XPoint

Extending the Write/Erase Lifetime of Phase Change Memory: Part 4 – The Possible Implications for 3D XPoint and Optane

Ron NealeThis is Part 4 of a series in the Memory Guy blog, which has been looking at some important detailed analytical work by a joint team at IBM and Yale University which might point to the way of achieving improved PCM endurance.  I want, in this final part, to focus on its possible implications for commercial PCM products.


When Intel and Micron first introduced 3D XPoint Memory the companies claimed that it would be 1,000 times as fast as flash memory with 1,000 times the endurance at ten times the density of standard memory (meaning DRAM).  Now that Intel’s XPoint-based Optane SSDs have been released and their specifications are public we can estimate what the technology’s endurance might be.

The table below, explained in another Memory Guy blog post, gives estimates of best-case endurance for the cells in the XPoint memory in Optane SSDs.  In other words, with a sophisticated enough controller, good DRAM buffering, and overprovisioning, all of which are techniques commonly used to extend the life of the media in a NAND flash SSD, the cell lifetime could be significantly lower than that shown in the last column of the table and the SSD would still provide the specified endurance.  (These techniques are explained in detail in an SSD Guy blog post series for anyone who is interested in understanding them.)

As the calculated Continue reading

Making Sense of Intel & Micron’s XPoint Breakup

Micron-Intel 3D XPoint Memory InternalsOn Monday, July 16, Intel and Micron announced the termination of the two companies’ 3D XPoint Memory development efforts.  The companies will complete development of the second-generation product after which the IMFT Lehi, Utah facility will continue to manufacture the product but the two companies will no longer co-develop new versions of the 3D XPoint Memory.

Most readers haven’t been watching this business as carefully as The Memory Guy, and are puzzled by the move.  I will share what I know in an attempt to make the decision a little clearer.

Three years ago in July 2015 the two companies held an event to launch 3D XPoint Memory technology.  This upcoming technology would be 1,000 times faster than flash, and provide 1,000 times the endurance, on a chip that was 10 times as dense as “Standard Memory,” which everyone was to infer was DRAM.  This last implied that the technology would sell for a lower price than DRAM, and that’s the most important way that a technology that’s slower than DRAM can gain acceptance in a Continue reading

Extending the Write/Erase Lifetime of Phase Change Memory: Part 2 – A More Complete View of Element Separation

Ron NealeThis is Part 2 of a short Memory Guy series which will continue to explore the possible future impact on PCM memory performance, especially write/erase endurance, building on the results of the IBM/Yale University analysis outlined in Part 1.


After, in Part 1, summarizing the methodology my next step was to try to bring together in another simple diagram all the detail of the complexity of  the movement of the different elements of the phase change memory material at different locations within the memory cell which the IBM/Yale work has disclosed. Movement which leads to the conclusion that bi-polar operation would be means of extending PCM endurance.

In this post’s first diagram (below) the central region provides illustration of the paper’s unique PCM device structure: A high aspect ratio tapered cell lined with a metal conductor. With the two-state memory switching region located (red coloured) roughly at the centre of the taper.  This means that, Continue reading

Extending the Write/Erase Lifetime of Phase Change Memory: Part 1- PCM Element Separation and Endurance

Ron NealeThis is the first of a new line-up of Memory Guy posts by Ron Neale.   In this 4-part series Ron takes a look at the recently-published analysis by a team from IBM and Yale University (Wiley: Communications of Advanced Materials, Volume 30, Issue 9, March 1, 2018 “Self-Healing of a Confined Phase Change Memory Device with a Metallic Surfactant Layer,” Xie et al) which has cast some new light on the complexity of the movement and element separation in phase change memory (PCM) device structures.


In this series of articles I will briefly review what I think is an important piece of work and its implications for the future of  PCM write/erase (w/e) endurance in commercial PCM memory arrays. Today’s production Phase-Change Memory, the basis of the Intel/Micron 3D XPoint Memory, wears out faster than expected.  This series will investigate some of the potential reasons for this discrepancy.

Back in 2016 a research team led by IBM claimed the world record for PCM w/e endurance of  greater than 2 x 10E12 cycles (ALD-based Confined PCM with a Metallic Liner Toward Unlimited Endurance, Proc IEDM 2016 ). As of today commercially available PCM memory arrays offer w/e endurance of some six orders of magnitude less.  The table below Continue reading

Latest White Paper: New Memories for Efficient Computing

A Potpourri of Emerging MemoriesThere has been a lot of discussion in the trade press lately about new memory technologies.  This is with good reason: Existing memory technologies are approaching a limit after which bits can’t be shrunk any smaller, and that limit would put an end to Moore’s Law.

But there are even more compelling reasons for certain applications to convert from today’s leading technologies (like NAND flash, DRAM, NOR flash, SRAM, and EEPROM) to one of these new technologies, and that is the fact that the newer technologies all provide considerable energy savings in computing environments.

Objective Analysis has just published a white paper that can be downloaded for free which addresses a number of these technologies.  The white paper explains why energy is wasted with today’s technologies and how these new memory types can dramatically reduce energy consumption.

It also provides a Continue reading

Micron and Intel to End NAND Flash JV

Jim Handy in the IMFT fabIt came as a surprise to the Memory Guy on Monday to receive a press release from Micron indicating that Intel and Micron had decided to end their NAND flash partnership.

