At a special presentation today, Intel and Micron jointly announced the introduction of a new type of memory technology called 3D XPoint. Intel VP Rob Crooke and Micron president Rob Adams called this memory the first major new memory technology since the introduction of NAND in 1989.
3D XPoint (pronounced "3D cross-point") is described as a high-performance, very dense, non-volatile memory, and it's meant to help computers get more data closer to the processor. Crooke says it's a thousand times faster than today's flash memory and a thousand times more durable. Compared to DRAM, 3D XPoint is ten times as dense, and it's non-volatile. The initial 3D XPoint memory chips pack 128Gb on each chip, and that number is expected to increase as more layers are stacked on each chip.
The structure of 3D XPoint is a stack of individually accessible cells, between bit lines and word lines, combined with a switching system to manage storage and retrieval. Unlike current memory technologies, 3D XPoint doesn't store information by trapping electrons. Instead, it uses a property change of the memory cell materials itself. Furthermore, this property change uses all of the memory cell material. These innovations allow the memory cells to be shorter, packed tighter, and ultimately stacked higher, increasing density. Intel also says the cross-point architecture allows smaller amounts of data to be written or read in each transaction than is common with NAND. This capability could allow for faster, more efficient I/O.
Intel and Micron anticipate that the new tech will enable advancements in high-performance computing and big-data-crunching applications, where large amounts of high-speed storage close to the CPU ought to be very useful. We suspect that 3D XPoint's non-volatility and DRAM-like speed could allow it to replace DRAM in mobile devices, where the power savings offered by non-volatile memory could make for longer battery life.
Both firms are developing products based on 3D XPoint, and the memory will begin sampling "with select customers" later this year.