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Micron Announces Acquisition of Remaining Interest in IM Flash Technologies Joint Venture, Intel Out of Partnership

The Intel-Micron partnership pertaining to memory technologies is drawing to a close, with Micron today announcing they'd be acquiring remaining interest in IM Flash Technologies. IM Flash Technologies is the literal embodiment of the Intel-Micron partnership, and Micron acquiring the entire stake of it means that Intel is left out of any investment/development of 3D XPoint memory.

Micron expects to pay approximately $1.5 billion in cash for the transaction, dissolving Intel's non-controlling interest in IM Flash, and the two companies will independently drive their own future technology roadmaps. Based on prior agreements, Micron will sell 3D XPoint memory wafers to Intel for up to a year after close.

Intel Intros 1.5TB Variants of Optane 905p 3D XPoint SSD

Intel today introduced 1.5 TB variants of the Optane 905p SSD that implements 3D XPoint memory. The drive comes in half-height PCI-Express 3.0 x4 add-on card, and 15 mm-thick 2.5-inch form-factor with U.2 interface. Both variants offer sequential transfer rates of up to 2,600 MB/s reads, with up to 2,200 MB/s writes. Random access speeds are rated at up to 575,000 IOPS reads, with up to 550,000 IOPS writes. A function of its sheer capacity and 3D XPoint, endurance for these drives is rated at 27.37 PB (bytes written). The drives retain the feature set of their less capacious siblings, including 256-bit AES native encryption. The company didn't release pricing.

Toshiba Looks to Take on Optane With XL-Flash Low-Latency 3D NAND Technology

Toshiba at the Flash Memory Summit announced that it's developing 3D XL-Flash technology - an approach towards the creation of low-latency, 3D NAND that can take on the surging Optane and 3D XPoint memory technologies. Toshiba says the new approach to low-latency NAND could bring latency values down to just 1/10 of current consumer, TLC NAND pricing.

The bet here is on economies of scale - a revised NAND architecture and deployment will still be able to take advantage of the huge fabrication capacity that Toshiba already enjoys (and Samsung, with its Z-NAND, similar in purpose to what Toshiba want to do with XL-Flash), thus avoiding the need for technology and production ramp-up that brought Optane's pricing up. Toshiba will be using its BiCS flash technology, but XL-Flash will be - at least at first - deployed in SLC implementations, so as to improve performance (7 microseconds program time against QLC's 30 microsecond). Of course, this will bring storage density down, but remember the target here is offering Optane-like performance and equal or better density at lower pricing.

Chances of Intel Going Fabless Higher Than Ever

Intel is one of the few semiconductor companies that manufactures a majority of its products on its own silicon fabrication foundries. The breadwinner for the company continues to be CPUs, and a majority of its revenues continue to come from its client-computing group (CCG). CPUs, like GPUs, are required to be built on the latest silicon fabrication process to keep up (or catch up) with Moore's Law. Intel is plagued with severe technological roadblocks toward advancing its foundry process from 14 nanometer (nm) to its next step, 10 nm. In its latest Q2-2018 earnings call, the company confirmed that the 10 nm node won't put out before Q4-2019, even as rival AMD's CEO announced that its first 7 nm processors will be up for purchase by the end of 2018 (a year ahead with a more advanced process, on paper). Analysts are beginning to paint a very grim future for Intel's foundry business.

The prospects for Intel going fabless, at least for its cutting-edge products, is higher than ever. Analysts, speaking with Taiwan-based industry observer DigiTimes, mentioned that there is speculation of Intel scaling down its foundry business. Something like this, if true, could hint at the company looking for foundry partners with newer silicon-fabrication nodes at a more advanced stage of development (eg: GlobalFoundries 7 nm) to manufacture its processors, while relegating its own foundries to manufacture less complex products such as chipset, NAND flash, 3D XPoint memory, 5G PHYs, etc. Fancy a Core processor made by GloFo in the great state of New York?

Micron and Intel go Separate Ways for 3D XPoint Program After 2019

Micron and Intel today announced an update to their 3D XPoint joint development partnership, which has resulted in the development of an entirely new class of non-volatile memory with dramatically lower latency and exponentially greater endurance than NAND memory.

