Intel Demos 3D XPoint at IDF Shenzhen

First unveiled mid last year, 3D XPoint has been hailed as the next step for memory. Created in cooperation between Intel and Micron, the new memory technology is expected to serve as both a DRAM and NAND replacement in the future. While we all knew it would be crazy fast compared to NAND, we got the first glimpse of its true speed this week during Intel’s demo at IDF Shenzhen.

Unlike NAND flash which has to be written in pages and erases in blocks, 3D XPoint is addressable on the byte level. This gives much lower overhead and allows for higher speeds, especially in random performance. During the demo, the Optane device was able to reach 1.9GB/s in sequential performance. Furthermore, even when conducting random operations, the drive was able to hit 464,300 4K random IOPS. That’s about 1.9 GB/s as well, something current NAND-based SSDs, even NVMe ones, can’t reach. 3D XPoint seems almost symmetrical when it comes to read/writes and sequential/random performance.

Even with all the demos out, both Intel and Micron have been mum about a specific timeline for 3D XPoint to finally reach market. So far, all we know is that there will be 3D XPoint based SSDs set to arrive sometime this year. Hopefully, that will be sooner rather than later.

Micron Forecasts Surprise Loss In Current Quarter

Being one of the biggest DRAM and NAND manufacturers in the market, Micron have chugged along steadily, with the rise of smartphones and tablets helping offset the losses on the PC side. This is set to change very soon though with them forecasting a loss in the current quarter (Q4 2015), the first in a long while. The loss comes due to the naturally weak first quarter of the year, increased investments, pricing pressure and low demand.

Overall, they are expecting to lose between $50 to $120 million, or about 5-12 cents per share. This comes as revenues are expected to fall about $200 million short of analysts expectations. This comes after the company have made a number of acquisitions including Tidal Systems for their SSD controller and Inotera for their DRAM business. Micron is also investing heavily into TLC NAND, 3D XPoint and 3D NAND so it’s not as bad as it first may seem as the investments will hamper their fiscal results, but ultimately should pay off if the investments go as expected.

Coupled with the expected low PC demand, they are also facing heavy pricing pressure from competitors that has led huge price drops for both SSDs and DDR4 over the past few months. This is great news for consumers making DDR4 based systems much more affordable and open to a mini price-war involving Micron and their competitors. With increasing expenses in a time of falling revenues, it’s not surprising that Micron is facing some immediate trouble. The incoming investments though should help bump Micron back into the black soon enough and we will be monitoring this story closely as it develops in the near future.

Do you own any Micron products yourself? The company portfolio includes Crucial for consumer based memory and storage, Micron themselves for enterprise and business class products and Lexar Media who manufacturer flash memory for cameras and recording equipment.

Intel’s High-Speed SSD Coming in 2016

Intel has unveiled the Optane, its new high-speed SSD brand, at the Intel Developer Conference in San Francisco. The super-fast solid state drive, produced in conjunction with Micron, could be released as early as next year, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich revealed during his keynote speech.

Optane drives operate using Intel’s 3D XPoint technology, which is up to one hundred times faster than NAND. It is non-volatile, has around 10-times greater density than DRAM, but its performance can be anywhere between up to 100 times faster than conventional flash drives, with latencies up to 1000x faster.

However, speeds will be limited for the time being by existing interfaces. According to Intel’s live demonstration during the conference, its early prototype Optane drive has 7.23x the IOPs of Intel’s top-range NAND SSD, the DC P3700, with hopes that the drive will become even faster by the time of release.

“We’re hitting a bottleneck with current storage architecture,” Krzanich explained, adding that computer architectures will need to change in order for users to enjoy the full benefits of 3D XPoint technology.

Optane drives will be available in standard PCIe form, but also in DIMM for Xeon systems, offering greater bandwidth and lower latencies. Both include storage controllers optimised to take full advantage of the 3D XPoint memory.

Thank you Intel for providing us with this information.

Intel and Micron Introduce the Next Generation of Memory

Intel has teamed up with Micron to create the next generation of memory and today’s press event was to announce this to the world. It was done with big words and as we’ve learned from the recent Intel 750 SSD launch, they mean business when they say so.

Where the 750 SSD took NAND and moved it onto a better platform that could be better utilized by the CPU instead of being bottlenecked by SATA and SAS bus’, this introduction is something completely new. It is dubbed the 3D XPoint (3D Cross Point) and is truly the next generation memory.

It’s also about time that we get a new type of memory as the current NAND technology, while improved upon over time, already is over 25 years old.

3D XPoint is a new class of non-volatile memory that can provide speeds up to 1,000 times faster than current NAND technology. Not only is it faster, it is also a lot more durable and doesn’t have the trouble with a lot of writes as NAND does. This will bring game-changing performance to the market.

Not only is 3D XPoint said to be 1000 times faster and 1000 times more durable, it also has 10 times or more density than conventional memory.

The idea in itself isn’t new, but most people didn’t think it was possible. Intel and Micron had to come up with completely new materials and combinations as well as methods to combine them into a working product that could be mass produced.

Where normal memory just changes a part of the material used to indicate its state, 3D XPoint memory uses bulk material property change where the whole part changes instead of just being electron-based. This allows for more capacity in denser storage and the current production is spitting out 128Gbit sizes.

The 3D stacking is different from 3D NAND as it truly allows expansion in all direction without any effect to the performance. The unique switches inside are the key for this and it’s where the strength comes from. 3D NAND allows for more capacity, but not more speed, and that is why we need this new technology.

The pure nature of the technology also allows for much better data security as nothing will be lost in case of power failures. It can be used for both storage and system memory and as such could be the next big thing.

This isn’t just a proof of concept or a fancy powerpoint presentation with an idea, these are actual memory chips that currently are being produced in the joint factory of Micron and Intel. Both companies will release products based on this new technology in 2016 and they don’t expect any shortages in supply. That’s great news.

The final thing you might be asking yourself, what is the price and how does it really place itself in usability in comparison with other memory types. Both of these questions can be answered in one, it places itself between DRAM and NAND, so that’s not so bad news.