With the Intel/micron nonvolatile memory announcement – said to be in production today – the race to produce next generation non-volatile memories has gotten serious. And not a moment too soon!

What did they announce?
You can read the press release here.

Key quote:

3D XPoint technology combines the performance, density, power, non-volatility and cost advantages of all available memory technologies on the market today. The technology is up to 1,000 times faster and has up to 1,000 times greater endurance3 than NAND, and is 10 times denser than conventional memory.

And it’s byte-addressable.

Courtesy Intel/Micron

Courtesy Intel/Micron

It looks like they’re productizing the Crossbar RRAM. I’ve written about Crossbar’s technology on StorageMojo and ZDNet.

According to Crossbar their memory cell uses a metallic nano-filament in a non-conductive layer that can built on current CMOS fabs. Since Crossbar’s business model is to license their technology, as ARM does, Intel/Micron could use their technology.

Even Intel’s name “3D XPoint” – pronounced “3D crosspoint” – sounds like Crossbar’s nomenclature.

Other Crossbar stats:

  • They’ve fabricated cells down to 8nm feature sizes.
  • 20x faster writes than flash.
  • 10 year retention at 125F.
  • Up to 1TB capacity per chip.

Clearly, I/M did not echo these stats, which gives me pause. But hey, I/M has smart guys too, so enhancing a licensed technology is likely.
Update: It is now clear that Intel/Micron are rebranding the Numonyx phase change memory, not using Crossbar technology. Sorry! End update.

The press release claims that the new memory is in production. But where?

3D Xpointâ„¢ technology wafers are currently running in production lines at Intel Micron Flash Technologies fab

So they haven’t cranked up a $5B fab to produce this yet. Current production is for sampling later this year with no date for products based on the technology.

The StorageMojo take
Whether this is Crossbar’s technology or not, this is great news for the storage industry. NAND flash has notable deficits as a storage technology, and 3D XPoint addresses those.

But one advantage NAND flash has – and will retain for the foreseeable future – is cost. While the Crossbar technology offers a small feature size – one of flash’s deficits – and potentially a lower cost per bit than flash, it will take years for those advantages to be reflected in device costs.

Nor can 3D XPoint expect to replace DRAM. It’s faster than NAND, but only devices that don’t need DRAM performance will be candidates for 3D XPoint.

But this announcement reinforces the need for the industry to fix the outdated, disk-oriented, software stack that is holding back I/O performance. The Intel/Micron announcement should focus architects on this vital issue.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.