News Categories

Intel and Micron announces 3D XPoint, the first new class of memory in 25 years

By Kenny Yeo - on 29 Jul 2015, 9:15am

Intel and Micron announces 3D XPoint, the first new class of memory in 25 years

(Image source: Intel, Micron)

Intel and Micron has jointly announced 3D XPoint (pronounced as Cross-Point), which they say is a breakthrough in memory technology, offering far superior performance to existing memory technologies.

In a conference held by Intel and Micron, they explained that 3D XPoint is a new class memory in over 25 years - after NAND memory was introduced in 1989 by Toshiba. More importantly, Intel and Micron claims that 3D XPoint will offer 1000 times the performance and endurance of existing NAND memory. 

Intel and Micron say 3D XPoint is the first new class of memory in over 25 years. (Image source: Intel, Micron).

Intel and Micron summarized 3D XPoint as offering the performance of DRAM, but with the density of NAND. They also said that thanks to 3D XPoint's unique breadth of abilities, it is suitable to be used as both system memory and storage.

In essence, 3D XPoint contains both elements of NAND and DRAM memory, but is non-volatile, meaning data is not lost when power is switched off. Additionally, it also means that the memory does not need to keep refreshing itself to retain data. This can help reduce power consumption.

The physical structure of 3D XPoint consists of wires forming a layer lattice-like structure. When viewed from above, it looks like little crosses, hence the name 3D XPoint. The stacked structure brings to mind 3D V-NAND. Memory cells are located at the points of intersection and Intel and Micron said that these cells can be addressed individually, unlike NAND which requires manipulation of entire blocks for data to be written. Also unlike NAND memory, there's no transistor and data is not stored by moving electrons around. Instead the resistance of the material itself is altered. This transistor-less design allows Intel and Micron to stack more memory cells closer together.

For now, Intel and Micron are manufacturing 3D XPoint memory chips that store 128Gbits of data using two stacked layers. This memory density matches what is currently offered by NAND chips. Intel and Micron also said that they plan to increase memory density by stacking more layers in future.

Of course, users will need advanced hardware to take advantage of this speed, which is why Intel has been pushing hard for its new NVME protocol. NVME replaces the aging AHCI protocol by increasing parallelism and allowing more commands to be queued simultaneously. Fortunately, most motherboard manufacturers, like ASUSMSI and Gigabyte, are enabling support for NVME on their 9-series chipset motherboards through BIOS updates.

According to Intel and Micron, 3D XPoint will be a smidgen slower than DRAM, but many, many times faster than NAND.

The implications of 3D XPoint are far ranging at this point and the most obvious benefit is the massively improved performance that this new type of memory would bring. For example, game developers would now have fast access to an abundance capacity of memory which can be used to enable richer textures and higher resolutions. And for enterprises, 3D XPoint's blend of performance and endurance will allow for more efficient data centers.

Intel and Micron also said that the technology is ready and will begin delivery of sample wafers to key customers later year. They also said that the first products featuring this new memory will be available from 2016, but did not specify if it would be for the enterprise or mainstream consumers.

Join HWZ's Telegram channel here and catch all the latest tech news!
Our articles may contain affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn a small commission.