information to the read/write head.

Parkins states that magnetic domain wall data storage obstacles can be overcome by using spin polarized current along with the magnetized walls.  The resulting spin transfer torque will cause the domain wall to move.  He claims that the memory type is entirely new and never before considered.

The new memory type, like current flash drives would use no moving parts, limiting failure.  Further, as it stores information in electrons, IBM claims that the data would experience no degradation over time.  IBM brags that the drive could be rewritten “endlessly without any wear and tear.”

IBM believes it has the solution for the "How?" of improving memory densities and performance on hand.  Now the question they admit remains uncertain is "When?"  The researchers predict that in a decade the technology might see commercialization.  This seems overly optimistic over despite modest gains in quantum computing.

Still, one can only hope that IBM's new technology lives up to its bold statements and can be commercialized.  After all, it's good to look at things from a fresh perspective, and it would be even better to have one of those terabyte sized MP3 players, which the researchers are talking about, in your pocket.

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System Slowdown Imminent - Prepare Lifeboat!
By bldckstark on 4/11/2008 12:58:11 PM , Rating: 5
HDD's have become a joke in current computer systems. Compare them to just about everything else inside a computer today and it just doesn't make sense. CPU's have gotten thousands of times faster, as have GPU's, RAM sizes have grown a few thousand times and speeds have consistently increased. Optical storage mediums have gone from CD's to BR. HDD sizes have increased, but read/write rates have stagnated in comparison. The only part of a computer that has evolved less is the case.

Whoever actually creates a reasonably priced, robust, high speed replacement for hard drives as we know them today will rake in hundreds of billions of dollars. It would seem to me that we would have more alternatives to the current hard drive on the horizon considering the money to be made. Yet all we ever hear about is somebody who invented a system that we may never be able to manufacture and sell for a decent price.

But maybe it's just me.

RE: System Slowdown Imminent - Prepare Lifeboat!
By Schrag4 on 4/11/2008 2:06:33 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed. While hard drives have gotten much more reliable and somewhat faster over the last 10 years, they're still the thing in my system that I EXPECT to fail first. Not only that, but it's the only really 'important' part in anyone's system. Video card died? Buy a new one. Monitor died? Same answer. Hard drive failed? Oh boy, I hope you're still regularly making backups...

By puffpio on 4/11/2008 8:58:06 PM , Rating: 2
Well yeah..the HDD is one of the few remaining components that have moving parts..of course its gonna fail faster than things w/o moving parts

By Ananke on 4/11/2008 3:23:34 PM , Rating: 2
However, don't forget that is often feasible things to be patented, particularly ideas, since their range is broader. So, IBM will patent this research results, and license in several years to somebody like Intel, for actual implementation in memory chips.

RE: System Slowdown Imminent - Prepare Lifeboat!
By puffpio on 4/11/2008 8:59:49 PM , Rating: 2
I would dispute that because as HDD sizes increase, they are increasing densities, not adding more platters...therefore at the same RPM you get faster transfer speed since the data is stored more densely.

RE: System Slowdown Imminent - Prepare Lifeboat!
By Laitainion on 4/12/2008 4:47:53 AM , Rating: 2
But the scale of that increase is nowhere near the increases in CPU speeds, or even RAM speeds.

After all, DDR2 800 has a peak transfer rate of 6400MB/s whereas DDR 266 (which was standard roughly 10 years ago, I believe) is 2100MB/s. That's an increase of more than 3x.

On the other hand standard (i.e. 7200 RPM) hard drives are stuck on ~80MB/s I believe. Even if the increase in tranfer rate is similar to RAM over the last 10 years, the initial disparity means that hard discs are getting slower in proportion to the rest of the system.

By SlyNine on 4/13/2008 2:27:11 AM , Rating: 2
In 98 they were just moving from EDO ram. Ignore the crappy Techno music at the start.

But it actually helps your point more then anything.

