What to expect

The memristor is said by many to be the 4th fundamental circuit element. The technology is speculated to change the way we compute forever. Its most interesting features include the ability to mimic neural networks and compete toe-to-toe with NAND flash technology.

Currently, prices for NAND based solid state drives (SSDs) float around 1.1$/GB. This figure isn’t expected to fall substantially in the near future; the primary reason being that NAND technology is a well-aged topic and growth in the field has slowed. The physical barriers of increasing NAND data density bar it from seeing the exponential growth predicted by Moore’s law.

In 2008, HP announced their breakthrough of being able to design and manufacture memristor based devices. The technology is expected to more than double the density of NAND flash based memory and storage with a whopping 20GB/cm2. In 2010, HP announced its partnership with Hynix to manufacture ReRam, a memristor based RAM, which is expected to ship in late 2013.

For consumers, it means several more years of Moore’s law growth and cheaper memory. As the technology is brand new, and with more developments coming from HP as the deadline approaches, consumers can expect SSD prices to close the gap with its magnetic hard drive counterparts.

A microscopic view of HP's crossbar array of memristors.

A microscopic view of HP's crossbar array

Hurdles to overcome

In August of 2011, HP announced it would be dropping its PC business in order to focus on software development and business-to-business sales. The future of HP’s research was unclear until current CEO Meg Whitman announced that HP’s directions in R&D have remained unchanged. However, in April of 2012 the director  of HP Labs stepped down and the executive chairman Ray Lane said that HP Labs will be playing a smaller role in the company’s future.

Other problems stem from competing non-volatile memory architectures such as phase change memory. There has also been debate about the hard definition of a memristor as HP’s TiO2 model is almost exactly the same as Samsung’s design which was patented in 2006. This could lead to future problems in HP’s desire to commercialize their memristor devices.

In all, can we expect HP and Hynix to make good on their claims to memristor based devices in 2013? Development is in its early stages, but if it can enter the market with little to no troubles, we may see the dawn of a new era storage devices.

How it works