HP’s The Machine project could one day bring us smartphones with 100TB of memory

June 12, 2014
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hp memristor the machine

Memristor based wafer

Richard Lewington/Hewlett-Packard

HP Android devices, such as the Slate 7 tablet or the Slate 21 PC, aren’t exactly known for their good looks and amazing specifications. But HP could still secure a place for itself in the history of Android if it manages to turn The Machine into reality.

The Machine project is HP’s own moonshot, a grand effort to revolutionize computing and make our devices capable of keeping up with the flood of data that the Internet of Things will bring upon us. At the core of the project is the use of memristors, tiny components that can permanently store data, like regular flash storage, and make it accessible very fast, like RAM memory. Using memristors and superfast photonic links, HP believes it can replace RAM and flash storage with memory modules that are faster and cheaper, and hold much larger capacities.

The first devices to use the new technology will be servers – HP believes that using memristors will allow it to create servers that are six times more powerful than the best conventional servers of today, while consuming 80 times less energy.

But it’s not just servers that could benefit from The Machine – the technology can be scaled down for use in regular computers and even smartphones. In fact, HP Chief Technology Officer Martin Fink claims memristors could offer capacities that we can only dream of right now: “We want you to be able to store your entire life; think of 100 terabytes on your smartphone,” Fink said, cited by Infoworld.

Due to the massive differences between the way conventional computers and memristors computers work, HP needs to use a custom operating system for The Machine project. The company is developing its own Machine OS from scratch, but it’s also working on Linux and Android variants: “What if we actually built a version of Android that was tuned and optimized for these nonvolatile memory systems? We have a team that’s doing that too,” said the HP executive.

Mobile devices powered by memristors will boast huge storage, but benefits could also include lower prices, faster operation, greatly improved battery life, and better integration with the cloud.

To be clear, it will be years before we see the first commercial devices based on The Machine project. HP hopes to release the first products between 2017 and 2020. The company isn’t sharing details on the technology, but hopefully it won’t hit any insurmountable obstacles developing it.

For more details on The Machine and memristors, check out this Businessweek profile.

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