Intel Debuts First 3D XPoint ProductsApril 11, 2017
Author: David Kanter
Intel’s Optane P4800X SSD is the debut of 3D XPoint memory, which reduces latency by 10x compared with NAND-based flash memory. It also highlights that fully capitalizing on the new memory technology requires new interfaces and greater endurance. The company uses the Optane moniker for the combination of the 3D XPoint medium and its storage controllers, interconnect IP, and software.
Intel and Micron began developing 3D XPoint (3DXP) roughly a decade ago and announced the technology in 2015. Intel claims 3DXP offers slightly less performance than DRAM but greater capacity and nonvolatility, as well as better performance, endurance, and byte-addressable accesses than NAND storage. If these claims are true, 3DXP could eventually change computer architecture; for example, combining 3DXP and DRAM could enable nonvolatile main memory, thereby altering or eliminating virtual memory.
Later this month, Intel will release consumer products, including the small 16GB or 32GB M.2 caching accelerator. This device is designed for use in a PC with a hard disk, boosting storage performance to near-SSD levels.
The Optane P4800X is the market’s fastest SSD; it uses a proprietary controller and an NVMe interface suitable for data centers. The latency and endurance of 3DXP is superior to that of NAND flash memory, but the NVMe interface attenuates these advantages at the SSD level; overall performance is better, but in a nonuniform manner. The 3DXP-based drive performs best with a small number of outstanding requests, a mix of reads and writes, and random access patterns. In those scenarios, the performance can be 5–10x better than a conventional SSD; for scenarios with quality-of-service guarantees, the advantages are even greater. The P4800X has minimal overprovisioning but only slightly better endurance than a NAND-based SSD.
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