RE: System Slowdown Imminent - Prepare Lifeboat!
By CZroe on 4/12/2008 4:24:27 PM , Rating: 2
Hard drive densities have been scaling far faster than CPUs in the last 7 years. That also equates to sustained transfer and size scaling. CPUs aren't "thousands of times faster" when you compare apples-to-apples. In 1996, I bought my first X86 PC with a "P-rated" IBM P150 CPU (In actuality, a Cyrix 133MHz). It had a 1GB HDD and 16MB of RAM. My latest system has a Q6600 and 4GB of RAM with 3x1TB internal (2x500 OS, 2x1TB storage) and 1TB external. My CPU frequency is about 18x what my old one was, and you can multiply that by 4x if you must because that's still nowhere near "thousands of times faster" (about 72.1x). Even just one of my 1TB HDDs is exactly 1,000 times more than my original one. The farther back you go, the MORE extreme the ratio gets (disk speed and capacity scale faster). You wanna talk about something that isn't scaling fast enough? Removable optical media. 700MB CDs were once far bigger than any PC HDD, but even a prototype 200GB BD doesn't come close to a 1TB drive.

HDD random seek times stabilized when they hit their consumer limitations for 5400RPM, 7200RPM, and 10K RPM, so of course they won't scale. Similarly, HDD capacities will stop scaling when they hit their physical limitations sometime in the coming years, but it hasn't happened yet.

By Reclaimer77 on 4/12/2008 7:26:02 PM , Rating: 2
Wrong guys.

Maybe your just using the word " speed " as a very general term. But the speed of HDD's are not the problem. They are plenty fast. What makes them seem slow and lead to " system slowdown " as the OP put it, is the fact that it has to SEEK.

Thats why solid state drives are so exciting. Sure they are about as " fast " as current hard drives, but thats not the point. The seek times blow away hard drives, because there are no seek times for solid state.

This article is very good and exciting. And it should come as no surprise, because pretty much everything we take for granted in PC's today was in some part developed or based off technology developed by IBM.

By mathew7 on 4/14/2008 3:46:01 AM , Rating: 2
Maybe your just using the word " speed " as a very general term. But the speed of HDD's are not the problem. They are plenty fast. What makes them seem slow and lead to " system slowdown " as the OP put it, is the fact that it has to SEEK.

Defragmentation on HDD is needed BECAUSE OF SEEK TIMES ( also helps in recoveries, but for that, backups are better/faster/more reliable). On a flash based device, it does not matter if you need the next sector or the next+1M sector, as the time is the same.
There is still the matter of multiple-block access, but the extra overhead of requesting 16 1-sector reads compared to 1 16-sector read is minimal on a SSD. Having 4Kb clusters makes (currently) 8-sector reads.

By SlyNine on 4/13/2008 2:36:47 AM , Rating: 2
Mhz per Mhz your C2Q would kill your Cyrix 133, I mean Murder.

By phxfreddy on 4/13/2008 8:30:06 AM , Rating: 2
Yah..its just you. Get an engineering and/or business degree and do it yourself if its so damned easy! ( its not or it would have been done! )

By Thallium on 4/11/2008 12:53:49 PM , Rating: 5
"Current Controlled Magnetic Domain-Wall Nanowire Shift Register”

That's the name of my band!

By AlphaVirus on 4/11/2008 3:56:00 PM , Rating: 2
Bet you cant say it 3 times fast!

By Adonlude on 4/11/2008 4:17:08 PM , Rating: 3
We really should impose a limit on the number of descriptors scientists are allowed to use in a title. I think 5 should be about max. Same with movie titles. I was browsing Netflix today and came across "The Assassiniation of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"...

By diego10arg on 4/11/2008 6:46:44 PM , Rating: 2
As everything in computer field, then it gets compressed: CCMDWNSR

Far better, right? :)

By root mean sq on 4/11/2008 8:57:45 PM , Rating: 3
you say CCMDWNSR, i say Mag-DomNanoSR

IBM should sponsor a naming competition, winner gets a free terabyte pocket mp3 player.

