Intel has communicated the availability of the first product of the new generation of SSDs based on its 3D XPoint technology announced about two years ago and developed with Micron. The Optane SSD DC P4800X has a capacity of 375 GB and promises much higher performances than SSDs based on NAND flash technology, so much that it can even be used as RAM. All this at a very high price because the product has been announced for sale at $1,520.
The data offered by Intel on the 3D XPoint technology when it was announced two years ago they were really interesting: 1000 times faster than NAND flash, 10 times denser than DRAM, an endurance 1000 times higher than NAND and a latency of 1/1000 that of NAND flash.
Actually, Intel for now keeps the secret of the characteristics of the 3D XPoint technology although the most likely hypothesis is that it’s a version of PCM (Phase Change Memory). Now it will be possible to check if the Optane SSD DC P4800X, sold as a PCI-e 3.0 x4 Nvme card, will keep its promises and is just the first of a series of products based on new technology that will follow in the second half of 2017 offering higher capacities.
On Xeon systems with a chipset that supports this new type of SSD it’s possible to use them even as RAM, a solution called Memory Drive Technology. This entails additional costs because you have to adopt a certain type of hardware but has the advantage of being a fully hardware-managed solution, wit no need to upgrade the operating system or other software in order to leverage the performance of the 3D XPoint technology.
It’s not at the levels of technologies which incidentally are still under development that promise to offer non-volatile memories that have the same speed as as DRAM but 3D XPoint is now on the market. The price of the new Intel product is much higher than the NAND flash SSDs but it’s also much lower than that of DRAM at the same time offering the possibility of having a significant increase. In some cases this can make the difference in the choice of the solution to be adopted.
Analyzes of various situations have already been carried out in which the 3D XPoint technology brings advantages compared to the NAND flash and those in which using it as RAM might be an advantage. It’s in any case a data center-oriented product and will remain so for the near future.
How competitors will react is also to be watched: for example, Samsung presented its new Z-NAND memories and the first SSD is scheduled to be available in the coming months. In short, there are various innovations and competition is good also because it helps to bring down the prices to make them accessible to commong users but it will take quite some time to see such products on standard PCs.