Home Hardware Intel introduces Optane – 3D XPoint memory and SSD

Intel introduces Optane – 3D XPoint memory and SSD

Intel plans to reinvent computer memory and storage with what it calls Intel Optane 3D XPoint (pronounced crosspoint) that includes a type of SSD that can also be used as RAM.

It was presented at an embargoed briefing attended by iTWire. It does not appear to be yet another incremental “advance” in 3D vertical NAND technology, rather a major advance for RAM and storage since NAND memory was invented in 1984.

NAND, also called flash, is non-volatile storage technology that does not require power to retain data. Over time companies like Intel, Toshiba, Samsung and others have crammed more and more capacity into the chip by stacking NAND layers – called 3D NAND.

But NAND is comparatively slow (100,000 times slower) at reading and writing compared to DRAM (volatile dynamic random access memory). Intel’s new 3D XPoint is a system that closes the gap between the two, being only 100x slower than DRAM.

The Intel Optane system includes the 3D XPoint memory, new Intel memory and storage controllers, Intel Interconnect IP, and Intel software so it cannot be easily retrofitted to a PC or server. It will work with the 7th generation Intel Core and current Xeon server CPUs.

Optane speed

It initially manifests itself as the Intel Optane 375GB SSD PC4800X and as Intel Optane 16 and 32GB M.2 and later DIMM Memory modules. 

For example, using the Optane SSD as RAM (it has sufficiently low latency and high read/write capacity) is claimed to reduce the amount of RAM needed by 75% and increase speed and capacity by a factor of eight. But more importantly, it is claimed to add to traditional RAM, enabling huge databases to be stored and manipulated in memory.

Intel Optane SSD speed

Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X – overview

Initially, in a 375GB capacity AIC (add-in-card with PCIe 3.0 x 4, or NVMe slots), the capacity will quickly ramp up to 750GB in Q2 and 1.5TB in 2H, 2017. It will also become available in a U.2 format.

Intel Optane SSD

An Intel spokesman said, “Delivering an industry-leading combination of low latency, ultra-endurance, high QoS, and high throughput, the Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X Series is the most responsive data centre SSD. Built with the revolutionary new 3D XPoint memory media, the SSD DC P4800X is the first product to combine the attributes of memory and storage.”

“This innovative solution is optimised to break through storage bottlenecks by providing a new data tier. It accelerates applications for fast caching and storage, increases scale per server, and reduces transaction costs for latency sensitive workloads. In addition, data centres can now also deploy bigger and more affordable datasets to gain new insights from large memory pools,” he added.

It is claimed to be five to eight times faster at low queue depths (the normal state), 60 times better at 99% QoS, higher endurance, and 40 times more responsive under workload than a similar Intel SSD.

Major storage makers including Dell/EMC, Lenovo, HPE, Nutanix and others will have Optane data centre solutions.

Intel says the main use cases will be for fast storage, OS paging, and cache (reducing DRAM) and extending the memory pool where it could lead to increased transaction capacity from the same hardware and up to a 91% lower transaction cost. Data centres are claimed to see major benefits. Intel does not see it replacing slower SSD and HDD use cases.

 Intel Optane use case

Intel Optane memory

Initially, it will come in 16GB and 32GB modules in the PCIe Gen 3.0x2, M.2 2880 format, and later DIMM format. This technology can be used by 7th generation Core processors or later.

Intel Optane memory

Intel Optane memolry reaqdyIn a desktop sense, it will allow important files and frequently used applications to be executed from memory rather than off the hard disk. There are more than 130 Intel Optane ready 7th generation motherboards from ASUS, ASRock, etc., and most major systems manufacturers will have Optane-based systems. 



Intel Optane market



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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!