How many atoms to store one bit of data?

How many atoms to store one bit of data?
Antiferromagnetism could change storage

IBM Research has successfully demonstrated that you can store information in as few as 12 magnetic atoms – a discovery which could pave the way to smaller, faster and more energy efficient hard drives in our favourite devices.

Current hard-drives need around one million atoms to store a single bit of information, according to IBM's scientists, but that atomic limit of magnetic memory is just 12 atoms.

So what does that actually mean for our tablets, computers, mobile phones and any other device that stores information.

Manipulate matter

Well according to the research: "The ability to manipulate matter by its most basic components – atom by atom – could lead to the vital understanding necessary to build smaller, faster and more energy-efficient devices."

IBM's research was conducted as it became clear that silicon transistor technology has "fundamental physical limitations" which suggest that the current scaling efforts will plateau.

IBM Research suggests that nanostructures – built one atom at a time – could utilise antiferromagnetism and store 100 times more information in the same amount of space.

"The chip industry will continue its pursuit of incremental scaling in semiconductor technology but, as components continue to shrink, the march continues to the inevitable end point: the atom, said Andreas Heinrich, the lead investigator into atomic storage at IBM Research.

"We're taking the opposite approach and starting with the smallest unit -- single atoms -- to build computing devices one atom at a time."

You can check out more of the details on IBM's website.

Patrick Goss

Patrick Goss is the ex-Editor in Chief of TechRadar. Patrick was a passionate and experienced journalist, and he has been lucky enough to work on some of the finest online properties on the planet, building audiences everywhere and establishing himself at the forefront of digital content.  After a long stint as the boss at TechRadar, Patrick has now moved on to a role with Apple, where he is the Managing Editor for the App Store in the UK.