Fiscal 2017 Could Mark Intel’s Memory Market Comeback
Intel’s Non-Volatile Memory Solution Group
Intel (INTC) is moving fast in the AI (artificial intelligence) market to catch up with NVIDIA (NVDA) and other players to grab a significant share of the market. Intel’s AI efforts could be supported by its revolutionary 3D XPoint technology, which it developed in collaboration with Micron Technology (MU).
In fiscal 2016, Intel’s NSG (Non-Volatile Memory Solution Group) reported an operating loss of $544 million as it ramped up production of its 3D NAND in China (MCHI) and developed products based on 3D XPoint technology.
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Intel started shipping its 3D NAND in fiscal 4Q16, and it shipped its first 3D XPoint-based Optane DC (data center) P4800X SSDs (solid-state drives) in fiscal 1Q17. Fiscal 2017 could be a strong year for Intel’s NSG as both NVM (non-volatile memory) products start contributing towards revenue.
The Optane brand comprises the components that power the DC P4800X SSD, including 3D XPoint media, memory, storage controllers, interconnects, and drivers.
Intel’s Optane SSD at a glance
Intel’s first Optane DC P4800X SSD is a 375-GB (gigabyte) add-in card built on a 20-nm (nanometer) 128-GB 3D XPoint die using CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) Under Array technology. Intel uses the same technology for its 3D NAND. The Optane drive is the fastest SSD to date, delivering up to 500,000 IOPS (input/output operations per second) with a 70/30 mixed read/write workload.
The SSD communicates over a four-lane PCIe 3.0 link, the same link used by traditional SSDs. Because these links have narrow pipes that restrict raw throughput, the 3D XPoint’s capability is not optimized. Intel plans to launch 750-GB and 1.5-TB (tetrabyte) AICs (add-in cards) and U.2 models in 2H17, which would improve the Optane SSD’s performance.
Optane wins on price-to-performance ratio
The 375-GB DC P4800X is priced at $1,520, or $4.05 per GB, about three times more expensive than an equivalent enterprise-class SSD priced at $1.50 per GB. However, the P4800X has a better price-to-performance ratio.
According to IEEE Spectrum, Intel Data Center NVM Solutions Architecture director James Myers highlighted that enterprise-class SSD can perform 1,400 MySQL database transactions per second, whereas the Optane SSD can perform over 16,000 transactions per second. Endurance-wise, the 375-GB model provides up to 30 DWPD (drive writes per day).
The above information was provided by Intel—reviewers have not yet had a chance to test the Optane drive on their computers. Both Intel and Micron have been secretive about 3D XPoint technology. Intel will build on the Optane brand over time. Next, we’ll look at the company’s strategy to develop 3D XPoint technology further.