The companies have agreed to complete joint development for the second generation of 3D XPoint technology, which is expected to occur in the first half of 2019. Technology development beyond the second generation of 3D XPoint technology will be pursued independently by the two companies in order to optimize the technology for their respective product and business needs.

The two companies will continue to manufacture memory based on 3D XPoint technology at the Intel-Micron Flash Technologies (IMFT) facility in Lehi, Utah.

Intel "Cascade Lake" Xeon Scalable Chips to Support 3.84 TB of RAM per Socket

Intel is giving finishing touches to a new wave of Xeon Scalable processors based on its new "Cascade Lake" silicon. One of its first parts is a 28-core chip with a 6-channel DDR4 memory interface, support for 3 DIMMs per channel, resulting in 18 DIMM slots per socket. Its integrated memory controllers support a theoretical maximum of 3.84 TB of memory. The best part? The memory needn't be DRAM-based.

With its next-generation of enterprise processors, Intel is introducing support for Optane Persistent Memory. This 3D X-point based memory module has a performance footprint between NAND flash SSDs and volatile DRAM; while being close enough to the latter to work as primary memory. Its USP is persistence - the ability to not lose data after power loss or reboot; allowing large data centers to quickly power down/up nodes in response to load, without wasting several dozen minutes in repopulating DRAM with data from a hibernation image. Optane Persistent DIMMs come in capacities of up to 512 GB. This is simply 512 GB of 3D X-point memory wired to a special on-DIMM controller that interfaces with standardized DDR4 interface.

Wishful Thinking, Disingenious Marketing: Intel's Optane Being Marketed as DRAM Memory

Intel's Optane products, based on the joint venture with Micron, have been hailed as the next step in memory technology - delivering, according to Intel's own pre-launch slides, a mid-tier, al-dente point between DRAM's performance and NAND's density and pricing. Intel even demoed their most avant-garde product in recent times (arguably, of course) - the 3D XPoint DIMM SSD. Essentially, a new storage contraption that would occupy vacant DIMM channels, delivering yet another tier of storage up for grabs for speed and space-hungry applications - accelerating workloads that would otherwise become constrained by the SATA or even NVMe protocol towards NAND drives.

Of course, that product was a way off; and that product still hasn't come to light. The marriage of Optane's density and speed with a users' DRAM subsystem is just wishful thinking at best, and the dreams of pairing DRAM and 3D Xpoint in the same memory subsystem and extracting the best of both worlds remains, well... A figment of the imagination. But not according to some retailers' websites, though. Apparently, the usage of Intel's Optane products as DRAM memory has already surfaced for some vendors - Dell and HP included. How strange, then, that this didn't come out with adequate pomp and circumstance.

Gigabyte Bundles Intel's Optane Memory With Select AORUS Motherboards

Gigabyte, in a bid to further differentiate itself from its competitors' products, has decided to start bundling Intel's high-performance, 3D XPoint memory-based Optane drives with select AORUS motherboards. The initiative, which is available for the company's Z370 Aorus Gaming 7-OP and Z370 AORUS Ultra Gaming WIFI-OP (where the OP suffix denotes the Optane bundle) delivers Intel's 32 GB Optane module at a price that's lower than the sum of its parts.

The Z370 Aorus Gaming 7-OP, for example, comes with an MSRP of just $269, $20 more than the non-OP version of the same motherboard - and can now be had for the same $249. This means you'll snag a full 32 GB Optane module for free with this bundle. The Z370 AORUS Ultra Gaming WIFI-OP delivers a slightly less sweet deal, but it's still interesting: it's available at an MSRP of $214, while its non-Optane-equipped equivalent is available for $164.99 (this means the usually $74 Optane module will set you back a much more manageable $32). And have I mentioned these are absolutely beautiful motherboards?

960GB Intel Optane 905P PCIe AIC SSD Shows Up on Newegg

Ahead of its launch, a curious-looking Optane 905P PCI-Express add-in card (AIC) SSD, bearing model number SSDPED1D960GAX1, showed up on Newegg, confirming its imminent launch. The model listed offers 960 GB of storage based on 3D XPoint memory, and unless we're mistaken, an illuminated shroud, unlike its predecessor, the Optane 900P.

