The bootless PC and terabytes on a dime

Systems using nanotechnology could do away with disk drives as well as the boot-up process

Imagine a PC with instantaneous boot up or storing 10TB of data -- 10,000 gigabytes -- on a device the size of a dime with data-transfer rates unhampered by any latency.

Those are just two examples of the promises that storage nanotechnologies hold: combining the functions of memory chips and disk drives on a single piece of hardware that is a fraction of the size of devices today.

Nanotechnology, the science of engineering functional systems at the molecular scale, holds the possibility of billions of infinitesimally small machines working together to build products from the ground up using readily available materials.

Systems in development today could do away with internal disk drives all together as well as the computer boot-up process, instantaneously bringing applications up when a PC or laptop is turned on. Other nanotechnology hardware may allow data to be stored for more than 100 years without having to refresh media.

Most production applications for nanotechnology are now used in reading and writing from storage media that are many times superior to today's storage products at a fraction of the cost. But these developments are prompting storage vendors of all sizes to examine not only how they will manufacture products in the future but what their business models may ultimately look like as a result of the disruptive nature of nanotechnology.

Large and small storage vendors are well into developing storage nanotechnology that promises to shrink by tens or hundreds of times the space required to fit today's data.

IBM has three projects focusing on storage nanotechnologies.

Perhaps the most promising of projects at IBM are carbon annotates, which are molecule-size objects composed entirely of carbon in a cylindrical structure, giving them unique properties. According to Tom Theis, IBM's director of physical sciences, "Nanotubes with diameters of only 1.5 to 2 nanometers possess many times the strength of steel and conduct electricity as both a metal and a semiconductor." Because of these properties, Theis says, "I can't imagine a more aggressive transistor technology right now."

Another way in which carbon nanotubes may be used is in the production of a high density, nonvolatile random access memory chip that could replace dynamic RAM, flash memory and even hard drives. Nantero Inc. in Woburn, Mass., has built prototypes of a chip called NRAM (for nanotube-based/nonvolatile RAM) that is faster than DRAM, as portable as flash memory, and able to provide permanent storage because the wafer uses nonvolatile storage as its basis. "This technology could enable instant-on computers that boot and reboot without delays and eliminate the need for internal disk drives on computers," says Greg Schmergel, CEO and co-founder of Nantero.

Carbon nanotubes: a replacement for hard drives and flash memory?

Carbon nanotubes may be used in the production of a high density, nonvolatile random access memory chip that could replace DRAM, flash memory and even hard drives.
Carbon nanotubes may be used in the production of a high density, nonvolatile random access memory chip that could replace DRAM, flash memory and even hard drives.
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