Optane is optimized for the low queue depths that Intel says are common in data centers. (Source: Intel)
A handful of startups are starting to ship their own alternatives using magnetic and resistive RAM architectures, generally targeting more niche applications. Western Digital, now the parent of SanDisk, said in August that it will ship a ReRAM by the end of the decade.
“This is an important day on the journey, but this is just the beginning,” said Al Fazio, an Intel senior fellow and director of memory technology development, who calls himself Mr. 3D XPoint. “We’re sampling into DIMMs now.”
The chips need “less than 50% performance” improvements for use in DIMMs, something that should come from improving yields, he said. “Building the [DIMM] infrastructure is gating item, not the media.”
Materials science was the focus of most of the decade on 3D XPoint to date, Fazio said. The key was finding and developing the right combination of materials for the chip, especially the selector diode which needs to work at the low temperatures of a CMOS back-end process.
At 128 Gbits, the first chip is well above today’s DRAMs in density and only one or two generations behind NAND. However, Intel and Micron faced unexpected delays getting products out after announcing 3D XPoint with much fanfare in July 2015.
It takes time to characterize new materials for power and yield parameters, said Eli Harari, retired founder of SanDisk and a pioneer of flash memory. “Intel should be looking at opening up the memory and making processor-in-memory chips.”
Unlike some potential rivals, 3D XPoint was not designed for use as an embedded memory. “This was architected for high capacity, low latency, and low cost,” Fazio said.
“There are billions of dollars of opportunity here, and we are willing to invest to go get that,” said Rob Crooke, general manager of Intel’s non-volatile memory group.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times