The capacity here is the star-attraction, as the Optane 900P only comes in capacities up to 480 GB (that's 280 GB and 480 GB), which had been the biggest complaint of its target audience, PC enthusiasts. The added capacity should also increase the drive's endurance numbers, although the Newegg listing puts out no performance numbers from the manufacturer. The Optane 905P 960 GB commands a US $1,602 price, for now.

Intel Previews True Optane M.2 SSD Geared for Enterprise

At the Open Compute project Summit, Intel previewed their upcoming Optane SSD DC P4801X, the company's true M.2, Optane-based SSD for enterprise deployments. Intel has managed to reduce the footprint for their flagship, U.2 form-factor Optane SSD DC P4800X, while increasing the available NAND capacity from their current caching solutions (800p and 900p Optane SSDs).

The new, upcoming M.2 SSD's controller features a 7-channel architecture to improve performance as much as possible, deployed in 375 GB drives, through use of seven quad-die packages of 3D XPoint memory. For the moment, there are no pricing or performance metrics to be talked about. However, this solution marks the first in a general consumer-available form-factor, and could be prototyped for a future, mainstream-hitting Optane SSD.

Intel Announces Optane 800p Series M.2 NVMe Cache SSD

Intel today announced the Optane 800p series M.2 NVMe cache SSD. This series succeeds the original Optane Memory series, which came in 16 GB and 32 GB capacities. The new Optane 800p comes in 58 GB and 118 GB, and offers acceleration to a HDD or slower SSD-based machine, just like the original. It can also be used as a standalone SSD since it's big enough to hold an OS installation and some software. Intel also encourages buying two or more of these drives for NVMe RAID.

The drive is built in the M.2-2280 form-factor, and takes advantage of PCI-Express gen 3.0 x2 interface. Both the 58 GB and 118 GB variants have identical performance numbers from Intel: up to 1450 MB/s sequential reads, up to 640 MB/s sequential writes, up to 250,000 IOPS (8 GB span) random reads, and up to 145,000 IOPS (8 GB span) random writes. Endurance is where 3D XPoint memory begins to shine, both variants have their endurance rated at 365 TBW. Available now, the Optane 800p 58 GB is priced at USD $129.99, while the 118 GB variant goes for $199.99.

Micron and Intel Announce Update to NAND Memory Joint Development Program

Micron and Intel today announced an update to their successful NAND memory joint development partnership that has helped the companies develop and deliver industry-leading NAND technologies to market. The announcement involves the companies' mutual agreement to work independently on future generations of 3D NAND. The companies have agreed to complete development of their third-generation of 3D NAND technology, which will be delivered toward the end of this year and extending into early 2019. Beyond that technology node, both companies will develop 3D NAND independently in order to better optimize the technology and products for their individual business needs.

Micron and Intel expect no change in the cadence of their respective 3D NAND technology development of future nodes. The two companies are currently ramping products based on their second-generation of 3D NAND (64 layer) technology. Both companies will also continue to jointly develop and manufacture 3D XPoint at the Intel-Micron Flash Technologies (IMFT) joint venture fab in Lehi, Utah, which is now entirely focused on 3D XPoint memory production.

Samsung's Z-NAND to Compete Favorably With Intel's Optane

As big data usage is becoming ubiquitous, and workload data-sets increase in both size and complexity, new ways of connecting processing resources to storage are being developed. Intel and Micron's partnership in developing 3D XPoint memory came as a way for computer systems to reduce their bottlenecks in storing data for processing, with a particular emphasis on reducing latency. Samsung, however, has enough resources to try and provide alternatives for the emergent market needs, and being one of the most important players in the NAND industry, it seems the company is betting on the Z-NAND wagon.

