A new “three-dimensional” form of computer memory is said to offer permanent storage while being a thousand times faster than flash-based technology. Makers Intel and Micron believe its main use may be as an extension to RAM in computers.
The 3D XPoint technology is going into production now and the first units should be tested by corporate customers later this year.
The key difference is that, unlike flash-based systems, 3D XPoint doesn’t need transistors. The design makes it possible to change a single bit of data by itself, rather than rewrite an entire section. That cuts down on wasted rewriting time, thus speeding up access.
This is possible because of the Jenga-like structure shown in the picture above. The green sections in the image are the actual memory cells (which represent the 1s and 0s) while the yellow sections are known as selectors and physically change the state of each memory cell from 0 to 1 and back again.
The selectors are controlled by varying the level of voltage that passes through them. That’s done using positive and negative charges in the wires, shown in the picture in grey. The key is that the alternating layers of the wires are perpendicular to one another. In turn, that means that the device can use two wires to control one selector, and one selector only.
As well as the increase in speed, the reduction in redundant rewriting should, in theory, increase the operating time of the storage before it fails.
The big drawback is increased cost compared with flash-based storage, meaning 3D XPoint probably won’t be viable for ordinary memory sticks and card use any time soon. Instead it will most likely be used as what’s effectively a form of cache, holding data that’s most likely to need to be transferred into RAM.
While 3D XPoint is slower than RAM, it has the advantage of keeping data even when the power is cut off. For that reason, the makers think another possible use is to hold key start-up data such that it can be transferred into RAM almost instantaneously when a device is switched up, drastically speeding up the boot process.
[Via: BBC News]