Intel and Micron Announce New Breed of Memory Chip

28 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Intel And Micron Announce Breakthrough Faster-Than-Flash 3D XPoint Storage Technology.

Intel and Micron say they have designed a new class of memory chip that could radically improve the performance of smartphones, desktops, laptops, and other computing devices. The bulk of current gen solid state storage requirements for computer architectures are serviced by NAND Flash technology, which offers dramatically faster read and write response times over mechanical hard drives, at the expense of capacity and cost primarily but also it’s still one of the slower bottlenecks in a given device architecture. The technology is a fundamental breakthrough in the memory storage industry, offering massive benefits over current NAND-based storage, which is used in devices such as solid state disks (SSDs) and smartphones.

Traditional computers—including PCs and laptops as well as the data center servers that drive the world’s Internet services—are built around a processor, some DRAM, and a hard drive. For example, current SSDs that are based on NAND memory have limited write cycles, with a portion of the storage space being used essentially as a backup when memory cells die. The DRAM holds the short-term data that the processor needs to drive the machine at any given moment, while the hard drive holds applications and long-term data. Together, they’ve been working on this memory architecture that marries a new type of non-volatile memory cell that is 3D stackable, with a cross-point connect architecture built in, allowing for extremely fast, granular access at the cell level. However, many machines now use faster flash drives in lieu of hard drives, while smartphones and tablets use flash in place of both hard drives and memory.

Neither would comment on the cost of the development but Mark Durcan, CEO of Micron said “It didn’t come cheaply.” The new memory will likely require a rethinking in how traditional PCs are design eventually as today’s SATA and its replacement would be too slow. Analytics and Big Data today are done in either large monolithic data centers or scale-out data centers,” he says. “This technology enables ‘edge analytics,’ meaning Big Data could be done outside of these kinds of data centers, closer to the data. Or to put it in access times, DRAM typically operates in nanosecond access times, where as traditional NAND Flash operates at microsecond access (and hard drives are accessed in milliseconds). In the high level diagram above, you can see that the cross point connect structure sits on top and below each level of memory cells, allowing it to be accessed from both the top and bottom. The memory is able to be written at the bit-level, meaning that in certain circumstances, traditional garbage collection on SSDs won’t be needed and there are no transistors used in the storage of the individual memory cells.

Hard disks are clearly a technology that has an end in sight, despite every-increasing capacities that continue to offer better-than-SSD capacity to price ratios and don’t suffer from read/write cycle limits. 3D NAND-based SSDs are quickly taking up their slack and offer super-fast SATA and PCI-Express-based storage that’s currently making waves across the industry – even in the mid to high-end consumer markets. Companies such as Crossbar and Everspin Technologies say that have built technology similar to 3D XPoint, and a few years ago, HP revealed hardware that used memristors, a new fundamental component of computing that could be used to build both processors and long-term storage.

HP is now building a system using this technology, called The Machine, which it says it will ship by the end of the decade. 3D XPoint technology may still be a long way from market. They weren’t specific about what those materials were, beyond noting that the memory can be read from or written to without requiring a transistor even, which suggests huge power consumption benefits as well.

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