Team makes breakthrough in Racetrack memory

A Swiss team reckons it’s on the way to developing a new kind of ‘Racetrack’ memory that could speed up hard disks by 100,000 times.

Pioneered by IBM two or three years ago, Racetrack memory is a high-volume, ultra-rapid non -volatile read-write magnetic memory based on nanotechnology. Racetrack-equipped computers would boot up instantly, as well as saving energy. While an idle computer consumes up to 300mW simply by maintaining data in RAM, Racetrack memory doesn’t have this constraint.

Now, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) professor Mathias Kläui has demonstrated that much higher speeds are possible than had previously been thought – up to 100,000 times faster than current hard disks.

The technique involves recording data on a nickel-iron nanowire – essentially, a tiny magnetic tape. The bits of information stored in the wire are simply pushed around inside the tape using a spin polarised current, hitting several hundred metres per second and enabling enormous read/write speeds.

In order for the idea to be feasible, each bit of information must be clearly separated from the next so that the data can be read reliably. This is managed by using domain walls with magnetic vortices to delineate two adjacent bits.

To work out the highest speed at which the bits can be moved, Kläui and his colleagues measured vortices and found that the physical mechanism could allow for higher access speeds than had previously been believed.

A market-ready device could be available in five to seven years, says the team. Millions or even billions of nanowires would be embedded in a chip, providing enormous capacity on a shock-proof platform.