Landauer's Principle

Description

Landauer’s principle is a physical principle pertaining to the lower theoretical limit of energy consumption of computation. It holds that “any logically irreversible manipulation of information, such as the erasure of a bit or the merging of two computation paths, must be accompanied by a corresponding entropy increase in non-information-bearing degrees of freedom of the information-processing apparatus or its environment”.

Another way of phrasing Landauer’s principle is that if an observer loses information about a physical system, the observer loses the ability to extract work from that system.

If no information is erased, computation may in principle be achieved which is thermodynamically reversible, and require no release of heat. This has led to considerable interest in the study of reversible computing. Indeed, without reversible computing, increases in the number of computations-per-joule-of-energy-dissipated must come to a halt by about 2050: because the limit implied by Landauer’s principle will be reached by then, according to Koomey’s law.

At 20 °C (room temperature, or 293.15 K), the Landauer limit represents an energy of approximately 0.0172 eV, or 2.75 zJ. Theoretically, room‑temperature computer memory operating at the Landauer limit could be changed at a rate of one billion bits per second with energy being converted to heat in the memory media at the rate of only 2.85 trillionths of a watt (that is, at a rate of only 2.85 pJ/s). Modern computers use millions of times as much energy.

Landauer’s principle asserts that there is a minimum possible amount of energy required to erase one bit of information, known as the Landauer limit and shown here.

Related formulas

Variables

ELminimum possible amount of energy required to erase one bit of information (J)
kBoltzmann constant
Ttemperature of the heat sink (K)