This agreement, which was begun in 2006, helped the two companies to aggressively ramp into the NAND flash market by combining their resources.  NAND flash makers (as well as DRAM makers) need to make very substantial capital investments to participate in the market, and that’s not easy for a new entrant.  Micron at that time was a very small NAND flash maker, and Intel wasn’t involved in the NAND flash market at all, so neither was in a position to succeed.  By combining their resources the companies were able to become important contributors to the market.

The agreement initially appeared to be modeled after the very successful joint venture that Toshiba and SanDisk enjoyed.  Each company would contribute half of the JV’s capital investment, and the same designs would be used to make both companies’ chips.

Over time Intel found itself in a familiar Continue reading

Examining 3D XPoint’s 1,000 Times Endurance Benefit

3D XPoint Endurance GraphicThe Memory Guy, as a regular reader of The SSD Guy’s posts, found an interesting one that compares the endurance of Optane SSDs against that of NAND flash SSDs.  Perhaps this could provide some insight into the Intel & Micron claim that 3D XPoint Memory’s endurance is 1,000 times that of standard NAND flash, shown in the graphic to the left.

The SSD Guy post converts several different measures of SSD endurance against each other: TBW, DWPD, and GB/Day.  Definitions of these terms can be found in that post.

It occurred to me that any of these can be used to roughly gauge the relative endurance of 3D XPoint Memory against that of NAND flash.

Take DWPD for example: Drive Writes per Day.  Not only is this a measure of how many times that an SSD can be over-written every day, but it’s also an indication of the number of times that each memory cell can be overwritten.  If you know this, and if you know how long Continue reading

Intel Developer Forum – Not Much 3D XPoint Progress

IDF16 FaceAfter a big 3D XPoint launch one year ago almost anyone would expect for Intel to have had a lot of exciting new news to share about the technology at last week’s Intel Developer Forum (IDF).  Those who were watching for that, though, were in for a disappointment.

For readers who don’t remember, Intel and its partner, chipmaker Micron Technology, announced a new memory layer in July 2015 that would enable in-memory databases to expand well beyond the constraints posed by standard DRAM memory. The pair also boasted the additional benefit of being nonvolatile or persistent – data would not be lost if the power failed.  This technology promised to open new horizons in the world of computing.

Intel devoted a lot of effort to promotion and education during the following month’s IDF, and even demonstrated a prototype 3D XPoint SSD that performed seven to eight times as fast as Intel’s highest-performance existing NAND flash SSD – the DC S3700.  Although a DIMM form factor was disclosed, no prototypes were on hand.  Both were given the brand name “Optane”.

Moving forward one year to the 2016 IDF (the source of this post’s odd graphic), The Memory Guy was shown Continue reading

Crossbar or Crosspoint?

Computing Crossbar SwitchThe Memory Guy has recently run across a point of confusion between two very similar terms: Crossbar and Crosspoint.

A crosspoint memory is a memory where a bit cell resides at every intersection of a wordline and a bitline.  It’s the smallest way you can make a memory cell.  Think of the wordlines and bitlines as the wires in a window screen.  If there’s a bit everywhere they cross, then it’s a crosspoint memory.

In most cases a crossbar is a communication path in a computing system.  (Of course, there are exceptions, the main one being a company, Crossbar Inc., that is developing a crosspoint memory technology!) A crossbar communication path is topographically similar to a crosspoint, but its function is to connect a number of memory arrays to a number of processors.  Visualize a vertical column of memory arrays named A, B, C… and a horizontal row of processors named 1, 2, 3… as is illustrated in this post’s graphic.  The crossbar can connect Processor 1 to Memory A, or to any other memory that is not already connected to another processor.  These connections are represented by the circles in the diagram.  You can see that this is an efficient way to allow processors to share a memory space to achieve very high speed inter-processor communications.

Crossbars are quite likely to Continue reading

How Many Kinds of Memory Are There?

Micron's History of Memory TechnologiesWith Micron & Intel’s July 28 introduction of their new 3D XPoint memory both companies touted that his is the first new memory in a long time, and that the list of prior new memory types is short.

How short is that list?  Interestingly, Intel and Micron have different lists.  The Micron list, shown in this post’s graphic (click to enlarge), cites seven types: “Ram” (showing a vacuum tube), PROM, SRAM, DRAM, EPROM, NOR flash, and NAND flash.  Intel’s list adds magnetic bubble memory, making it eight.  (Definitions of these names appear in another Memory Guy blog post.)

The Memory Guy finds both lists puzzling in that they left out a number of important technologies.

For example, why did Intel neglect EEPROM, which is still in widespread use?  EEPROMs (or E²PROMs) are not only found in nearly every application that has a serial number (ranging from WiFi routers to credit cards), requires calibration (like blood glucose monitoring strips and printer ink cartridges), or provides operating parameters (i.e. the serial presence detect – SPD – in DRAM DIMMs), but they still ship in the billions of units every year.  In its time EEPROM was an important breakthrough.  Over the years EEPROM has had a much greater impact than has PROM.

And, given that both companies were willing to include tubes, a non-semiconductor technology, why did both Continue reading

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Jim Handy Objective Analysis Memory Market Research +1 (408) 356-2549 Jim.Handy (at) Objective-Analysis.com

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