Speaking of things tiny, we learned last issue that 360 gigabyte notebook
hard drives will be here in a few years, and that new magnetic sensing
techniques, and the use of the spin of electrons (spintronics), hold the promise
of a terabit of data in something the size of a credit card. But of course
Science marches on, and innovative people who just insist on asking ‘Why?’
continue to push the bar ever-higher--or ever-smaller in this case.
Consider the picture -- we're looking at individual atoms of gold on a
silicon substrate which have been convinced, by Dr Himpsel and his colleagues at
the University of Wisconsin at Madison, to self-assemble themselves into regular
rows 1.7 nanometers apart, with a consistent 1.5 nanometer spacing between each
atom within a row. According to Dr Himpsel, "We can actually get atoms to
assemble themselves... precisely, without any type of lithography. It is
actually quite simple, and my graduate students make the surfaces routinely
But why are some atoms missing in the picture? Because they were
intentionally ‘written out’ using an atomic force microscope, which of
course is the same thing as writing data INTO this tiny array. At each spot
where an atom ought to be, the data is a ‘one’ if the atom is there, and a
‘zero’ if it's not.
That's data density of 250 trillion bits per square inch. Or 7,800 DVDs full
of movies -- in one square inch. Which is storage that is denser than the DNA
that defines -- us!
"The density and readout speed of DNA
of four base molecules,
between the individual atoms that store the bits."
What's particularly fascinating about this is that 250 terabits/square inch
is nowhere near the ultimate density for this type of storage. In order to gain
room-temperature stability, these researchers trod a careful middle-ground
between ultimate density and practicality. Although this process is
"impractically slow at present," Georgia Tech professor Phillip First
indicates that this work is,
"... a realistic analysis of bit stability, which is good;
recording density, which is high; and
impressive demonstration of the practical limits of two-dimensional data storage
using single-atom bits."
’Single-atom bits.’ That's pretty impressive, indeed.
And they're working on that slow "read speed;" they figure they
have a headroom of about 100,000 times, which means that this technique might
eventually rival the speed of today's magnetic disks.
Of course this is currently just a laboratory prototype, and there might well be
practical issues that prevent its eventual commercialization.
But this is the same way that all of the storage technologies that we now
take for granted, began. Even if this particular technique gets sidelined, the
idea of our storing data at the same scale as Nature does, now seems a likely,
er, evolution. And might that not change more than a few rules...?
Again, Don't Blink!
CPU Update - Want a Teraflop?
It's not a new cuddly toy, but the term "teraflop" (one TRILLION
complex mathematical operations per second, a computing speed often associated
with supercomputers) will soon be IN a toy, when the work between Sony and IBM
and Toshiba hits the market. Perhaps in a near generation of Sony console video
games, and other "computing devices," a chip called the
"Cell" is due in 2005. What makes the Cell different from today's
typical microprocessors or Digital Signal Processors (DSPs) is that the Cell
contains several different types of computing cores (or cells), each optimized
to its own task (such as video processing, high-bandwidth communications
processing, and more), but the processing cells can be interconnected in
different ways under program control to optimize the task at hand.
If the Cell does come out of the manufacturing process as intended, and if
software developers succeed at the tricky task of optimizing the Cell's
capabilities, then we may hit a new high in what consumer devices can do. And
what particularly fascinates me about this development is that its prime
motivation isn't for the next-best generation of supercomputers or PCs, but for
the PlayStation -- a game.
Which just underscores what I'm continually re-learning from the evolving
history of computing: that games often drive the advances that eventually become
de rigueur for business computing (remember color monitors, sound cards, 3D
graphics acceleration, and more...) "Gaming" is not a game that any of
us who are interested in how we and our businesses are going to be using
technology, dare ignore.
It's "your turn..."