A Look at Intel’s Roadmap for Optane



Launch of 3D XPoint

Intel (INTC) has launched its 3D XPoint-based Optane DC P4800X SSD (solid-state drive). The initial tests show that it is the fastest SSD tested to date and it is ideal for data center tasks that require high input/ output performance and limited storage.

However, the Optane drive is only five times faster than NAND, contrary to earlier claims of it being 1,000 times faster. The Optane drive uses a standard PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) 3.0 link to connect to machines, which reduces its raw throughput. Intel plans to develop an entire ecosystem that leverages the full potential of 3D XPoint technology. Simultaneously, Micron Technology (MU) is developing products based on 3D XPoint under the QuantX brand.

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Intel’s roadmap for Optane

According to an IEEE Spectrum report, Steven Swanson, a computer scientist at the University of California, stated that the data center market is willing to try out new technology, providing Intel with the right platform to showcase the performance and reliability of 3D XPoint technology.

Once the market for 3D XPoint is established, Intel will introduce Optane by developing new circuit board designs and programs. The company plans to launch the Optane memory interface in 2018, making 3D XPoint a new storage-class memory that can maintain low latency and store data even when power is cut. The success of 3D XPoint depends on its adoption by data centers.

How would 3D XPoint revolutionize the memory landscape? 

At present, there are two classes of memory. The first class comprises memory products such as DRAM (dynamic random access memory) and Static RAM, which are expensive, power-hungry memory chips that deliver the best performance. The second class comprises storage products such as SSDs and HDDs (hard disk drives), which are cost-effective and persistent but have high latency that reduces their performance.

Bridging the gap between NAND and DRAM, 3D XPoint delivers persistent and high performance with low power and at a low cost. It can act as both memory and storage, bringing Optane SSD a step closer to universal memory.

To highlight the advantage of universal memory, Steven Swanson provided an example. Google (GOOG) stores the index of the entire Internet on DRAM servers, as its low latency makes the data quickly accessible. If Google switches to 3D XPoint, which Intel claims is 10x denser than DRAM, the web service company would require fewer servers to store the same amount of data, meaning significant cost and power savings for Google.

Although 3D XPoint looks like a promising technology, it is unlikely to replace RAM or NAND anytime soon. Next, we’ll look at Intel’s Internet of Things business.


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