3D XPoint – the first step to a new computer revolution?
Last week, when the world met Windows 10 in the noise of the official debut of the new operating system got lost the announcement one technology that has the potential to dramatically change the world of personal computers. We are talking about 3D XPoint – joint development of Intel and Micron, which is a new type of memory that promises to upend our view of the PC.
Where your data live today?
Typically, a computer system includes two types of memory. One of them is called random access memory (RAM or RAM) is fast but relatively limited amount of memory and, more frustrating, and volatile. In other words, the information stored in it «evaporates» at the time of power failure.
Another kind of memory is local, which is available in two varieties: classic magnetic drives (HDD) and drives of fast flash memory chips (SSD). Both types are inferior in speed of RAM but are non-volatile, that is, retain all of your stored information even when not powered.
RAM is used only if necessary, i.e., data is loaded into it before use. All the rest of the information remains more or less inert, is recorded on the magnetic hard drive platters or NAND flash memory chips SSD.
3D XPoint, however, has the potential to change this dualistic Canon’s revolutionary way. To get a clear idea of what is revolutionary about this technology, just imagine that one day computers will no longer need separate RAM, hard or solid state disks and all the data will be written into one nonvolatile array. In other words, the computer from which you will never have to wait for the game or app will load.
The computer of the future
Purely technical aspects of 3D XPoint is currently relatively scarce. After all, we are talking about innovation in a fairly early stage of development, although a joint presentation by Intel and Micron showed ready engineering samples.
In fact XPoint 3D (as the name suggests) is a new technology of building three-dimensional multilayer memory chips based on 20 nm manufacturing process. However, this is not a new method of creating RAM or NAND Flash, but something completely different.
The idea of 3D XPoint is that one day fully replace the operational and local memory in the form in which we know them today. The prerequisites for this: according to Intel and Micron, their new kind of memory 1000 times faster than any modern SSD, as many times more resistant to wear and tear (including high-performance devices NVMe) and 10 times denser than the currently used DRAM chips.
In addition (and very important), 3D XPoint is non-volatile memory, i.e. does not need power to store the recorded information within it. This means that in the future machines with, say, memory 3D XPoint 1 TB, won’t need either in RAM or in local disk, whether magnetic (HDD) or solid state (SSD). All information that is processed by the user on this computer, all data and programs will be constantly loaded in memory and are always available without any delay.
As already mentioned, at this stage, Intel and Micron concise terms the technical details of the new technology, but those are the official numbers that has been reported, allow us to make interesting conclusions.
Both companies claim that the 3D XPoint will provide a tenfold increase in transfer speed compared to the actual at the moment the SSD is high class. The fastest similar products are now so-called NVMe device (for example, the 750 Series from Intel), which reach a peak rate of approximately 2.5 GB/s. A simple calculation shows that the performance of 3D array XPoint would be approximately 20-25 GB/s. For comparison, a typical configuration based on the processor Haswell or Broadwell in combination with dual channel DDR3 memory delivers a data transfer rate of about 17 GB/s. On the market, however, there are many computing devices and lower class that work relatively well at about 9 GB/s or less. Of course, there are system that provides 55 GB/s or more. And the data transfer speed between the graphics processor and memory on modern video cards are much higher than this limit – we are talking about the values in the range from 100 to 300 GB/s.
Promising in theory
One thing is undeniable – at this stage, the XPoint 3D technology looks like a serious bid for a revolution in the computer world. And he definitely needs such a powerful pulse – especially when faced with the realities of a gradually decreasing potential of Moore’s Law and current microprocessor technology.
However, before bold ideas that lie at the basis of 3D XPoint, there are obstacles to implement this technology in practice.
First, the transition to such type of memory will require a complete change in the accepted postulates of computer architecture. Modern computers simply are not designed for use terabytes of memory multi-purpose, hard-working at speeds close to those of the RAM-chips.
Definitely also worth question and operating systems, which are organized in a dualistic model of «operational-local memory».
So the first future 3D XPoint of the device will have to fit into the current picture, the first products based on the new memory will likely be a variation of the well-known M. 2 NVMe (PCIe).
However, they are unlikely to be the ultimate goal of Intel and Micron, for which the XPoint 3D is one of the first steps in the future of the global PC revolution, which will forever change the way we perceive and deal with computers.