Hewlett-Packard researchers say an electrical circuit technology they're developing, called the "memristor", could fundamentally change the way computers are designed.
The memristor is essentially a resistor with memory. Though it was initially designed to expand devices' memory capacity, HP Labs researchers recently discovered that it also could be used for logic computations.
The dramatic discovery means that within six to eight years, the memristor could handle both memory and logic in the same chip at the same time.
"Memristors have the potential to turn the computing world upside down," says Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "Because they are both processor and storage, they act much like synapses in the human brain. Networked together, they look to be very much faster at tasks like pattern recognition than conventional computers. Because of the memory aspect, they can 'learn' much better than today's systems."
Still in the research stage, the memristor will give transistors a sort of turbo boost, says Stan Williams, a senior fellow at HP Labs. He expects to see memristors used for memory in devices in three years. While they would compete with flash memory, they would have more memory, use less power and be a lot faster.
"This is potentially a major game-changer," says industry analyst Rob Enderle. "If they can get this to market timely and priced well, it could change the face of personal electronics."
Memristors could also bring "the 3-D web into reality," Olds added. "They have incredible processing power for their size and will be able to generate content fast enough to make virtual experiences seem real."