For now, Z-NAND as it is being developed by Samsung, is expected to be a new rendition of SLC (Single-Level Cell) NAND, with increased controller tweaks and improvements to achieve greater IOPS in both random and sequential workloads. SLC has already been widely used in the SSD market, though in recent years it has been giving way to density-oriented technologies, such as MLC and, more recently, TLC NAND, in an effort to lower the $/GB equation. Z-NAND is a return to the SLC roots, with some very relevant tricks up its sleeve - while 3D XPoint's call to fame was sometimes up to 10x lower latency (in the order of 10/10μs), Z-NAND is also bringing latency to levels hitherto unknown to NAND memory - specifically, to the 12-20/16μs realms.

Intel Readies Optane DIMM Roll-out for 2018

Intel has reportedly slated launch of its Optane DIMM for the second half of 2018. The Optane DIMM marks the biggest change in computer memory in over two decades, and heralds the era of "persistent memory," which combines the best characteristics of DRAM and NAND flash, in that it has the speed and low-latency of DRAM, but the persistence (ability to store data in the absence of power) of NAND flash. Combining the two will be made possible with improvements to the speed and latency of 3D XPoint memory. Intel is currently selling consumer SSDs based on the technology, and has increased production of 3D XPoint chips.

Intel presented the Optane DIMM at the 2017 USB Global Technology Conference. It described Optane DIMM as a primary storage device that will function as a memory-mapped device, but with much higher storage densities than what's possible with current DDR4 DRAM. The enterprise segment, as usual, will have the first take of the technology, with Intel targeting the exascale computing (supercomputers nearing ExaFLOP/s compute throughput) industry, trickling down to other enterprise segments, before finally making its way to the client/consumer segments. This development is also a polite nudge to the DRAM industry to get its act together, and either bring down prices or scale up densities, or miss the bus of change.

Intel, Micron Increase 3D XPoint Manufacturing Capacity Through Fab Expansion

Today, Intel and Micron announced the completion of an expansion to Building 60 (B60) at the IM Flash facilities in Lehi, Utah. The expanded fab will produce 3D XPoint memory media, a building block of Intel Optane technology that includes Intel Optane memory for clients, the recently announced Intel Optane SSD 900P Series and new capacities and form factors of the Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X Series. A ribbon-cutting was held at the facility with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, employees of the facility and representatives from Intel and Micron.

The IM Flash joint venture was created in 2006 to manufacture non-volatile memory for both Intel and Micron, starting with NAND for use in SSDs, phones, tablets and more. In 2015, IM Flash began manufacturing 3D XPoint technology, the first entirely new memory media in 25 years. The technology was developed to meet the quickly expanding data needs for all types of customers. 3D XPoint technology uses a crosspoint structure to deliver a cell and array architecture that can switch states significantly faster than NAND.

Intel Product Launch Schedule till Mid-2018 Leaked

Intel is on the verge of launching its 8th generation Core "Coffee Lake" processor family with six SKUs, and its top-tier Z370 Express chipset, early next month. Those looking for cheaper motherboards and don't intend on overclocking their processor, will have to wait until the first quarter of 2018, with the company confirming Q1-2018 as the launch window of three of its client-desktop chipsets for 8th generation Core processors, in a leaked Desktop outlook slide, scored by GamersNexus.

Among the new desktop chipsets launched will be the H370 Express, B360 Express, and the H310 Express. The H370 Express offers essentially the same platform connectivity as the Z370 Express, minus CPU overclocking and NVIDIA SLI certification. The B360 Express has a slimmer connectivity loadout, and lacks SLI support, but its predecessors have been generally preferred by gamers wanting to build single-GPU rigs with CPUs running at stock speeds, which is why major motherboard brands have built gamer-centric motherboards on B-series chipsets. The H310 chipset has the lightest connectivity, and is designed to power entry-level motherboards.

Intel to Introduce 3D XPoint DIMM Tech to the Market on 2018

Early on in Intel's 3D XPoint teasers and announcements, the company planned to have this memory integrated not only as a system cache solution or SSD replacement, but also as a potential substitute for DRAM memory. The objective: to revolutionize the amount of DRAM memory a given system can carry, at a much lower price per GB, with a somewhat acceptable performance penalty. Intel describes the current DRAM implementation as too small, too expensive, and too unstable (read: data loss on power loss) to continue being on top of the memory food chain. This is where the 3D Xpoint DIMM implementation can bear fruits, by offering significantly higher amounts of storage at much lower pricing, while keeping attractive bandwidth and latency performance. DRAM will still be used for system-critical operations and booting, albeit in lower capacities, and will be used side by side with these 3D XPoint DIMM slots, which will take in the bulk of the work.

