How ultra-fast 3D XPoint memory could revolutionise PC hardware

While a number of new hardware technologies have been revealed recently, 3D XPoint memory is one to watch out for.

3D XPoint is a non-volatile memory technology which was announced in 2015 and is being developed by Intel and Micron.

Intel refers to its 3D XPoint storage devices under the name Optane, while Micron’s 3D XPoint-based brand is QuantX.

The technology has been in development for several years, but Intel’s 7th-gen processors and their support for Optane memory points towards the expected arrival of completed products.

Below is an overview of 3D XPoint and why it is an important technology.


Architecture and Design

3D XPoint is designed to be the first major memory design overhaul since the implementation of NAND flash.

The premise of 3D XPoint involves stacking thin layers of memory in a cross point structure to optimise density.

The amount of voltage sent to each memory cell means data can be written or read without a transistor, decreasing both the size and price of the memory.

The memory is non-volatile and its lifespan does not degrade due to continuous operation, like conventional SSDs.

3D XPoint is also extremely fast and cheap, meaning it may replace both conventional storage (HDDs and SSDs) and even DRAM memory.

3D XPoint Design


Performance

Intel outlined the performance improvements of 3D XPoint over conventional storage in its initial announcement.

While the hardware was not fully-developed or tested at the time, information released so far gives users an idea of what to expect.

3D XPoint storage is only slightly slower than DRAM, and much faster than SSDs and hard drives.

Intel describes the speed of the memory as up to 1,000-times faster than NAND, with extremely low latency.

The memory will also be as cheap as conventional storage, although this may only be true later in the production cycle.


Products

Intel has made steady progress in developing 3D XPoint-based products, with its Optane storage drives set to release this year.

Intel has ensured that Optane is supported on its latest CPU architecture, which includes its 7th-gen processors, which means more commercial hardware may be announced soon.

Early Optane products will likely be small, lightning-fast storage and cache drives, if development models are anything to go by.

Full systems using unified 3D XPoint memory and storage are out of reach for the moment, although further refinement of the technology could make it a possibility.


Now read: Intel 7th-gen Core desktop processors – South African pricing

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How ultra-fast 3D XPoint memory could revolutionise PC hardware