Computers

Record-breaking solid state memory stores data at 100 times the density of Blu-ray

Record-breaking solid state me...
A new atomic-scale solid state memory could exceed the capacity of today's solid-state drives by 1,000 times
A new atomic-scale solid state memory could exceed the capacity of today's solid-state drives by 1,000 times
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A new atomic-scale solid state memory could exceed the capacity of today's solid-state drives by 1,000 times
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A new atomic-scale solid state memory could exceed the capacity of today's solid-state drives by 1,000 times

Scientists at the University of Alberta have demonstrated a new data storage technique that stores zeroes and ones by the presence (or absence) of individual hydrogen atoms. The resulting storage density is an unparalleled 1.2 petabits per square inch – 1,000 times greater than current hard disk and solid state drives, and 100 times greater than Blu-rays.

Ultra-high density storage devices aren't new, but they usually come with serious drawbacks that make them impractical in the real world. In the past, scientists have managed to store bits of digital information in a single molecule and even a single atom, but only in systems that had to operate at cryogenic temperatures, near vacuum pressure, or both. By contrast, this latest technology is designed work at room temperature and is expected to be able to preserve information without errors for over 500 years.

The researchers, led by PhD student Roshan Achal and physics professor Robert Wolkow, built on a technique previously developed by Walkow that used the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to remove or replace individual hydrogen atoms resting on a silicon substrate.

The inconceivably small dimensions (a hydrogen atom is only half a nanometer in diameter) allow for an astounding data storage density of 1.1 petabits (138 terabytes) per square inch. By comparison, a Blu-ray disk can "only" store about 12 terabits of data in the same area (one hundredth the data density), while both traditional magnetic hard drives and solid-state drives store somewhere in the region of 1.5 terabits per square inch (a thousandth of the density). This development, says Achal, could allow you to store the entire iTunes library of 45 million songs on the surface of a US quarter-dollar coin.

Achal and his team demoed the technology by creating a 192-bit cell, which they used to store a simple rendition of the Super Mario Bros video game theme song. To show the rewrite capabilities, the scientists also created an 8-bit memory cell which they used to store the letters of the alphabet one by one, represented via their respective ASCII code.

Unfortunately, writing speeds still leave something to be desired. According to the accompanying paper, writing each 8-bit ASCII code took between 10 and 120 seconds, which isn't exactly practical for today's consumer products. However, the fact that this technology is built on silicon and uses materials that can easily interface with existing semiconductor technology bodes well for the future automation of the manufacturing process.

In fact, Wolkow is confident that atom-scale fabrication is on the verge of becoming commercially viable. His spinoff company, Quantum SiliconInc., is working on developing classical and quantum computers that would operate at room temperature and which, because of their atomic scale, would benefit from much reduced power consumption.

The study appears in the latest issue of the journal Nature Communications and is further illustrated in the video below.

Music stored in smallest stable rewritable atomic memory

Source: University of Alberta

4 comments
Joel_WS
I'm still waiting for IBM's nano-scale 'punch card' physical memory and the sugar cube sized laser encoded three-dimensional glass crystals written about in the 1990s. Not gonna wait for this latest laboratory 'proof-of-concept' breakthrough either. After triple troubles with Windows X, my next computer may just be an abacus. The GUI will be missed but stability has always been a top priority with me.
pSynrg
Abacus? Confidence in its stability I feel is misplaced. I just knocked one over quite easily and all I did was brush past the table it was sat on.
eMacPaul
I think the data density of Blu Ray disks is slightly off. An entire disk can only hold 50 GB, let alone 1500 GB/square inch.
henrique
Hi, blu-ray disc storage per squared inch is around 10Gb. If the new technique can store around 1 petabyte per squared inch, then it is actually 100,000 time the density of a blu-ray disc.