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See Inside June 2009

Racetrack Memory: The Future Third Dimension of Data Storage

A device that slides magnetic bits back and forth along nanowire "racetracks" could pack data in a three-dimensional microchip and may replace nearly all forms of conventional data storage



George Retseck

The world today is very different from that of just a decade ago, thanks to our ability to readily access enormous quantities of information. Tools that we take for granted—social networks, Internet search engines, online maps with point-to-point directions, and online libraries of songs, movies, books and photographs—were unavailable just a few years ago. We owe the arrival of this information age to the rapid development of remarkable technologies in high-speed communications, data processing and—perhaps most important of all but least appreciated—digital data storage.

Each type of data storage has its Achilles’ heel, however, which is why computers use several types for different purposes. Most digital data today, such as the information that makes up the Internet, resides in vast farms of magnetic hard disk drives (HDDs) and in the HDDs of individual computers. Yet these drives, with their rotating disks and moving read/write heads, are unreliable and slow. Loss of data because of so-called head crashes occurs relatively often. Regarding speed, it can take up to 10 milliseconds to read the first bit of some requested data. In computers, 10 milliseconds is an eon—a modern processor can perform 20 million operations in that time.

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