Super-Fast Laptop Computers

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Do you wish your laptop would start faster? That you could switch it on and, one second later, it would be ready? Or that you could record and watch entire movies on your mobile phone? These scenarios may be possible in the near future thanks to a new type of memory chip called phase-change memory.

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A phase-change memory chip has three main advantages over current memory chips: It can write and delete new data; it can keep stored data even when the power is off; and it can store more data on a mobile phone than currently possible.

A phase-change memory chip consists of “phase-change materials,” so called because they can switch between a crystalline and an amorphous phase. In the crystalline phase, the atoms follow an orderly pattern. In the amorphous phase, the atoms are arranged randomly. These two phases conduct electricity differently. The crystalline phase is highly conductive while the amorphous phase is not, and this difference is used to set bits of memory to either 0 or 1.

Phase change materials are currently used to store data on rewritable DVDs, but they still require a lot of power, which makes them impractical for use in portable devices. But scientists have recently found a way to decrease the volume of phase change material in a memory chip, reducing the amount of power needed 100-fold. Also, scientists at IBM have demonstrated that phase-change memory chips can store more bits than originally expected, making it possible to significantly increase the performance of memory chips.

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