Dubbed 3D Xpoint, the new tech promises to be up to 1000 times faster than current NAND used in SSDs. It’s not just some pie in the sky might be invention — it’s slated to go on sale in 2016.
Intel is claiming that Xpoint is the first new class of mainstream memory since 1989. If it’s everything they say it is, then it could be very big news for the high performance PC industry.
According to Intel and Micron, the new memory can store 10 times as much data as DRAM, yet is up to 1000 times faster than the NAND typically found in SSDs. It also gives faster access times and has a longer lifespan. In other words, it's way better than even the other competing but yet to be launched next gen memory technologies.
Importantly, unlike RAM, but like NAND, Xpoint (pronounced crosspoint) is non volatile. In other words, data is saved even with no power — like in your SSD.
So what implications can Xpoint have? It’s not a replacement for your system RAM, which is still faster. But in many computers, there is a significant bottleneck accessing data stored in an SSD, compared to data in the system memory.
New faster SSDs are closing the gap, but it’s still an issue for those such as gamers who want the bleeding edge. It’s also got potential for use in number crunching computers and big data centers.
3D Xpoint could potentially add an extra layer of super fast storage alongside your RAM that would be quicker for the CPU to access than even the fastest SSD.
The memory tech could also be potentially integrated into GPUs for faster game loading times.
So how does 3D Xpoint work exactly?
The technology uses layers that consist of a memory cell, as well as a selector that can read or write to the cell. The cell is a material that actually changes properties to save those 1 or 0’s
The critical improvement is that each cell can be read or written individually. In contrast, NAND cells have to be read and written in larger blocks.
Xpoint currently uses a 20nm process with 128-Gbit density, but can stack layers like Samsung’s 3D VNAND.
It would connect to your computer via the PCIe bus, using the NVMe protocol.
Intel described the difference like a jam packed full car park. With NAND, you need to move all the cars out, grab the car you want (or add an extra car) and then shuffle all the cars back in. With Xpoint, you can pull out only the car you want, or add just one into an empty space.
In other words, it’s a whole lot faster to read and write your data. It also means that less wear and tear on individual cells, so Xpoint should have a 1000x longer lifespan than NAND.
For now there is no pricing available, but Intel has suggested that Xpoint will be significantly more expensive than NAND but cheaper per gigabyte than RAM.
Instead of replacing current gen SSDs, Xpoint could work like a cache to speed things up. This is similar to how NAND was first used in mechanical HDDs.
Of course, over time it’s reasonable to expect 3D Xpoint to completely replace NAND as the storage method of choice.
Check out the video from Intel below.