A memory technology that could enable a handheld device like an MP3 player to store about 3,500 movies or 500,000 songs is a step closer to commercial viability, researchers at IBM (NYSE: IBM) say.

The project, started by IBM six years ago, may result in massive amounts of personal storage that could run on a single battery for weeks at a time and could possibly last for decades.

The technology promises a solid-state memory with the cost and storage capacities rivaling that of magnetic disk drives but with much improved performance and reliability.

Within the next 10 years, "racetrack" memory, so named because the data "races" around the nanoscale wire "track," could lead to solid-state electronic devices -- with no moving parts, and therefore more durable, says IBM.

The technology, conceived by IBM Fellow Stuart Parkin, uses the "spin" of the electron to store data, and it has no wear-out mechanism and so can be rewritten endlessly without any wear and tear. It aims to store data as magnetic regions -- also called domains -- in racetracks just a few tens of nanometers wide.

This approach stores data in the form of domain walls -- boundaries between oppositely magnetized regions -- in magnetic nanowires. Many domain walls are stored in each racetrack, enabling very high data density and thereby low cost.

By controlling electrical pulses in the device, these domain walls can be moved at speeds of hundreds of miles per hour and then stopped precisely at the position needed -- allowing massive amounts of stored information to be accessed in less than a billionth of a second.

The scientists recently found that domain walls can be positioned precisely along the racetracks simply by varying the length of electric current pulses.

"This not only gives scientists an unprecedented understanding and control over the magnetic movements inside these devices but also advances IBM's racetrack memory -- driving it closer to marketplace viability," says IBM.

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