The new design has computing nodes linked by nano-wires in a structure similar to neurons and axons in the human brain.
In research published in the journal Science the researchers claim that the chip will combine the storage capability of a hard drive with the low cost of memory cards, potentially increasing memory capacity by 200 times from an average of 500MB to around 100GB.
The breakthrough came when the team found they could reproduce the key functions of conventional microchips using only the 'spin' of electrons, which is responsible for magnetism, rather than the 'charge' across a transistor that traditional microchips use.
This allowed the team to build 3D 'stacked' processors, an approach lead researcher Russell Cowburn, professor of nanotechnology in Imperial's department of physics, compares to using cupboards instead of table tops for storing goods.
"Traditionally we have used electronics for microchips and magnetism for hard disk drives," he explained.
"This discovery allows us to combine these two approaches to make a new generation of 3D microchips that can store so much more information than a flat 2D surface."
The team is currently working with commercial partners to develop a new generation of computer hardware, and a spokeswoman confirmed that products should be on the market within the next few years.
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