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3D XPoint memory is here, 8K video games anyone?

July 31, 2015 1 comment

Computer gamingIntel & Micron jointly announced a new class of memory called 3D XPoint™.  They claim that this new persistent (non-volatile) memory type will be 1000 times faster and last 1000 times longer than traditional NAND flash. 3D XPoint uses a cross point architecture – the memory cell which stores one bit of data, sits at the point of intersection of a word line and a bit line, allowing each cell to be addressed individually.  This is a different approach than is found in transistor based NAND where a large block of cells have to be erased before a single bit can be stored.

The goal in computing has always been to bring data closer to the CPU. Today some data is stored within the CPU, some in DRAM, some in NAND flash based SSD (where latency is measured in microseconds) and the rest on spinning disks (where latency is measured in milliseconds). As CPUs got faster, spinning disk improved in density but didn’t keep up in performance.

Enter 3D XPoint with characteristics like:
• 10 times the density of DRAM
• latency in nanoseconds (one billionth of a second)
• Non-volatile nature (persist data when the power is turned off).
• Durability of 10, 000 000 write cycles (vs 10,000 write cycles for NAND)

What are the implications for a personal computer manufacturer? This new memory type could be used as main memory (think Terabytes of 3D XPoint memory) since it will be almost as fast as RAM but cheaper than RAM. The computer user in turn experiences the efficiencies of an “always-on” application.

How about server manufacturers? If you consider that worldwide over 1 billion Android capable devices were sold in 2014, and if you assume 2 active TCP connections from each of these devices to Google’s datacenter, in 2014 alone 2 billion TCP connections were hitting Google’s custom manufactured servers so the users may run applications like Gmail or Hangout. Google would achieve greater efficiencies by using 3D Xpoint in place of RAM in their custom servers.

How about enterprise applications like real-time fraud detection? Rather than move data from spinning disk to SSD then to RAM, 3D XPoint can pre-fetch the data that may be needed by the application, hence improving the real-time aspect of detecting fraud in ongoing financial transactions.

How about consumer applications? Voice recognition applications like Siri Assistant on a 3D XPoint -enabled smart phone could see a benefit.  Another consumer application that would benefit is 8K gaming (at 7680*4320 resolution).  8K is not so far out considering that Sharp is promoting 8K resolution TVs today.

What’s in it for networked storage? Just as RAM, DRAM and NAND Flash co-exist with spinning disk today, 3D XPoint will add one more effective transit point between the CPU in the server and the networked storage. Once the interfaces are worked out it could even replace NAND from SSDs.   I welcome any relevant thoughts you may have on this topic.

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