Intel lets slip roadmap for Optane SSDs with 1,000X performance

The Optane line of SSDs, also known as 3D XPoint, will debut under the Mansion Beach platform

Intel has let slip its timeline for releasing what is arguably the most significant advancement in non-volatile data storage in years, its 3D XPoint (cross point) memory, which will be sold under the name Optane.

Taiwanese technology news site benchlife.info posted slides from a presentation showing that the line will be released by the end of this year and likely alongside its Kaby Lake processor platform.

Optane will likely debut several SSD lines, beginning with the Mansion Beach product by the end of 2016, which will be followed by Brighton Beach and Stony Beach, according to an Intel slide presentation.

Intel Optane 3D XPoint timeline Intel/benchlife.info

Intel let slip a slide showing the timeline for its upcoming Optane (3D XPoint) line of non-volatile memory products.

The Mansion Beach SSD line will use the NVMe PCIe Gen 3 x4 configuration (with 4 I/O lanes), which will allow it to be placed directly on a system's motherboard.

Around the same time as Mansion Beach, Stony Beach will debut as an enterprise-class PCIe/NVMe SSD, which will be marketed as a server accelerator technology.

Brighten Beach will be released sometime in the first quarter of 2017 and will represent a lower-end product line using a PCIe 3.0 x2 (two I/O lanes) configuration.

After Brighten Beach, Carson Beach will introduce a PCI 3.0 x4 with the M.2 card, as well as ball grid array (BGA) that will solder directly onto a computer's motherboard and act as a second generation of Intel's "system accelerator."

Intel also plans a Mansion Beach refresh, as well as second generations of its PCIe and SATA 3D NAND flash products, sometime in 2017.

Intel and Micron announced the Optane memory almost a year ago, calling it 3D XPoint, within the four walls of the companies.

optane 3D XPpoint comparison Intel

While Intel and Micron heralded 3D XPoint RAM as "the first new class of memory since 1989," referring to floating gate NAND, most experts believe it is a resistive RAM (ReRAM) memory based on a 128Gbit chip.

The companies claimed it was a new type of memory that is up to 1,000 times faster than NAND flash and has 1,000 times the endurance. One thousand times the endurance would be about 1 million erase-write cycles, meaning the new memory would essentially last forever.

The new product, 3D XPoint, is primarily a mass storage-class memory that, while slower, is still cheaper to produce than DRAM and faster than NAND. Significantly, it's non-volatile, so when the power goes off, the data remains intact, just as it does with NAND flash.

intel 3d xpoint 1.png Intel

By comparison, today's NAND flash lasts for 3,000 to 10,000 erase-write cycles. With wear-leveling and error correction software, those cycles can be improved but still don't get anywhere near 100,000 cycles.

So pumped are the companies about 3D XPoint that they're claiming it's the first new memory category in more than 25 years. According to research analysts, Intel and Micron are not exaggerating. 3D XPoint will reside between DRAM and NAND flash, able to replace both in some instances in enterprise data centers and, eventually, consumer desktops and laptops.

In previous announcements, Intel was clear that it planned on shipping Optane products this year. The documents obtained by benchlife.info again show they will be out by the end of 2016.

crosspoint structure image for photo capsule highres 100599132 large.idge 100601160 large.idge Intel

3D XPoint technology is a new class of non-volatile memory invented by Intel and Micron that relies on resistance change of the bulk material to achieve non-volatility. 3D XPoint technology uses the bulk material to switch resistance state and does not rely on statistically variable filaments, enabling it to reach manufacturing. The combination of architecture and unique materials in both the memory cell and selector enable 3D XPoint to achieve higher density, and better performance and endurance.

At its Intel Developers Forum in Shenzhen, China, the company said Optane has up to 10X the density of NAND flash and will enable SSDs to store more than a terabyte of data in an M.2 card that is only 1.5 millimeters thick.

"This will be great for notebook products," Intel Senior Vice President Rob Cooke said during a presentation at the conference.

3d nand die with m2 ssd 100576133 primary.idge Intel

Intel and Micron's 3D NAND flash will see a refresh sometime next year. The current iteration offers up to 3.5TB of capacity in M.2 expansion card.

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Lucas Mearian

Computerworld (US)
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