Micron teases 3-D Xpoint memory ahead of late 2016 launch

3D XPoint Die

Micron Technology Inc. took to the stage at last week’s Flash Memory Summit to introduce the new 3-D Xpoint (pronounced “cross point”) memory technology it developed jointly with Intel, demonstrating it for the first time in solid-state drives.

At the summit, Micron boasted that its Quantx line enables PCI Express (PCIe) SSD performance with read latencies of under 10 microseconds and writes at less than 20 microseconds. According to the chipmaker, that’s around ten times faster than the most advanced NAND flash-based SSDs. In addition the company reported that SSDs running on eight PCIe channels reached 1.9 million IOPS.

Micron is pitching 3-D Xpoint at cloud, data analytics, Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile apps, and online transaction processing. It said the technology is ideally suited for “low queue depth workloads” and provides performance improvements in “traversing large graph trees”.

Micron and Intel first unveiled 3-D Xpoint in July 2015, saying the technology is based on new materials with a three-dimensional “cross point” architecture that’s able to deliver a 1,000 fold increase in non-volatile memory speeds. The companies developed what they call “stackable memory grids” that maximize cell density, with the cross point architecture providing access to each individual cell, doing away with the need for transistors.

The architecture mimics a kind of three-dimensional checkerboard with cells located at the intersection of bit and word lines. That configuration enables memory cells to be addressed individually, so that data can be written and read in small chunks, vastly speeding up the read/write process.

The company said it would begin rolling out new 3-D Xpoint-based products over the next 12 months. In order to facilitate the product roll-out, Micron says it will “require an ecosystem to bring it forward and drive adoption”, which includes “designing end products, enabling and building controllers and selecting end-product go-to-market partners”. As such, Micron will partner with a number of vendors to integrate 3-D Xpoint into their products, and will name these over the next six-to-nine months.

Micron’s partner Intel will be taking an alternative path to bring the technology to its customers, it revealed last month. The company will sell its own 3D Xpoint SSDs and memory DIMM products. Intel plans to have its products on the market by the end of 2016, having demonstrated Optane SSDs operating at 2 GB/sec in April. Intel’s Optane SSDs use the company’s own controller, it was reported.

As well as the speed improvements, the partners hope to convince enterprise partners that 3-D Xpoint is more durable than NAND.

Neither Micron nor Intel has yet released pricing information, but the latter company has previously hinted that 3-D Xpoint would priced similarly to current flash memory hardware. Presumably, Micron’s products would be sold at a similar price point.

Both companies are pinning their hopes on 3-D Xpoint’s ability to deliver faster persistent storage closer to the computing power in order to enable a new generation of applications and system architectures in segments like the IoT.

Image credit: Micron Technology Inc.