Product Development News: European Team Announces Advance in Light-based Memory Chip

Author: Stefan Stalgren Oct 2, 2015 Posted in: Blog > News

Product Development, Raleigh NCMaking tech product development news in recent weeks are solid-state drives (SSDs) with speeds up to 5G bps and the first optical-only chip that can permanently store data.

While the optical chip needs more development work before commercially ready, it has the potential to replace SSDs as storage devices of the future.

Colliding electrons create heat and resistance that limits the speed of electronic chips. Light-based circuits are immune to that issue, but all ’nano-photonic’ chips to date have been volatile – requiring a power source – which prohibits their use for data storage.

A September 28 report on Engadget indicates the prototype memory chip is “on par with its electronic counterpart for speed and power consumption” but not on size. “The chips will have to be hundreds of times smaller before they can compete with flash storage.”

The new optical chip is being developed by a product team from Oxford and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany based on the same light-based storage medium in DVDs.

“Re-writable DVDs and CDs save data using a material called ‘GST’ – an alloy made from germanium, tellurium and antimony – that changes its structure when hit by a laser,” reports Engadget. “The UK and German team built a chip using waveguide technology that directs light through channels etched into a silicon-nitride material. The chip was coated with nanoscale GST, then blasted by a high-intensity laser through the waveguide channels. That changed the GST from a consistent crystalline structure into an amorphous blob, which was detected by another low-intensity laser and read out as data.”

Providing rewrite capability, “the GST transforms back to a crystalline state when hit with another high-intensity shot.” The team found that varying the intensity and wavelength of the lasers resulted in a considerable advancement over the storage capability of binary electronic devices.

“By using optical near-field effects, we realize bit storage of up to eight levels in a single device that readily switches between intermediate states,” reads the research citation posted on “Our multi-level, multi-bit devices portend a new paradigm in all-photonic memory and non-conventional computing.”

The product development team reports that the technology exists to make this optical-only chip commercially feasible. “If paired with photonics logic chips, it could eventually result in computers that are up to 100 times faster than the one you’re using now,” cites the Engadget report.

Product Manufacturers Reveal New-Speed Solid State Drives

Meanwhile, both Intel and Samsung announced new SSD releases that read and write faster than any previous devices. As reported by Computer World, Intel’s new drive has a sequential read speed of up to 5Gps and write speed of up to 3Gps. The latest Samsung drive boasts four times the read speeds and three times the write speeds of its predecessor, at 2.5Gps and 1.5Gps respectively.

While the new SSD releases from both these companies are impressive, could it be just a matter of time before their technology is electronics history?

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