With a remarkable breakthrough, computer memory is now a hundred times more efficient. This makes laptops so energy efficient that in principle they never need to be charged again. Now think of some smarter things for the energy-guzzling processors and replace the screen with electronic paper.
Any frustrated laptop owner knows from bitter experience. After two to maybe ten hours, the exercise is over for the depleted battery of the device. This has to be fed quickly if you want to continue working on your report, top website or magisterial novel undisturbed.
Unfortunately, charging points are scarce and inconvenient. So the obvious solution to this problem is to reduce the power consumption of the laptop or mobile phone. Traditionally, the processors and display require a lot of power, but as they become more energy efficient and computers faster and faster, memory is consuming an increasing share of the power consumption. And there is a high risk of burning out.
More economical, smaller and more stable
With a remarkable breakthrough, four researchers, Feng Xiong, Albert Liao, David Estrada and Eric Pop have now succeeded in reducing the power consumption of the memory to one percent of the standard consumption.
The secret: make the memory storage units smaller. The researchers did this by using carbon nanotubes, between which small blocks phase-change materials (PCM). PCMs are a type of heat battery that melts when they take in heat and solidifies when they release it - after receiving a signal. You may know them as those handy bags that you can bend with a metal ring to solidify and let them become warm. You can let them melt again, 'recharge', by placing them in a pan with hot water.
The resistance of the PCM that the researchers chose changes due to high voltage peaks. These very small elements only consume one percent of the power of a standard memory element because they are much smaller. That's not even all the good news. They are also much more stable than standard memory elements because they do not store their information as an electric or magnetic charge, but by changing the position of the atoms. Also ideal for use in factory environments and space, where cosmic rays and strong magnetic fields are commonplace.
Laptop never needs to be charged again
If the consumption of the processor and the screen can also be significantly reduced, the time comes closer when laptops no longer need to be charged at all. Sufficient energy is then available in the vicinity of the device. Think of light, temperature differences and the like. If the consumption of a laptop falls below a watt - less than a bicycle light uses - that is also possible. You could even use the energy of typing or shaking the laptop while wearing it to charge the laptop. Much like kinematic watches feed themselves by the constant walking and shaking of the proud owner. According to the enthusiastic foursome, they are far from reaching the bottom of the possibilities. They think that consumption can be reduced by a factor of ten. This system is of course also extremely interesting for the enormous computer and data centers. It is estimated that computer systems are already responsible for a few percent of the total energy use in countries with intensive computer use such as the Netherlands and the US, and this percentage is steadily increasing.