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Magnetic Logic Attracts Money

DARPA funds spintronic and nanomagnet research teams to create low-power nonvolatile logic

4 min read

4 January 2011—The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants a new type of computer logic. It will rely on magnetism instead of electricity to do its job, and its developers say this difference could one day allow computers to run on a fraction of the energy now required. Some even predict that the change will make booting your computer a near instantaneous affair. The defense agency has doled out US $8.4 million for a four-year ”spintronics” project led by the University of California, Los Angeles, and $9.9 million for ”nanomagnet” research led by the University of Notre Dame. Both groups aim to build a basic magnetic logic circuit.

Right now, it’s impossible to have true instant-on computers, in part because today’s volatile processors forget what they’re working on as soon as they lose power. The chips forget because they depend on the flow of electric current. When the power disappears, the flow of charge stops, as does any progress on the processing task. When the power returns, the circuit must essentially start from scratch, using information stored separately from the CPU in nonvolatile memory—and that takes time.

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A Circuit to Boost Battery Life

Digital low-dropout voltage regulators will save time, money, and power

11 min read
Image of a battery held sideways by pliers on each side.
Edmon de Haro

YOU'VE PROBABLY PLAYED hundreds, maybe thousands, of videos on your smartphone. But have you ever thought about what happens when you press “play”?

The instant you touch that little triangle, many things happen at once. In microseconds, idle compute cores on your phone's processor spring to life. As they do so, their voltages and clock frequencies shoot up to ensure that the video decompresses and displays without delay. Meanwhile, other cores, running tasks in the background, throttle down. Charge surges into the active cores' millions of transistors and slows to a trickle in the newly idled ones.

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