'Racetrack memory' could be 100,000 times faster than hard drives


November 15, 2010

A diagram of nanowires used in a Racetrack memory chip

A diagram of nanowires used in a Racetrack memory chip

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Tired of waiting for your computer to boot up? Within five to seven years, you may no longer have to. That’s the estimated amount of time it will take to bring Racetrack Memory to market. Racetrack is a proposed new shock-proof system that is said to be 100,000 times faster than current hard drives, while also being 300 times more energy-efficient. Although it incorporates cutting-edge nanotechnology, it’s based on the same principles as the humble VHS videotape.

IBM has been working on developing Racetrack Memory for a couple of years, after Stuart Parkin of IBM’s Almaden Research Center came up with the concept of spintroncs-based memory that has no moving parts, but in which the information moves. Prof. Mathias Kläui of Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) decided to pursue it after he got tired of waiting the two to three minutes for his computer to boot up.

Like a videocassette, Racetrack Memory would store data magnetically. Instead of on a moving tape, however, it would be stored on a tiny unmoving nickel-iron nanowire. The bits of information, which are stored in the wire using the spin of electrons rather than an electronic charge, would be moved around at several hundred meters per second, using a spin polarized current. Adjacent bits would be delineated from one another via domain walls with magnetic vortices.

EPFL says that accessing one of these nanowires would be like reading an entire VHS tape in less than a second, and the plan is for millions or even billions of these wires to be embedded on one chip. Perhaps you start to get the idea of just how speedy this thing could be. Kläui says that, not only would Racetrack Memory-equipped computers boot up instantly, they could also access information 100,000 times more rapidly than a traditional HDD. Additionally, because there are no moving parts, there is nothing to wear out, and unlike flash SSDs, it can be rewritten to endlessly.

Because traditional hard drive-based RAM needs to be powered every millionth of a second, says EPFL, a computer can consume up to 300mW of electricity just sitting idle. An idle Racetrack-equipped computer, on the other hand, would reportedly use just a few miliwatts. According to a 2010 study conducted by SBI Energy, computers and other electronics are currently estimated to consume approximately six percent of the world’s electricity, with that number forecast to increase to 15 percent by 2025. So this is no small consideration.

There are hurdles to be overcome before we start seeing Ractrack Memory appearing in consumer devices, however. Experiments by researchers at the University of Hamburg showed that microscopic imperfections in the crystal structure of the wires, which led to the magnetic domains becoming “stuck,” resulted in performance roughly equal to traditional HDDs. If these and other problems can be overcome, we can look forward to instant-on computers that are ready to go when we are.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

If the Professor is tired of waiting two to three minutes for his computer to boot up he should get rid of Windows and install a decent OS like Linux. His computer will then boot in seconds, not minutes.


\'Valis\' For someone claiming to be a disciple of tech visionary Philip K Dick, yours is a terminally ignorant comment. Please change your fake name to \'Luddite\'.

Robert Walther

Hello Valis, others,

Point well taken, but if this incident did not happen to the professor, this new technology would not have come about. Many an \"impatient persons situation\" is the mother of many an invention(s) ideas coming to fruition. And you too will applaud I believe this memory storage breakthrough. Mike


Why is every article about anything on the \'Net an excuse to slag people\'s OS choices. Really, Valis, get off that high horse before you fall and hurt yourself.

Dennis Gray

It\'s not the OS, tho windows is not as streamlined as Linux, but it\'s the crap that\'s on the computer, I try to tell my kids that, they whine about the computer when it\'s the crap they downloaded that is causing the problems.

I still have a computer that runs Windows ME, I don\'t use it anymore because it\'s too slow with a 500 Mhz CPU but it still runs fine, in short, it\'s not the computer, it\'s the monkey

Facebook User

I\'ll take the new technology (no moving parts and less power demand) now, thanks very much. When the crystal structure of the wires is sorted out (in manufacturing) ship me a new module.

Hard-drives are like record players - they have served their purpose and had their day.


What\'s your prob., valis?

It\'s not the stuff that Linux is greater than Windows, it\'s the fact that we need to improve our current technologies, to get hold of cool new stuffs like Teleportation, Artificial Intelligence, etc, and perhaps don\'t get beaten when we are invaded by brutal aliens.

Man!!! Vision

Akemai Olivia

I\'ll believe it when it reaches the market. Lots of promising technologies have died over the years for various reasons. Younger people wouldn\'t remember magnetic bubble memory, which had similar advantages over competing storage tech over 30 years ago.


This isn\'t new and it basically doesn\'t work. IBM played with this for years and years. Hell, Parkin is still probably screwing around with this. Before that lots of time and money was wasted on Vertical Bloch Line (VBL). There are more problems than just pinning sites. Not gonna happen, folks.

Plasma Junkie

If you are getting impatient about the boot times of your PC regardless of the OS, why wait for this Tech to mature, get an SSD (Solid State Drive) fitted now. Configure it as your primary boot drive and bingo!. Startup/Boot times of 10-15 secinds are not uncommon.

Terry Penrose

Looks like a cross between a delay line and magnetic core memory.

Facebook User

\"Five years\" is always the minimum required for any technology involving the Underpants Gnomes technology helper to make it to fruition: close enough that you could see it happening in your lifetime, but far enough away that you\'ll be guaranteed to forget it if it doesn\'t happen.

Rob McMillin

Judging by the description it seems like this would also be pretty cheap to manufacture.

Michael Crumpton
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