LONDON — Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Inc. have launched a new class of non-volatile memory that they have called 3D Xpoint and which the companies said would be available as samples later this year for special customers.
At a webcast press conference company executives described the launch as a major development — the introduction of the first new category of memory since the introduction of NAND flash in 1989. The executives said the memory is based on a fundamental discovery that has yielded a non-volatile memory that exhibits a "bulk material property change" at the cross-point of metal access lines. This suggests the property change happens throughout the active material layer addressed at a given cross-point in the memory.
If the memory lives up to its promise of being up to 1000 times faster than NAND flash and 8 to 10 times denser than DRAM — and therefore lower cost — it could bring a major transformation in the electronics industry and to computer architectures for data centers and with possible application in solid-state drives.
Mark Durcan, CEO of Micron, said that a 3D XPoint memory IC of 128Gbits capacity was in production at the wafer fab in Lehi, Utah, belonging to IM Flash Technologies LLC, a joint venture between Intel and Micron formed in 2006. The memory is organized as two planes of 64Gbits with one bit per cell, Durcan said.
L-to-R. Rob Crooke, senior vice president at Intel and Mark Durcan, CEO of Micron Technology.
Durcan and Rob Crooke, general manager of the non-volatile memory group at Intel, revealed the memories on a 300mm wafer saying that while manufacturing would be done jointly the two companies would take 3D XPoint memories to market in 2016 developing products based on the technology separately.
Engineering details please
The executives gave few technical details about the memory technology and did not disclose the material system or switching mechanism. Intel and Micron did say that the companies had "invented unique material compounds" to create the 3D XPoint memory.
"The switching mechanism is via changes in resistance of the bulk material," was all Intel would add in response to questions sent via email.
The prepared infographics suggest a resistive RAM with an in-built select diode allowing for a dense device structure. This would give it similarities to ReRAMs being developed by Crossbar Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.) and other companies but would still leave a potential point of distinction — filamentary behavior.
3D XPoint shown in diagramatic form with two-terminal select device stacked above two-terminal memory cell. So far one-bit per cell. Source: Intel.
Crossbar's technology — along with that of many other companies — is filamentary in nature with one or more filaments being formed, broken and reformed within the crosspoint area to lower and raise the resistance across the cell and denote a 1 or a 0. Micron has been working with Sony on a ReRAM that was based on a copper filament grown within a layer of copper-telluride glass.
300mm wafer bearing 3D XPoint 128Gbit memory ICs.
But as indicated by Intel's response 3D XPoint is non-filamentary. And when comparing the 3D Xpoint to other forms of non-volatile memory generally during the press conference Micron's Durcan said: "This is a fundamentally different switch giving a bulk-switching mechanism."
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