Micron and Intel co-developed 3D XPoint memory as a high-performance alternative to flash, but so far only Intel has brought products to market, under their Optane brand. Despite owning the fab where 3D XPoint memory is produced, the closest Micron has come to commercializing that tech for themselves was their announcement in 2016 that upcoming Micron products using 3D XPoint memory would be branded as Micron QuantX, their counterpart to Intel's Optane brand. Years later, we finally have a concrete product announcement, and they seem to have abandoned the QuantX name.

The new Micron X100 is a high-end enterprise NVMe SSD to compete against Intel's upcoming second-generation Optane SSDs and any specialized low-latency SLC NAND their competitors can come up with (eg. Samsung Z-NAND, Toshiba XL-FLASH). Micron has not yet released full specs for the X100, but the top line performance numbers are 2.5M IOPS for 4kB random reads and around 10GB/s for sequential transfers—both likely to be new records for a single SSD if they can ship it soon enough. A preview video posted by Micron includes a graph that labels the 2.5M IOPS figure as being tested at QD1, which sounds too good to be true: almost 5x the performance of Intel's current Optane SSDs. Micron says the X100 should be good for at least 9GB/s for reads, writes, or mixed workloads, reflecting how much closer 3D XPoint is to symmetrical read/write performance than any flash memory. (And also suggesting that the controller may be the bottleneck for sequential transfers more than the 3D XPoint memory itself.) For QoS, Micron is listing both read and write latencies of 8µs or less, slightly better than the 10µs that Intel's current Optane SSDs promise.

The card Micron is showing off today is a full-height half-length PCIe x16 add-in card, so it should be able to reach full throughput even on PCIe 3.0 systems. Micron says the X100 will be in limited sampling to select customers sometime this quarter, so it's not going to be shaking up the storage market much in the immediate future but it is far enough past the vaporware stage that Micron should be able to deliver the rest of the specs soon—including the range of available capacities. Since Micron hasn't said anything about a second generation of 3D XPoint memory being ready, the density and costs of the X100 shouldn't be drastically different from Intel's Optane offerings.

Source: Micron

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  • IntelUser2000 - Friday, October 25, 2019 - link

    I can agree with Billy here.

    When they released numbers for the QuantX brand, it was back before Intel introduced their own Optane brand. Performance numbers were quite amazing as well, saturating both the x4 and the x8 PCIe 3.0 port.
  • Yojimbo - Friday, October 25, 2019 - link

    At Micron's October 18, 2018 Update Call discussing the purchase of the fab from Intel, in response to the question: "Just as a follow-up to that, I'm curious, you said second-gen JV will be completed by second half 2019, and then you move to Micron's own road map. When you do the ramp in Lehi for your own production ramp, do you expect that to be on that second-gen technology? Or would you be on, potentially, your own technology and maybe having to produce the second gen for Intel and your own version of the product simultaneously in the same fab?"

    Manish Bhatia, EVP of Global Operations at Micron Technology, said: "Yes. So we actually intend to be ramping our - those initial products we've been referring to in - introduction in 2019 and ramp in 2020 on the second generation that's jointly developed with Intel. So that - this capacity that we're acquiring actually fits very nicely with that production requirement. And then beyond that, we will be introducing our own sort of independently developed emerging memory technology as a follow-on, and that would be the - for follow-on products after those initial ones that are ramping in 2020."
  • Yojimbo - Friday, October 25, 2019 - link

    Incidentally, reading back through the conference call again when looking for that quote, it seemed to me that at the time Micron thought it was a strong possibility that they would be contracted to provide Intel's second-generation 3D XPoint memory at their now wholly owned Lehi fab, as well. So it's possible that, for the initial stock at least, both Intel's and Micron's 2nd generation 3D XPoint products will be produced by Micron. But, I don't remember when Intel said they hoped to have their own production off the ground, even though I do think I read Intel making a comment on that sometime after Micron's update call.
  • rahvin - Friday, October 25, 2019 - link

    They are probably assuming this because Intel is Fab constrained right now. I believe Intel's plans when this deal to sell to Micron was announced were that after they moved all their processors forward to 10nm they'd take one of the older fabs and move it to Optane production but I'd wager with 10nm being dead on arrival that Micron is probably correct and that Intel will be looking to them to manufacture the Optane memory until they can sort out their Fab issues.

