By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

April 11, Telegraph

The prospect of iPods that can hold millions of songs and PCs being able to turn on instantly, rather than taking minutes to "boot up", comes much closer today.

A Californian team has developed a new generation of memory that combines the high performance and reliability of solid state "flash" memory, stored in microchips, with the high capacity of the PC's hard disk drive, which is cheap but contains moving parts and is slow.

In two papers in the journal Science, Dr Stuart Parkin and colleagues at the IBM Almaden Research Centre in San Jose describe a revolutionary technology dubbed "racetrack" memory, or RM memory.

The team believes that it marks a milestone that could lead to electronic devices capable of storing far more data in the same amount of space than is possible today, with lightning-fast boot times, far lower cost and unprecedented stability and durability.

Within the next decade, racetrack memory, so named because the data "races" around microscopic magnetic "tracks," could lead to solid state electronic devices with no moving parts, and therefore more durable - capable of holding far more data.

IBM says this technology could enable a handheld device such as an mp3 player to store around 500,000 songs or around 3,500 movies - 100 times more than is possible today.

The devices would not only store vastly more information in the same space, but also require much less power and generate much less heat, and be practically unbreakable; the result: massive amounts of personal storage that could run on a single battery for weeks at a time and last for decades.

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image: Diagram of the nanowire shows how how an electric current is used to slide, or 'race', tiny magnetic patterns around the nanowire 'track' (Telegraph)