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This new 3D XPoint memory could last forever

Lucas Mearian | July 31, 2015
Intel and Micron this week unveiled a new type of memory they plan to mass produce that is purportedly 1,000 times faster than NAND flash and has 1,000 times the endurance.

3D XPoint technology uses its new material to switch the resistance state, so it doesn't rely on less reliable and more expensive elements, such as Memristor's titanium dioxide and platinum films or PCM's silver filaments, which wear out over time. And, in that one difference, Intel and Micron said they were able to bring their product to the manufacturing phase.

"In addition, the combination of the architecture and the unique set of materials in both the memory cell and selector enable 3D XPoint technology to achieve increased density, along with significant improvements in performance and endurance," Micron wrote.

What it means for you and me

For consumer uses, XPoint could mean desktop and laptop storage would take up far less space with vastly more capacity, and it would boost today's NAND speeds from 500MB/s to 500GB/s if Intel's and Micron's numbers are to be believed.

Gartner Vice President Joseph Unsworth believes it will be years before consumers see 3D XPpoint in their PCs or laptops "because cost and performance is far more valuable to data centers and in-memory computing applications than it is for typical consumer usage, which is quite price sensitive."

Just as NAND flash once did, emerging memory technology can take years to catch on. The new memory, however, is bound to make a splash in data centers for applications such as in-memory computing and high-performance computing, Unsworth said.

Today, data centers use DRAM for high performance computing and other I/O intensive applications and capacitors to ensure that if power is lost, the DRAM modules have a few seconds of power to transfer the data to non-volatile memory. With XPoint memory, more high-performance processing could be done without the need for as much DRAM, eliminating the super capacitors and some NAND flash.

"I don't think you can replace DRAM entirely," Wong said. "What I think will happen is you'll still have a little bit of DRAM and then a huge amount of 3D XPoint memory."

3D XPoint could also indirectly benefit consumers. "The massive amount of data created and digested requires extensive analytics abilities and thus this could improve identifying fraud detection, transaction processing, genomics research, oil/gas mining exploration, IoT implications, etc," Unsworth wrote in an email reply to Computerworld.

All about that speed

Another important attribute is that 3D XPoint memory is fast, hyper fast. 

Currently, memory and flash storage rely on two separate interfaces to a computer. A laptop or desktop typically use SATA bus interface or is connected directly to the motherboard via a PCI Express (PCIe) expansion slot. The DRAM or system memory then sits in its own board slots directly connected to the CPU. The point is that both have different interfaces and performance levels.


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