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Mixing Memory To Speed Solid-State Drives

Korean researchers find that a little ferroelectric RAM goes a long way

2 min read

The pricey MacBook Air you covet, with its small, lightweight, shock-resistant solid-state drive (SSD), may have a secret. Despite their advantages, solid-state drives suffer not just from enormous price tags but also from slow performance during certain key operations. Now Korean engineers report that through a clever mix of two types of memory, they can give solid-state drives a boost without also jacking up their price.

Unlike a traditional hard-disk drive, which can write new data directly over recorded data, the NAND flash memory that makes up solid-state drives requires free memory space in which to write. That's usually not a problem when you have to write large chunks of sequential data, such as a video clip. But it is a problem when you have to make frequent small additions and changes to existing data. If, for instance, you need to update a file, the original data must be copied to a fresh memory block so that the first block can be erased. The new data can then be merged with the original and written back to the first block.

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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.

Avicena

If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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