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What Is Racetrack Memory?

Alex Newth
Alex Newth

Racetrack memory (RM) is a type of computer memory that has many benefits over solid-state memory. The racetrack memory unit uses many nanowires with multiple read/write heads; the wires and heads can be constructed either as a grid or in a large U-shape. Regardless of the design, RM works by pushing bits around and collecting the information via the read/write heads. One major benefit is that RM offers a much higher memory capacity than solid-state memory units. This also seeks to reduce the amount of power used to boot and power the computer, thus limiting operation costs for businesses and areas where a large number of computers are used.

The construction of racetrack memory uses fairly simple materials. There are nanowires that hold and move the memory bits, and read/write heads to collect information. Two designs are available in 2011: a grid and a U-shape. The grid needs more space, but is quicker, while the U-shape cuts down on the RM’s size. While the U-shape requires more energy, both memory units have about the same throughput, making both effective designs.

Woman holding a disc
Woman holding a disc

To make racetrack memory work, there needs to be an electrical current that moves bits. When memory comes into the RM, the current moves the bits around the racetrack, the colloquial name for the nanowires. As the nanowires transfer the data, the read/write heads pick up the bits and change their domain so the information can be saved. Unlike solid-state memory, RM has a better density that allows more memory and bits to flood into the memory system.

One of the major purposes of any memory device is to hold massive amounts of information. When it comes to racetrack memory, it can hold about 100,000 times more memory than solid-state memory systems. This allows applications to run faster, memory to store quicker, and complex data to be read in a fraction of a second. Booting also is faster, with solid-state memory requiring two to three minutes for a complete boot, while RM needs just a few seconds.

Another purpose of racetrack memory is to decrease power consumption to make it cheaper for businesses to operate a large number of computers. With solid-state memory, energy is needed just to keep the memory active and fresh. RM also will need energy to store the memory, but it will require 300 times less energy, sharply reducing the necessary amount of electricity.

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