Intel/Micron Introduces Revolutionary 3D XPoint Technology: Memory And Storage Combined

NAND, the last new storage-class memory, was introduced more than 25 years ago. We haven't seen a new form of memory to address the DRAM segment since 1966. That changed today, as Intel and Micron introduced the new jointly-developed 3D XPoint memory technology. Intel and Micron have over a decade of experience working together in the NAND field through their IMFT (Intel Micron Flash Technologies) venture, and have been working on developing 3D XPoint since the inception of their relationship.

The pace of innovation in the computer industry is legendary; the speed of the CPU has increased 3,500x, and it is 90,000x more efficient and costs 60,000 times less than it did when the first Intel microprocessor debuted in 1971. Memory, on the other hand, has lagged painfully behind. Storage has been increasingly picking up steam through the development of NAND flash memory, but even the fastest NVMe PCIe SSDs on the market lag behind, 10,000 times slower than today's CPU's.

There were some early signs that Intel and Micron were going to shake up both the memory and storage market when Intel introduced commands for persistent memory, CLWB and PCOMMIT, last November. This set off a furious round of speculation in the analyst community that something big was in the works.

3D XPoint addresses all of the key requirements to address the gap between CPU speed and memory with 1000x faster performance and 1000x more endurance than NAND, and 10x the density of DRAM, and the icing on the cake is that this new technology is non-volatile.

Non-volatile characteristics are extremely important to bridge the gap between DRAM and NAND. "Non-volatility" simply means that the new memory medium retains data without power. Bringing this capability to a device that is exponentially faster than NAND enables capabilities well beyond any other form of memory.

Speaking of economics, Intel and Micron are already producing the early generation of the new technology at the IMFT Lehi, Utah fab. However, they mentioned that both companies will also produce the memory separately, meaning they both have rights to the technology outside of the IMFT collaboration. This is an important nugget of information, because there is some speculation that the glory days of IMFT may be coming to an end in the next few years.

Both companies will produce end products with the technology, and they will not be licensing it to other companies. I doubt that Intel/Micron will sell the memory outside of their own finished products, but that is speculation. We do know that final products will be available in 2016, and neither company expects the new technology to affect their lucrative NAND business. The new technology will slot in between NAND and DRAM in use-cases, so it will not supplant either existing memory technology.

We hope to gain more information in the coming hours, so stay tuned for more analysis.

Paul Alcorn is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware, covering Storage. Follow him on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

Edit: July 28th, 2015 4:40 PM --Corrected CEO name

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  • sergeyn
    Hopefully when this thing is out Toms will not have problems with image resolution. I can't see anything of what's written on that slide.
  • tburns1
    I'm ...I'm speechless ...
  • derekullo
    This reminds me of RDRAM.

    "Both companies will produce end products with the technology, and they will not be licensing it to other companies."

    Hopefully this won't be a repeat.