From Lab to Fab – An HP Labs discovery demonstrates the viability – and versatility – of memristor technology

By Simon Firth

Stan Williams
The HP Labs team that built the world’s first memristor this week announced another significant advance in memristor research.

In an article non-hp site published in the current issue of Nature, the HP researchers demonstrate that memristors – a fourth basic element in integrated circuits which only existed in theory until 2008 – are capable of performing logic functions. It’s further evidence that memristors have the potential to make an impact on real world computing, says Stanley Williams, director of HP’s Information & Quantum Systems Lab and lead researcher on the project.

“Our research is now moving out of the lab and towards fabrication of memristor-based circuitry,” Wiliams reports. “And as we’re getting closer to the practical implementation of memristor technology, we’re learning more and more about it.”

If memristors can perform logic, they might one day be used to create computer processors, suggests Williams. And since those processors could be made with industry-standard materials and processes, memristors might help extend Moore’s Law past the point where silicon technology runs up against insurmountable technical barriers, he says.

In the much nearer term, Williams expects to see memristors used in computer memory chips within the next few years. HP Labs already has a production-ready architecture for such a chip.

Memristor chips require less energy to operate than current alternatives, such as flash memory. They also store data in approximately half the space required by flash chips and are virtually immune to interference from radiation – making them attractive to any manufacturer looking to create ever-smaller but ever-more-powerful devices.

In research published last fall, William’s group suggested how memristor memory could be combined with silicon processors in a multi-dimensional processor framework to create a hybrid chip that would be significant advance towards the idea of a ‘computer on a chip.’ Machines equipped with such processors would be useful for any compute- and memory-intense task, like seismic surveying, animation rendering or space research.

Eventually, memristor-based processors might replace the silicon in the smart display screens found in e-readers, says Williams, and could one day even become the successors to silicon on a larger scale.

That’s the real significance of the article in this week’s Nature, he says. “Memristors are allowing us to think about different ways of doing computing. And we’re only just starting to really understand the long term potential that they have.”