A replacement for the ordinary transistor may make it to market by the end of this decade, an event that will herald a radical redesign of traditional computer architectures. The memristor, the subject of much study over the last six years, could become the basic building block for an array of new devices—from the sensors and memory chips being built into the "Internet of Things" (connected, sensor-embedded devices) to the giant computers used for big data applications by scientists, engineers and Wall Street.
The industry has several goals in making the shift. Memristors can vastly improve energy efficiency of electronic components, and are better able to cope with the floods of data expected from the Internet of Things, which monitor or control equipment or systems in factories, office buildings or homes. Essential to their development is a continuation of the exponential growth in computing power and storage density that has seen prices plunge over the past 40 years. For similar reasons, IBM has just announced it will spend $3 billion to pursue experimental "post-silicon" architectures and chips, predicting a fundamental revamping of existing systems in 10 years.
These changes will produce a fundamental overhaul of computer operating systems to accommodate hardware that no longer differentiates between dynamic memory and long-term storage. Bresniker sees the change as an opportunity to jettison layers of cumbersome operating system code that was previously adopted to accommodate the limitations of older hardware.
HP's current development timetable has memristors going into the earliest stage of production in 2015 and launching as DIMMs (dual in-line memory modules) for computer memory in 2016. The operating system for “The Machine” will go into wider public beta testing in 2017, and the new architecture is intended to be integrated into actual products in 2019. Even if none of this pans out, Bresniker believes the attempt is worth it: "Each of the elements is interesting…[on its own]. Pulling out that copper and dropping in that piece of fiber will be more efficient, even with a traditional computing and memory regime all around it…. We need a replacement memory technology. If it does nothing else than drop in where my DIMMs drop in today, that will be a useful thing."