Soon your computer and electronic gadgets could be much smaller, faster, cheaper, more reliable and even greener thanks to a new form of computer memory technology called racetrack.
Christopher Marrows, a physicist at England's University of Leeds, says racetrack memory, currently under development at IBM, will be a vast improvement over today's leading computer memory technology - hard disk and flash - which each have serious limitations.
Racetrack is showing to be more reliable than hard disks, making consistent computer crashes, well, a distant memory.
And it's cheaper than flash - perhaps 100 times less expensive.
"This technology will allow you to have the best of both worlds - cheap nano-size with huge memory in 3G phones, MP3 players, camcorders and other devices," says Marrows. "But, more importantly, there will be more sites that will be able to give away storage for free, like YouTube.com and Gmail.com."
Racetrack, as the name implies, is all about speed - and reliability, since all the parts are static.
Data stored on racetrack moves around on a wire pushed by spiralling magnetics, unlike hard disks in which a motor-operated head, much like a record player, has to move to the data to read it. It's those moving parts that make hard disks, invented by IBM in 1956, susceptible to crashing.
"Hard disks are so good because they are so cheap," says Marrows. "But they are bad because of the moving parts, which wear out or crash."
Flash memory, created by Toshiba in 1980, has its own drawbacks. As a solid-state storage device with no moving parts, it's faster and more reliable than disks, but it has a limited number of erase-write cycles before the memory capacity begins to deteriorate.
The impact of racetrack, which has the durability and speed of flash and the affordability of hard disk, will be enormous, says Stuart Parkin, IBM fellow and inventor of the technology.
"Racetrack will have cheap memory with the possibility of being one million times faster than hard disks without the risk of wearing out," he says.