“Unified memory” could save time and money

A storage technology breakthrough should lead to faster boot times and more efficient data centres, say researchers at North Carolina State University.

The technology combines the best of both non-volatile, such as Flash, and volatile memory technologies to build a device with high-speed data access that reliably stores data when power is switched off.

Paul Franzon, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State, said the new device, called a “double floating-gate field effect transistor” would “revolutionise computer memory”.

“Existing non-volatile memory used in data storage devices utilises 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,” he said.

“By using two floating gates, the device can store a bit in a non-volatile mode, or it can store a bit in a fast, volatile mode – like the normal main memory on your computer.”

According to the scientists, the device would allow server farm administrators to power down their storage without damaging data.

“The double floating-gate FET would help solve the problem that server farms can’t turn off the power without affecting their main memory,” Franzon says.

“Because data could be stored quickly in non-volatile memory – and retrieved just as quickly. This would allow portions of the server memory to be turned off during periods of low use without affecting performance.”

If put into production a “unified” hard drive would also allow PC manufacturers to build systems that boot more quickly by firing up from non-volatile memory.

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