Last week Hexus reported that Intel has begun shipping Optane memory modules to its partners for testing. This year should see the launch of both these enterprise products designed for servers as well as tiny application accelerator M.2 solid state drives based on the Intel and Micron joint 3D memory venture. The modules that Intel is shipping are the former type of Optane memory and will be able to replace DDR4 DIMMs (RAM) with a memory solution that is not as fast but is cheaper and has much larger storage capacities. The Optane modules are designed to slot into DDR4 type memory slots on server boards. The benefit for such a product lies in big data and scientific workloads where massive datasets will be able to be held in primary memory and the processor(s) will be able to access the data sets at much lower latencies than if it had to reach out to mass storage on spinning rust or even SAS or PCI-E solid state drives. Being able to hold all the data being worked on in one pool of memory will be cheaper with Optane as well as it is allegedly priced closer to NAND than RAM and the cost of RAM adds up extremely quickly when you need many terabytes of it (or more!). Various technologies attempting to bring higher capacity non volatile and/or flash-based storage in memory module form have been theorized or in the works in various forms for years now, but it appears that Intel will be the first ones to roll out actual products.
It will likely be years before the technology trickles down to consumer desktops and notebooks, so slapping what would effectively be a cheap RAM disk into your PC is still a ways out. Consumers will get a small taste of the Optane memory in the form of tiny storage drives that were rumored for a first quarter 2017 release following its Kaby Lake Z270 motherboards. Previous leaks suggest that the Intel Optane Memory 8000P would come in 16 GB and 32 GB capacities in a M.2 form factor. With a single 128-bit (16 GB) die Intel is able to hit speeds that current NAND flash based SSDs can only hit with multiple dies. Specifically the 16GB Optane application accelerator drive is allegedly capable of 285,000 random 4K IOPS, 70,000 random write 4K IOPS, Sequential 128K reads of 1400 MB/s, and sequential 128K writes of 300 MB/s. The 32GB Optane drive is a bit faster at 300,000 4K IOPS, 120,000 4K IOPS, 1600 MB/s, and 500 MB/s respectively.
Unfortunately, I do not have any numbers on how fast the Optane memory that will slot into the DDR4 slots will be, but seeing as two dies already max out the x2 PCI-E link they use in the M.2 Optane SSD, a dual sided memory module packed with rows of Optane dies on the significantly wider memory bus is very promising. It should lie somewhere closer to (but slower than) DDR4 but much faster than NAND flash while still being non volatile (it doesn't need constant power to retain the data).
I am interested to see what the final numbers are for Intel's Optane RAM and Optane storage drives. The company has certainly dialed down the hype for the technology as it approached fruition though that may be more to do with what they are able to do right now versus what the 3D XPoint memory technology itself is potentially capable of enabling. I look forward to what it will enable in the HPC market and eventually what will be possible for the desktop and gaming markets.
What are your thoughts on Intel and Micron's 3D XPoint memory and Intel's Optane implementation (Micron's implementation is QuantX)?