A new alloy could lead to smaller memory chips some 500 times faster than today's, said developers at IBM Corp. and two partners on Monday.

The alloy, based on materials commonly used in CDs and DVDs, could result in a new generation of digital cameras and music players capable of storing more data using less power, the researchers said.

Working at IBM Research laboratories on both U.S. coasts, scientists from IBM, Macronix International Co., Ltd. of Taiwan and Qimonda AG of Germany created a prototype non-volatile memory device that changed state more than 500 times faster than current flash memory while using half the power.

Non-volatile memory does not need power to keep data. Phase-change memory switches between an ordered crystal state and a disordered amorphous state when electricity or heat is applied. Theswitch freezes in one of the two states depending on how long the electricity is applied, and does not need power to maintain it.

The fastest, cheapest volatile memory available today requires a constant trickle of power to maintain data written to it.

A single switch in the newly developed device, aboutthree by 20 nanometres across, is less than half the size of flash memory switchesthat can be manufactured today, and is on par with industry capability projections beyond 2015. A nanometre is a billionth of a metre. A human hair is about 100,000 nanometres wide.

The scientists' findings are to be presented this week at the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) 2006 International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) in San Francisco.

A patent for the new material's composition has been filed, IBM said in a written statement.