This kind of usage for Intel's 3D XPoint also delivers an interesting side-effect: since this memory is persistent (which means that data isn't lost when the power is turned off,) interruption or loss of power won't erase the work in memory. At the same time, this means that this kind of DRAM-substitute memory requires some security precautions DRAM doesn't, since anyone with direct physical access to the stick could just remove one and take it with all the data inside. Even though a 2018 time to market seems a little to optimistic, considering all the changes this implementation would require from adopters, the technology is definitely promising enough to tempt users to make the jump.

Intel Shows 1.59x Performance Improvement in Upcoming Intel Xeon Scalable Family

Intel today unveiled significant performance advances in its upcoming Intel Xeon Processor Scalable family. At the SAP Sapphire NOW conference, Intel showed up to 1.59x higher Intel Xeon processor performance running in-memory SAP HANA workloads over the generation it replaces, demonstrating what the new products will deliver to help meet the increasingly complex demands of big-data, in-memory workloads in the modern data center.

Diane Bryant, group president of the Data Center Group at Intel, outlined how the Intel Xeon Processor Scalable family - available in mid-2017 - will provide enhanced performance to in-memory applications like SAP HANA. This will provide customers faster time-to-insight and allow organizations to rapidly respond to change.

JEDEC Says DDR5 Standard Development Rapidly Advancing: ETA, 2018

JEDEC Solid State Technology Association, responsible for creating the standards on which all of your versions of DDR memory are based upon, recently announced that development of the DDR5 memory standard is well underway, and in time for a 2018 release. The standards body said DDR5 memory will provide double the bandwidth and density versus current generation DDR4. along with delivering improved channel efficiency. Though considering the rate at which DDR4 prices have been increasing as of late, we really should fell a little uneasy at what this new memory standard's adoption will entail.

The current highest base clock that JEDEC allows in their DDR4 memory standard before "overclocking" takes over is DDR4-2400 - with timings ranging from 15~18 for the CAS latency, as well as tRCD, and tRP. And if, as JEDEC says, DDR5 is to be "twice as fast", that could imply that we could end up seeing DDR5-4800. Consider that for a moment: DDR4 kits today only go so far as DDR4-4266, and those are so few and far between that they'll cost you a singular kidney.

Micron's QuantX-based Products to Ship Late 2017

While Intel has made some definite announcements and product launches of its own take on 3D XPoint technology with its Optane-based professional and consumer products, Micron has been a little late to the party on both. However, recent reports peg Micron's take on the new memory technology, under its QuantX brand, to ship later this year.

Micron is apparently taking a path that differs from Intel's though, in that it's looking to license its 3D Xpoint technology to other storage makers (not currently known which), in SSD or DDR-like formats, according to the company. However, these products will likely first target the enterprise space, with QuantX-based SSDs on the PCI-Express 3.0/NVMe protocols, with capacities of up to 1.4TB. Micron is aligning QuantX with emerging throughput technologies like Gen-Z, which could expand QuantX's reach towards the ARM server market, which has seen increasing interest in recent times.. The QuantX storage and memory will have their own dedicated controllers, sitting close to the CPU for quick data transfers, thus reducing potential bottlenecks.

Samsung's Z- SSD Featuring Z-NAND Makes a Physical Appearance

NAND has come here to stay, and it's market penetration still has a lot of leeway. Samsung, bar none the biggest and best player in the NAND field, is in a uniquely privileged position to develop new technologies and capitalize on them. Remember that Samsung has so many distinct product lines on which to monetize its advancements that any new investment is hardly a make it or break it affair.

Z-NAND is Samsung's answer to other developing technologies such as 3D XPoint, of which Intel has just announced the first commercial product. Z-NAND looks to stand at the intersection between NAND and DRAM, and is more of an evolution of the NAND design than it is a totally new technology (thus distancing itself from the likes of 3D XPoint.)

