“This is something many people thought was impossible,” exclaimed Intel Senior Vice President Rob Crooke. During an invite-only press conference, Crooke along with Micron CEO Mark Durcan revealed a radically new class of storage and memory architecture called 3D XPoint (pronounced “Cross Point”). To say this is a game-changer would be the understatement of the year.
Tangible products based on the technology will debut in 2016, but today’s event was focused on the development partnership between Intel and Micron. Frankly, what they’ve accomplished is astounding.
Even though we’re finally on the cusp of Solid State storage breaking into mainstream adoption (e.g. becoming more affordable and more relevant), it has been a whopping 26 years since the last completely new type of memory – NAND Flash — was introduced. We’re long overdue for something revolutionary to rock the tech sector, and Intel and Micron are apparently making up for lost time.
Get this: 3D XPoint is 1000 times faster than NAND, boasts 1000x the endurance of NAND, and is 10 times more dense than conventional memory. Consider that existing NAND flash storage is 1000 times faster than traditional mechanical hard drives. We’ll give you a minute to process that. This actually puts 3D XPoint memory about on par with DRAM speeds, only its non-volatile. And again, these products are arriving as soon as 2016.
“This is a real technology, not just a PowerPoint,” said Micro CEO Mark Durcan. The executives then pulled back the curtain on an existing wafer, emphasizing that this isn’t pie-in-the-sky theoretical stuff. It’s out of R&D, and is being prepped for production. “It’s going to enable a whole new universe of applications and memory architectures and compute architectures. It’s going to change what we think is possible in electronics,” Durcan said.
Intel and Micron emphasized that in terms of data, time is not necessarily on our side, thus driving the need for 3D XPoint. By 2020, we’re going to generate another 44 Zettabytes of data. A Zettabyte comprises 1000 exabytes, and a single exabyte can hold 36,000 years worth of HD video.
3D XPoint isn’t electron based, it’s material based. The companies aren’t diving into specifics yet surrounding the materials used in 3D XPoint, but the physics are fundamentally different than what we’re used to. The Crosspoint structure allows for dense packing and individual access to bits from both the top and bottom of a 3D stacked memory array, making it highly scalable as well. On a high level, this is similar in concept to the new High-Bandwidth Memory present in AMD’s flagship Radeon video cards, but to a significantly more extreme degree. Though it can be scaled in 3D, this is a completely different type of memory.
What does this all mean to us, the end-user? “When you can get this much memory close to a processor, you can do an amazing set of things you couldn’t previously do. We don’t even know what all of them will be yet,” said Micron CEO Mark Durcan. The potential for improvement in the gaming space stands out. Right now the huge bottleneck is the amount of data flowing to the processor. It’s why you see loading screens and why worlds aren’t seamlessly connected. Micron insists this technology can eradicate the existence of loading screens altogether and allow for completely seamless transitions between levels and entire virtual worlds.
What Intel and Micron have pulled off is the invention of technologies and architecture that are compatible with each other and dramatically faster than anything in use today. And it’s technology that’s ready for production and can be produced in high volume. Clearly both enterprise and consumers are going to benefit greatly from the products created by this partnership.
Better still, Intel alluded to 3D XPoint not being as cost-prohibitive as you might expect. Intel’s Rob Crooke explains: “You could put the cost somewhere between NAND and DRAM. Cost per bit, it’s likely to be in between them somewhere. But actual cost will result from the products we bring to the marketplace.”
Needless to say, we’re looking forward to what those products will be. 3D XPoint could usher in completely new computing architectures and memory and storage products that are vastly superior to anything in use today.