Computer servers and data centers burn through a big chunk of power in the U.S., so boosting the energy efficiency of computers is a national priority when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers at North Carolina State University just might have found a way to push the effort up to the next level. They’ve come up with an energy efficient memory device that combines two functions, by packing two “floating gates” into one.
Floating Gates and Memory Devices
In conventional computing, there are two kinds of memory devices. One kind is used to store data. It employs a “floating gate” as a placeholder for the 1 or 0 that makes up one bit of data. It holds onto that bit even when the computer is off. A second device is used to perform operations. It stores data while the operation is running, but loses it when the computer is shut down.
Doubling Floating Gates and Energy Efficiency
The North Carolina team calls its new memory device the Double Floating-gate Effect Transistor. Instead of a single gate, it contains one for long term data storage, and one to perform operations. The advantages for energy efficiency are significant. Individual computers could boot up immediately, and large server farms could be powered down during low-use periods, and powered back up during peak periods.
Many Paths to More Efficient Computers
One question regarding double-gate technology is durability, but the research team is confident that the new device will hold up. In the mean time, advances in energy efficiency are moving forward on other fronts. One example is Yahoo’s infamous “chicken coop” data center, which reduced energy costs by about 40 percent simply by using ambient air to help cool the servers. A data center in California uses a similar high efficiency cooling system combined with elaborate water conservation measures, and researchers at federal laboratories are also working on energy-saving cooling strategies.