Update, 10/19/18, 10:00 a.m. PT: Intel sent us a statement, saying that Micron will not be able to purchase its stake in IM Flash Technologies at least until January 1, 2019:
“Micron’s statement is a pre-announcement. They can’t officially make the call until January 1, 2019. The operation of the IMFT factory would not change until after the close of the call, which is at Intel’s discretion for up to one year. There is no near-term change to Intel’s plans in the coming quarters—this has been part of our planning for some time now. Intel has a number of manufacturing options available to us within the time window. We’ve been shipping a broad portfolio of Intel Optane technology products for over a year with a continually expanding product line. We will continue to lead the industry with this exciting new technology.”
Original, 10/19/18, 8:54 a.m. PT:
Micron plans to acquire Intel’s stake in the Intel-Micron (IM) Flash Technologies joint venture the two companies formed together in 2006, according to a Reuters report this week. The future of 3D XPoint, a non-volatile memory tech used in Intel Optane and Micron QuantX, remains relatively uncertain as the two companies start working on it separately.
Micron Will Own IM Flash Technologies
After the acquisition is complete, Micron will own the full IM Flash Technologies division. The company will pay $1.5 billion for Intel’s stake, as well as take over Intel’s $1 billion debt to the joint venture. When the two companies formed the venture back in 2006, they each contributed $1.2 billion.
The two companies formed IM Flash Technologies when they started working on 3D XPoint memory together. Both Intel and Micron have launched their own 3D XPoint brands, as mentioned above, but only Intel is selling 3D XPoint storage and started earlier this year. Micron is going to wait for generation 2 of the technology to be ready before selling its own 3D XPoint SSDs in 2019.
Reports have said that Intel’s Optane sales have been quite disappointing, presumably due to multiple reasons, including product-market mismatch, high prices for an unproven technology and competitors, such as Samsung coming out with Z-NAND flash alternatives, that are almost as good and much cheaper.
3D XPoint Challenges
It didn’t help that Intel initially promised that its 3D XPoint flash technology would be “1,000x” faster than flash technology. Presumably, Intel was comparing Optane to the lowest speed flash tech found on the market (in microSDs and such) and not the fastest available SSDs at the time, but that’s not the impression it gave technology enthusiasts and media.
This July, Intel and Micron announced that they would cease collaborating on 3D XPoint after the 2nd generation technology is finalized and manufacture and sell their own 3D XPoint storage technology independently.
Micron CEO Sanjay Mehrotra revealed in a previous earnings call that the sales of 3D XPoint wafers to Intel were disappointing, so the company may eventually stop selling the tech to Intel.
It will be interesting to see if 3D XPoint’s situation on the market improves or gets worse starting with the 3rd generation, when the two companies will be designing and manufacturing their own variants. However, chances are that the SSD competition will also become more fierce in the coming years, which of course, should be a good thing for consumers.