Let’s go back to the 1980s when the contender for a “universal memory” first appeared. Bubble memory took advantage of its performance, memory density and the lack of any moving parts. But how did this technology came into existence and what did it change?
What is bubble memory?
On short, bubble memory is a type of non-volatile computer memory which uses magnetic material to hold together small magnetized areas containing data. These areas became known as bubbles or domains, giving the memory its name. The bubbles are read by a magnetic pickup on the edge of the material, while they are written on the other far edge.
A team effort
The bubble system was born out of the contribution of over 60 scientists working at Bell Labs where it was included in different experimental devices. After many attempts, garnet was chosen as the perfect material for the bubbles, while electromagnets helped the movement and communication of the information. Its dimension (1 cm that stored 4096 bits) generated a buzz in the industry as it could easily replace tapes and disks. As such, the mid-1970s knew an in depth exploration of this technology in almost every large electronics company. Texas Instruments launched the first commercial product with bubble memory in 1977, soon followed by Intel who released the 7110.
However, due to the introduction of faster semiconductor memory chips and improvements in hard capacity the bubble memory became outdated and uncompetitive from a price point of view. Once hard disks appeared, taking out of the context the non-moving nature of bubble memory, the technology stopped being used, starting with the end of the 1980s.
What the future holds
Recent years have seen a regained interest in microfluidic bubbles, especially at MIT so we might hear very soon about a rebirth of the memory bubble, inspired by nanotechnology. We can only wait to see what the future holds.