Isn't it great...
By jtemplin on 4/11/2008 1:38:48 PM , Rating: 5
Isnt it great how anytime a new storage medium or technology is being explained to the masses it has to be dumbed down to the point of how many songs or videos can fit. For someone who knows a thing or two about bit rates (they arent fixed) and a few other parameters this is more confusing than anything. I call for and end to the dumbing down! At least for DT :/
Solid state electronic devices based on the new memory could theoretically store 500,000 songs or around 3500 movies on a standard MP3 hard drive, and be accessed at lower power consumption.

RE: Isn't it great...
By AlphaVirus on 4/11/2008 4:04:07 PM , Rating: 3
As said in another comment of another article, as technology progresses the populous is getting dumber. Well they mentioned lower IQ but I dont want to sugarcoat it.

The masses is ruled by what they see on tv: MTV, VH1, ABC, and the likes. If every show on MTV has a Mac, everyone thinks thats whats cool. If ABC hosts a Primetime with Britney Spears, thas who everyone wants to be like. Its sad, but its the truth, the group of dumb people are growing historically.

RE: Isn't it great...
By jtemplin on 4/11/2008 10:03:44 PM , Rating: 2
Do you mean that the rate of technological progress is increasing faster than average folks can keep up with? Or that and people are actively getting dumber? Either way it doesn't look good for joe consumer (but its looking great for Best Buy and their ilk right?)

RE: Isn't it great...
By onwisconsin on 4/12/2008 1:26:48 AM , Rating: 2
I think he's trying to say as something becomes more mainstream, or better yet if someone wants to appeal to a larger audience, they have to "dumb it down" to appeal to a larger spectrum or range of knowledge. Joe average consumer doesn't know what a GB or TB is so he needs it explained to him in a way he needs it understood.

Some catch on and understand, many don't.

RE: Isn't it great...
By Starcub on 4/12/2008 2:17:19 PM , Rating: 2
Units like "pictures" and "movies" are non-standard and unspecific. Most people probably also don't know how many pictures or movies they have stored on their drives. Therefore, such units don't give the consumer a good reference to judge relative capacities. However, just about everyone who has owned/used a computer probably knows how much space they have left on their drives and about how much space their data occupy (in GB). Considering how unbiquitous PC's are, the standard convention for storage units would have been more usefull IMHO.

Sounds promising
By HrilL on 4/11/2008 12:30:02 PM , Rating: 1
This is promising for all those nerds that need all that porn while on the go.

RE: Sounds promising
By amanojaku on 4/11/2008 12:34:51 PM , Rating: 3
Mobile nerds aren't the only ones who "need" pr0n. ;-)

RE: Sounds promising
By Creig on 4/11/2008 1:27:09 PM , Rating: 3
Mobile nerds aren't the only ones who "need" pr0n. ;-)

ie - husbands

RE: Sounds promising
By jtemplin on 4/11/2008 1:27:21 PM , Rating: 2
Replace nerd with male? (I know a few girls who would seek to broaden that to "persons" ; ))

RE: Sounds promising
By mattclary on 4/11/2008 1:53:46 PM , Rating: 2
I know more than a few.

Holy S.
By therealnickdanger on 4/11/2008 12:30:46 PM , Rating: 2
Amazing if feasible.

I find it hard to believe that such a seemingly fragile (electronically) system could not suffer data loss during some form of electro-magnetic disturbance.

RE: Holy S.
By OrSin on 4/11/2008 12:37:20 PM , Rating: 2
Its easier to move an eletron then to change the direction of it spin. Electro-magnetic disturbances are too wide and brute a force to affect directional rotation.

RE: Holy S.
By FITCamaro on 4/11/2008 1:43:40 PM , Rating: 2
I was wondering about this too. Glad you cleared it up a bit.

By JoshuaBuss on 4/11/2008 12:32:46 PM , Rating: 2
It's funny, but I bet I could set my calendar based on the releases of new storage technologies..

it's just sad that we're STILL waiting for SSD to come into more practical pricing areas.. and that technology was announced well over a decade ago..

