Intel and Micron unveiled a novel new kind of non-volatile data storage device during a press conference on Tuesday. The chips, dubbed "3D XPoint" (pronounced "cross-point"), are being touted as the first new class of "mainstream memory" to hit the market since 1989. These new chips could soon speed up everything from cell phones and SSD laptops to genomic sequencers and supercomputers.
The new chip forgoes traditional transistors that make up the core of modern flash memory. Instead, the material that makes up each Xpoint memory cell changes its physical properties to either have a high or low electrical resistance, which represents 1's and 0's respectively. What's more, the multiple layers of these cells are stacked in a 3D crosshatch pattern that allows each cell to be addressed and rewritten individually. See NAND works by shifting single electrons to either side of a "floating gate" to change from a 1 to a 0 and back again. The problem is that this process prevents users from changing the state just one memory cell -- you have to wipe rewrite an entire block of cells simultaneously. But by addressing each cell individually, Intel reports that the new chip can perform 1000 times faster than conventional NAND and last hundreds of times longer before breaking down. The crosshatch design (below) also allows Intel to stack the layers 10 times more densely than regular NAND.
"One of the most significant hurdles in modern computing is the time it takes the processor to reach data on long-term storage," Mark Adams, president of Micron, said in a statement. "This new class of non-volatile memory is a revolutionary technology that allows for quick access to enormous data sets and enables entirely new applications."
Intel sees the chips initially helping speed up big data applications like fraud detection, real-time data analysis and disease tracking. The Xpoints are reportedly already in production, though there's no timetable for when they'll reach your next laptop.