Intel 3D XPoint Die image 001

Chip makers Intel and Micron today announced a major breakthrough in memory process technology which promises to increase the performance of NAND flash chips by a factor of 1,000.

The name of this game-changing technology is 3D Xpoint, pronounced as “crosspoint”. Not only does it enable 1,000 times faster performance, but has up to 1,000X greater endurance than NAND flash and is 10X denser than conventional memory.

By comparison, today’s solid state drives typically offer between a hundred to up to a thousand times faster seek times versus traditional hard drive technology. Just don’t count on Intel’s new ultra-fast flash storage appearing in the next iPhone because a claimed logic board for an ‘iPhone 6s’ shows 19-nanometer flash memory chips by Toshiba.

3D Xpoint is fast, inexpensive and non-volatile, making it suitable for use across a wide range of mobile and desktop devices such as iPhones, iPads and Mac notebooks as data is not erased when the device is powered off.

Intel underscores that 3D Xpoint is the first new memory category in more than 25 years since the introduction of NAND flash in 1989.

In fact, given the undeniable benefits of Intel’s new solution, 3D Xpoint has the potential to revolutionize any device, really. And this is what a typical 3D Xpoint wafer looks like.

Intel 3D XPoint Wafer image 001

It all comes down to unique material compounds Intel and Macron invented together, coupled with a brand new cross point architecture for a memory technology.

3D Xpoint up close

Intel says that individual memory cells in 3D Xpoint chips are accessed and written or read by varying the amount of voltage sent to each selector. This eliminates the need for transistors, increasing capacity while reducing cost.

Intel 3D XPoint Die image 002

The high density of individual elements found on a single chip is achieved by using the cross point array structure. As shown below, perpendicular conductors are used to connect a whopping 128 billion densely packed memory cells, each storing a single bit of data.

Memory cells are also stacked in multiple layers. It is this compact structure that results in high performance and density.

The magic behind 3D Xpoint

But just how does 3D Xpoint technology achieve a thousand times faster performance?

It’s basically a combination of a small cell size, fast switching selector, low-latency cross point array and fast write algorithm that allows each memory cell to switch states faster than any existing non-volatile memory technologies today.

For starters, the technology will initially store 128Gb per die across two memory layers. Future generations will increase the number of memory layers, thus further increasing per-chip capacity.

3D Xpoint chips in iPhones?

Although Apple has traditionally relied on flash storage chips for iPhones and iPads from the likes of Samsung, Toshiba and other suppliers, Intel’s new technology sounds too good to be ignored.

Having a 1,000 times faster flash storage inside an iPhone would result in major speed gains when loading apps, multitasking, accessing documents and other data, while potentially lowering energy use as well.

Reducing the lag time between the processor and data will have a major impact on apps that work with large datasets like image and video editing software and graphics-intensive games.

Should Apple choose to implement 3D Xpoint technology in iOS devices, it almost certainly won’t happen until next year’s iPhone and iPad refresh—at the earliest. The price of the technology needs to come down first before it can be mainstreamed. For those wondering, Apple doesn’t just embed off-the-shelf NAND parts on device motherboards.

Apple MacBook Air NAND Flash image 001

Instead, the company optimizes the performance and reliability of exiting NAND flash chips in-house, using engineering talent from its 2012 acquisition of Israeli chip experts Anobit.

Intel will sample 3D XPoint technology later this year “with select customers.” In addition, both Intel and Micron are already developing individual products based on the new technology.

The chip giant has put together a nice timeline of breakthroughs in memory technology over the years and an infographic which illustrates technological solutions that have gone into developing 3D Xpoint technology.

Source: Intel

  • Sohail Wahab

    can’t wait to see how Apple use this thing.

    • ADB ADB

      Don’t hold your breath! Apple unfortunately has a slow adoption rate, they like technologies to mature a bit before it goes into production. It will probably show up in LG G6 or Samsung Note/Galaxy Series before it will show up in an iDevices.

  • Anthony Lara

    Apple will use this along with modern battery technology with the iPhone 11S.

    • Rowan09

      There’s such a thing as modern battery technology?

      • Yeah, about in the same stage as this flash technology. Almost there but not quite. But it’s revolutionary as far as batteries go.

      • Rowan09

        What’s the battery marvel that I’ve missed? All I see happening is increasing battery size which is not what I would call modern or revolutionary.

      • It’s a battery that charges incredibly fast and lasts a long time. I forget the details but it’s not something as simple as a bigger battery or whatever. This is not apple technology but some other company engineering it so android can implement it before Apple decided to jump on.

      • Antzboogie

        Lol I was wondering the same.

  • Eliijah Moss

    There is a slight possibility that this could come to the iPhone 7. “Slight.” If and when Apple decides to optimize this chip, I wonder how much they will hold back, in terms of power and what can be done with this chip. But hey. This is history in the making itself. I can’t wait to see what major phone and computer tech companies decide what to do…

  • Chocolatewe

    awesome

  • Manuel Molina

    Flash is very fast. Using it on an Mac air with 8 GB of ram sees start up times in less than 6 seconds or lower. But we all know apple. It won’t be used Olin a device unless it’s perfected and it shows 100% to work. I’ll see Samsung using this In year though, as they are usually quick adopts to so many things.

  • When has apple ever jumped on ANYTHING so fast? We’re much more likely to see it on a Samsung decide than an iPhone within the next 3 years. I give it at least 4 years before this is implemented in any iPhone.

    • ADB ADB

      Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking.

      • Look how it long it took to get 4g. I love apple but I’ll keep it real they are behind.

      • Digitalfeind

        Shhhh, you’ll anger the fanboys!!!

    • Rowan09

      64 Bit

      • That’s the only thing I’ll give apple. If you’re trying to argue that apple is innovative and ahead of the times with technology I wholeheartedly disagree.

      • Rowan09

        They are innovative, the fingerprint scanner was innovative. I agree they usually wait for tech to mature but this is not like 3G which wasn’t around in only but 2 places in NY, this is a part for devices which they usually have the best of in their devices every year.

  • Bugs Bunnay

    Goodbye nand.

  • ADB ADB

    Can’t wait to see it in about six years. Knowing apple (based on its history), it will wait a couple years, before implementing it into their devices. They prefer things to be ergonomically friendly and well tested, rather than to be quick and poorly implemented. I guess it will be worth the wait

  • Gary LE

    Well… The force touch track pad is a new and untouched invention that only Apple has on their macbooks and mbp’s so can they adopt this newer flash technology for any other competitor?