Intel Debuts its 3D XPoint Technology with Optane DC P4800X Datacenter SSD

Today, Intel unveiled the Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X Series and Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X Series with Intel Memory Drive Technology, enabling new possibilities to transform storage and memory architectures for the data center. Deployed as blazing fast storage or caching tier, Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X breaks the confines of traditional storage to significantly increase scale per server and accelerate applications. When deployed as extended memory, this drive expands the system memory pool, creating bigger, more cost-effective memory to gain higher quality insights.

An industry-leading combination of high throughput, low latency, high quality of service and high endurance enable the creation of solutions that remove data bottlenecks, unleash CPU utilization and deliver unprecedented insights. Intel Optane SSDs offer unrivaled performance at low queue depth, where the vast majority of applications generate storage workloads, which means CPUs are more active and more fully utilized. Intel Optane SSDs for the data center let users do more work with the same servers, improving TCO or expanding capabilities. And because the drive is extremely responsive under any load, it is highly predictable and delivers ultra-fast service, consistently.

Intel Launches Site Detailing Optane Requirements: Skylake Users Need Not Apply

Microprocessor giant Intel has launched a new page dedicated to its 3D XPoint-based Optane memory solution, a technology that it jointly developed with memory manufacturer Micron back in 2015, and was supposed to be on the market by 2016. The company missed that date; however, the technology is still interesting to enthusiasts and power users alike, due to its promises of both high speed and large capacity, a seemingly unattainable combo in today's markets.

Unfortunately, it seems that any system built around when Optane was announced will not be able to run Optane-based SSDs. In the system requirements section of its page, Intel has indicated that Optane will not run on anything earlier than a Kaby Lake based CPU. No exceptions. Yes, that includes Skylake, Broadwell, and pretty much everything else besides Kaby Lake. You will also need a 200-series chipset or newer.

Intel Optane DC P4800X with 3D XPoint Offers 21x Endurance Over MLC NAND

Intel is readying a fleet of new SSDs based on its new 3D XPoint non-volatile memory, a technology that Intel hopes will replace NAND flash in the years to come. The company developed this technology in collaboration with Micron Technology, under its IMFlash Technologies banner. The first Intel SSDs with this memory will be sold under the Optane brand. There are several sub-brands targeting the various market segments (client, enterprise, data-center, etc.), and technical slides of the data-center targeted Optane DC P4800X SSD were leaked to the web.

One of the first Optane DC P4800X SSDs comes in a rather measly capacity of 375 GB. The drive is built in the half-height PCI-Express add-on card (AIC) form-factor, with PCI-Express 3.0 x4 host interface. The drive belts out sequential transfer rates of up to 2400 MB/s reads, with up to 2000 MB/s writes, which may not sound like much given that even TLC NAND flash based PCIe 3.0 x4 drives offer higher transfer rates; until you look at three key metrics - latency, random-access performance, and endurance.

Micron's Outlook for the Future of Memory: GDDR6, QuantX in 2017

After finally reaching mature yields (comparable to those of planar NAND processes), Micron's 32-layer first generation 3D NAND has grown increasingly prominent in the company's NAND output. Now, the company is looking to ramp-up production of their (currently sampling) 64-layer 3D NAND, promising "meaningful output" by the end of December 2017, looking for an 80% increase in total GB per wafer and a 30% decrease in production costs.

When it comes to the graphics subsystem memory, Micron is looking to transition their 20nm production to a "1x nm" (most likely 16nm) node, in a bid to improve cost per GB by around $20, with introduction of 16nm GDDR5 memory to be introduced later this year. However, GDDR5X volume is expected to grow significantly, in a bid to satisfy bandwidth-hungry uses through GPUs (like NVIDIA's GTX 1080 and potentially the upcoming 1080 Ti) and networking, with GDDR6 memory being introduced by the end of 2017 or early 2018. The company is still mum on actual consumer products based on their interpretation of the 3D XPoint products through their QuantX brand, though work is already under way on the second and third generation specifications of this memory, with Micron planning an hitherto unknown (in significance and product type) presence in the consumer market by the end of this year.
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