Future computers relying on magnetic microprocessors could consume a million times less energy than current models.
Today's silicon-based microprocessor chips depend on electric currents, or moving electrons, that generate a lot of waste heat.
But microprocessors employing nanometre-sized bar magnets -- like tiny refrigerator magnets -- for memory, logic and switching operations theoretically would require no moving electrons. A nanometre is a billionth of a metre.
Such chips would dissipate only 18 millielectron volts of energy per operation at room temperature, the minimum allowed by the laws of thermodynamics. That's a million times less energy per operation than consumed by today's computers.
"Today, computers run on electricity; by moving electrons around a circuit, you can process information," said Brian Lambson, University of California Berkeley graduate student in electrical engineering and computer sciences, according to a California statement.
"A magnetic computer, on the other hand, doesn't involve any moving electrons. You store and process information using magnets, and if you make these magnets really small, you can basically pack them very close together so that they interact with one another.
Lambson is working with Jeffrey Bokor, professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at California, to develop magnetic computers.