RE: Regularity
By Zensen on 4/11/2008 12:53:47 PM , Rating: 2
so if what you say about ssd is true. Can't wait til 2018 where someone will be wondering why this new tech isn't cheap :)

Ba Dum Cha!
By Jynx980 on 4/12/2008 7:47:44 PM , Rating: 3
Is that a massive amount of information in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

At first I was like, OMG...
By murphyslabrat on 4/11/2008 12:26:09 PM , Rating: 2
And as I started scrolling down my grin of absolute glee turned a backflip...and didn't get up.

By Micronite on 4/11/2008 12:48:43 PM , Rating: 2
It wasn't mentioned if this was a non-volatile solution or not. If they're trying to target HDD and NAND it should be, but I have a hard time figuring out how it could be non-volatile if there is data continuously moving through these nanowires.

By Captain Orgazmo on 4/11/2008 1:35:46 PM , Rating: 2
As far as storing songs, why don't they just say it can store all of them.

Shock Sensitivity
By Goty on 4/11/2008 2:38:25 PM , Rating: 2
This technology would be great, but you would have to worry quite a bit about data corruption. Depending on the fragility material used, dropping a device using this technology could result in a significant loss of data due to realignment of the magnetic domains in the nanowires.

By ioannis on 4/11/2008 8:23:43 PM , Rating: 2
as a side comment, I hope in 10 years from now we'll have surpassed MP3s. It's a very old standard. Believe it or not, it came out in the 80s! I know we all like our collections of MP3s, but don't you think it's time to move on? (or at least in 10 years from now)

As for IBM, where are the holographic memories? IBM has such an amazing R&D, but is lacking 'bring to market' skills.

Excuse me...
By DeepBlue1975 on 4/11/2008 9:29:55 PM , Rating: 2

Solid state electronic devices based on the new memory could theoretically store 500,000 songs or around 3500 movies

Now tell me:

How are those songs and movies encoded, at what bit rate, what's the average length?

This choice of nonsensical "for the idiotic mass" measurement units just makes me completely upset.
You could sell a drive that can store 500.000 songs of 10 seconds each, stored @64kbps and that would account to some meager 39gb.

If you're talking about 1tb, you're assuming 2mb songs in average, and if encoded in mp3 format at 128kbps it averages 2 minutes, 8 seconds each song, which is on the short side and on the low quality side, too, as people more and more started using 160kbps and beyond as usual bitrate settings.

Come on, this is a tech oriented site. You don't need to treat us like idiots.

If the average reader is considered to be pretty ignorant of tech matters, then why not try to educate him by explaining the basics or by using that wonder hyperlinking capability to take him to a glossary or a guide that enlightens him in the art of understanding what's a bit and what's a byte?

If he doesn't want to learn, then treat him like an idiot. But at least you gave him all the possible tools to learn about the things he doesn't know, instead of prejudicially taking him for a dumb beforehand.

You are not talking about quantum entanglement here, but just about a damn chunk of storage space that can be measured with a proper and straightforward unit instead of some lousy, relativistic, idiotic and mindless guesstimate.

Thank you.

Little does IBM know....
By 306maxi on 4/12/2008 1:10:03 AM , Rating: 2
I actually patented this years ago. I'll wait till it becomes a big success and then sue them for billions!

Now that's the way to run a successful business!

By greylica on 4/12/2008 12:52:54 PM , Rating: 2
...Time Line..................
continue waiting..............
...continue waiting...........
UHDV in thin sunglasses enters
The "new memory technology enters
in production, but is crippled
in some manner again due to...
Microsoft demands over DRM"...
..UHDV cracked, new heroes....
"New memory technology ready..
without always cracked and....
unnecessary and expensive DRM"
..30% reduced costs in memory,
films sold without DRM easier
to buy, reduced costs........
I´m...sick.................... my life.. :°(...

Finnaly, it´s ready...

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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