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What 3D XPoint says about the PC of the future

Gordon Mah Ung | July 30, 2015
One day, if Intel and Micron's new 3D XPoint memory plays out the way I expect it to, you'll never have to wait for another game or app to launch ever again, because they'll always be "loaded."

For reference, a typical PC with a Haswell or Broadwell CPU and dual-channel DDR3 offers around 17GB+ of memory bandwidth, while lower-end machines survive on 9GBps or less. Higher-end systems reach into the 55GBps range, while graphics card memory far outstrips those.

A lot of 'ifs'

3D XPoint sounds amazing, but there are a lot of 'ifs' between here and there. First, today's PCs just aren't architected to have terabytes of storage that run at near-system RAM speed, nor is there an easy way to get it close enough to your CPU. If 3D XPoint is as fast as Intel and Micron claim, there won't be enough bandwidth for it to live alongside a GPU in most systems today, either.

Then there's the OS. As far as I know, Windows isn't designed to have a device that offers near-system memory speed while acting like a storage device. I'm no OS nerd, but Windows still works on the bifurcated world of main system RAM and storage devices. Such a world won't exist with 3D XPoint. 

That means initially 3D XPoint will likely be packaged into the familiar models we understand: In M.2 or PCIe cards initially, when introduced probably next year. They'll be wonderfully fast and push us to the limits of those interfaces. But the real end game for 3DXPoint could be a fundamental change in how we compute.

What 3D XPoint signals for the PC of the future

At this point, any conjectures about 3D XPoint are based on a short press conference, and reading between the lines of what I think the execs were hinting. The reality is many years away, so don't toss your DRAM or SSD just yet.

Graphics technology lives and dies by memory bandwidth, and 3D XPoint just won't cut the mustard, period, for graphics loads. People also aren't taking fewer photos at lower resolutions. We're going to need bulk storage for the foreseeable future, and that's going to come from SSDs and even hard drives.

Still, it's quite possible that in a few years, your typical consumer PC will have nothing but a 3D XPoint device. When off, no power will be consumed, as 3D XPoint won't need power to refresh it like today's LPDDR3. And when you go to start up your browser, Photoshop, or yes, even Adobe Acrobat, it'll snap on almost instantly, because it was never really ever "closed."

Sounds crazy, right? But it's close to being true. 


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