Magnetic Switch Could Double the Storage Capacity of SSD and Flash Drives

By WPG AmericasAugust 9, 2016

A team of Japanese scientists at Hokkaido University's Research Institute for Electronic Science have developed a new device that can safely switch states between magnetic and electronic signals. This has opened the door to a whole new possibility of doubling the storage capacity of conventional memory products, such as the solid-state drives (SSDs), and USB flash drives.

The Fundamental Theory Behind Doubling the Storage Capacity of SSDs and Flash Drives

Traditional electronic storage devices essentially store information in binary form within millions of tiny logic gates while the data in magnetic storage is categorically represented in different regions of a magnetic film.

According to the hypothesis presented by the Hokkaido University’s research team, it might be possible to double the storage capacity in "multiplex writing/reading" devices, using a magnetic signal simultaneously with the electronic signal. The research further revealed that this can be achieved by adding an A/B magnetic store for the data in addition to the existing binary 0/1 (electronic) method of storing information. However, to do this, it would require a material that can switch back and forth between magnetic and non-magnetic states.

The university research team analyzed two forms of the compound strontium cobalt oxide (SrCoOx), where one is an insulating non-magnet while the other is a high-conductivity metallic magnet. Extensive investigation reflected that the transitional metal oxides have the desired functional properties to switch between the two magnetic states if the oxygen content is altered, making it gain or lose oxide ions.

The Primary Setback Encountered While Implementing the Theory

The scientists researched up two methods, but unfortunately, neither proved to be a viable solution for controlling the off-stoichiometry oxygen in the selected compound.

One method requires very high-temperature heating, obviously the least favorable condition suited for devices that operate at room temperature. The other method uses a liquid alkaline electrolyte, which successfully triggers an electrochemical reaction at room temperature, but the team found that it leaks, thus being unsuitable for miniaturization, which is a prime characteristic of information storage devices.

Taking Steps Toward Doubling the Storage Capacity of SSDs and Flash Memory

Probing for a viable solution, the researchers swapped the liquid alkaline for a sodium tantalate thin film, laying it over the strontium cobalt oxide. It was observed that by applying a three-volt current, the device can be switched into a metal magnet state from its insulating form in just two to three seconds. Alternatively, reversing the direction of the current made the device return back to its insulating state.

Memory Industry Highly Optimistic about the New Storage Doubling Possibilities

The memory industry community termed the Hokkaido University's research analysis as transformational, and said their approach could possibly lead to a new beginning of high-capacity electromagnetic switching devices for smartphones, USB flash drives, and SSDs. The hunt, however, is still on for an ideal method that can make changes in the millisecond range, which would drastically enhance the storage space.