London, May 1 : Electronics experts in California, US, have succeeded in proving the existence of a fourth fundamental unit of electronic circuits, known as the 'memristor', which could revolutionize computing.
According to a report in Nature News, the existence of the memristor, short for 'memory resistor', was first suggested in 1971, but only now have researchers succeeded in creating a real, working example.
They hope that the new components could revolutionize computing, promising an end to frustrating waits for computers to boot up.
"A memristor is essentially a resistor with memory," explained Stan Williams of HP Labs in Palo Alto, California. "The actual resistance of the memristor changes depending on the amount of voltage and the time for which that voltage has been applied to the device," he added.
That means that a computer created from memristive circuits can 'remember' what has happened to it previously, and freeze that memory when the circuit is turned off.
This quality could allow computers to turn off and on again in an instant, as all the components could revert to their last state instantly, rather than having to 'boot up'.
Williams and his colleagues created a memristor while experimenting with very tiny circuits.
For developing the resistor, they sandwiched a nanoscopic film of a semiconductor (titanium dioxide) between two slivers of metal (platinum).
"It's only at the nanoscale that the behaviour of memristors begins to be detectable," said Williams. "Any larger and they behave just like ordinary resistors, where resistance is equal to the voltage divided by the current," he added.
According to Leon Chua, the electrical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, who first postulated the existence of memristors in 1971, memristors will be quite significant.
They should be crucial in developing 'non-volatile' memory - the type that doesn't decay when the power is switched off.
Most computers use 'volatile memory' to perform their running functions, because this offers faster access to data than the non-volatile memory used to store data on hard disks and flash devices such as iPods.
Building computers with memristors might allow a full switch to non-volatile memory, doing away with power-sapping 'running memory' and allowing devices to consume far less power when operating.
"Someday, I imagine that you won't have to charge your cellphone or your laptop so often," said Chua.