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These technologies will blow the lid off data storage

Lucas Mearian | March 10, 2016
Hard disk drive (HDD) and solid-state drive (SSD) makers are about to wow the storage market again.

In contrast, Intel plans to ship its Optane drives for enthusiast PC users this year. Jointly developed with Micron, the new Optane drives are expected to be 10 times denser than DRAM, and on paper are 1,000 times faster and more durable than NAND flash-based SSDs.

With one thousand times the endurance of NAND, Optane drives will offer one million erase-write cycles, meaning the new memory would last pretty much forever.

"It's not as fast as DRAM, so it's not going to replace it in the most latency-valued applications, but it's much higher density and much lower latency than NAND," Russ Meyer, Micron's director of process integration, said in an earlier interview with Computerworld "If you compare how much faster SSDs are to hard drives and how much faster 3D XPoint is to conventional NAND, it's kind of the same order of improvement," Meyer said.

Intel has demonstrated Optane drives operating at about seven times the speed of its current SSDs.

This year, Intel also plans on releasing Optane drives for servers based on its new Skylake processor.

Along with Optane SSDs, the ReRAM technology is expected to come as DIMMs that plug into memory slots.

Alan Chen, a senior research manager at DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, said that even if Intel's Xpoint ReRAM technology enters the consumer PC marketplace this year, its use will be limited to the highest-end products due to cost.

"Optane's impact on the SSD market will be determined by its pricing. Currently, Optane products are still more expensive than the mainstream NAND flash-based counterparts. Hence, they will initially affect just the high-end SSD market," Chen said.

Last year, Hewlett-Packard and SanDisk also announced an agreement to jointly develop "Storage Class Memory" (SCM) ReRAM that could replace DRAM and would be 1,000 times faster than NAND flash.

New Mexico-based Knowm is a start-up company that is also working on producing memristor technology.

Knowm's memristors are designed to mimic human brains, in which a synapse connects two neurons. Those neurons get stronger the more often a signal is passed between them. Similarly, the learning and retention of information on Knowm memristor circuits are determined by data flow characteristics and the current.

Chen revealed that Samsung is also working on a product similar to Intel's Optane that will incorporate DRAM and NAND flash manufacturing. Samsung, however, declined comment.

A 30TB hard drive by 2020?

As SSD prices continue to drop following the adoption of denser flash memory technology like 3D NAND, HDD makers are planning their own technology upgrades. Case in point: HAMR, which uses a laser on the hard drive read/write head to set smaller bits more securely in place on a drive's spinning platter.


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