NEC Shows New Content-Addressable Memory Tech

By Stuart J. Johnston

In a development that may radically speed up memory operations while dramatically reducing the energy and space required to store and retrieve data, NEC and Tohoku University announced Monday that they have come up with a new type of content-addressable memory (CAM) that works without power being provided to the circuit first.

The new CAM circuitry takes advantage of a technology known as "spintronics" that uses the physical attributes of electrons to let data being processed within the memory to be stored without using any power.

That could have significant implications as more companies move increasing amounts of processing and storage into the cloud, according to a joint statement by the partners.

"Most existing equipment requires a short amount of time to get started and internal circuits remain active when the equipment is in standby mode. Therefore, the growing consumption of power by ICT [information and communications technology] equipment in standby mode has become a serious concern," the statement said.

Among the potential benefits is the development of nonvolatile memories that start instantly and use no electricity while in standby mode.

The new circuit design uses a pair of counter-rotating spintronics devices within the same memory cell, reducing the number of switches required to perform write operations, and making for a more compact area per cell.

In fact, the new design cuts the number of transistors required per pair of cells in half via transistor sharing, reducing the amount of space needed for the CAM by 50 percent.

Additionally, the new design provides the same data retrieval speeds (5 nanoseconds) and low power usage (9.4 mW) as existing CMOS CAM devices, the joint statement said.

NEC and Tohoku University plan to unveil their most recent research results later this week at the VLSI Circuit Symposium 2011 in Kyoto, Japan.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

This article was originally published on June 13, 2011