    That is if Optane doesn't wither and die on the vine because of unrealized performance.
  • Yojimbo - Monday, November 4, 2019 - link

    Intel had already designated a fab specifically for 3D XPoint production months ago. I don't remember where it is, but it might be New Mexico (??). I also recall that Intel seemed to suggest it would be producing their 3D XPoint chips in a surprisingly short amount of time, but I could be misremembering that. It's manufacture is quite different than logic manufacture and the fab needs to be specifically tooled for it. I think Micron's reasoning has to do with how long they expect Intel to take to get volume production up and running in a new fab.

    As a side note, Intel made no definitive plan to sell to Micron. It was entirely Micron's option whether to buy Intel out or not. It was part of their agreement from years ago.
  • Magichands8 - Friday, October 25, 2019 - link

    Strategically, it would seem very odd to me that Micron would jointly develop both first and second generation Xpoint technology with Intel and then wait for Intel to start releasing 2nd generation products so they could start releasing 1st generation products. That's an odd way to compete.
  • Yojimbo - Monday, November 4, 2019 - link

    ...especially since Micron is going to be producing all of Intel's second generation products until Intel gets their own production up and running. Anyway, I have posted the relevant definitive proof above that Micron's new products are indeed using the second generation 3D XPoint technology.
  • Eliadbu - Friday, October 25, 2019 - link

    Seems impressive but it makes me wonder about how they achieved the rated speed and IOPS, what controller is used, does it have any dram cache and if there is use of internal raid configuration. If density is good enough and price would be reasonable I see it dominating over competition especially any NAND based storage (Z-NAND XL-FLASH etc).
  • peevee - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    "so it should be able to reach full throughput even on PCIe 3.0 systems"

    Even? Does that mean it supports PCIe4? Does it work as well in PCIe4x8, so it could be installed alongside a graphics card supporting PCIe4?
  • supremelaw - Thursday, October 31, 2019 - link

    I asked that question at another User Forum, and the answer was PCIe 3.0. In other words, even though the edge connector is Gen3, it still performs as stated. If that answer was correct, then Micron should be working right now on a Gen4 version, e.g. model numbers "X200" or "X400" perhaps?

    I'd also like to see if a RAID array can span multiple X100s installed in the same motherboard. We prefer our workstation OS to be a fast RAID-0 array, and we stay current with drive images written to reliable HDDs. After several years of this policy, I can count on one hand the number of times we've had to restore a drive image to a Windows C: system partition on our workstations. We do such restores using a second OS cloned to a secondary drive, which has all required device drivers: this is a LOT faster than booting from an optical disc to restore an OS image.

    In my experience, there is a lot to recommend snappy launch times for all system and application programs.

    Taking the long view, I'm very thrilled that solid-state storage devices now recognize the potential of full x16 edge connectors. We've been harping on this point for many years, and now it's become a reality, instead of being limited to video cards.

    For example, I've recently noticed that modern chipsets are now migrating from manually setting 4x4 "bifurcation" mode, to auto detection: this is very welcome trend. As such, look for Gen4 versions of the ASRock Ultra Quad M.2 card, and ASUS equivalent; Gigabyte has already announced a Gen4 version.

    A very interesting, and revealing, computation is to compare the raw bandwidth of a Gen4 x16 edge connector, with the raw bandwidth of DDR4-3200. Try it! Then, compare a Gen5 x16 edge connector.

    p.s. Many thanks to everyone who commented here: your insights are terrific.

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