In the year 2004, we talked about something like this as a dream in school. The dream was that some day we might have a technology that could exceed the “sound barrier” of computer storage and processing technology. The dream became a reality last night thanks to Intel and Micron.
What’s wrong with our current storage technology?
If your hard drive has broken down recently and you brought it into our store, me or one of our Zombie Techs has probably recommended moving you to an NAND SSD (Solid State Disk). SSDs are different from the mechanical disks we previously used to run our computers and NAND SSD flash memory based hard drives have been at the forefront of performance technology and the results have been fantastic. The SSDs however, were a marginal step towards solving the biggest problem in computing these days. The problem is that of all the parts in your computer, the storage technology has historically been the slowest and the existing technology bottlenecks all of the other components. Your processor and RAM actually can outpace your storage technology in almost incomprehensible orders of magnitude if you were to compare them side-by-side and that’s why today’s reveal is ground breaking.
What’s wrong with the technology we have now?
Intel & Micron in a joint statement reveal the following definition:
“3D Xpoint is a non-volatile memory that has the potential to revolutionize any device, application or service that benefits from fast access to large sets of data. Now in production, 3D XPoint technology is a major breakthrough in memory process technology and the first new memory category since the introduction of NAND flash in 1989.”
Cool, so what is it? They keyword is “nonvolatile.” Think about the engine in your car. None of the parts except the onboard computer record any type of trip data and the computers in modern cars are quite small. When you shut off your engine, none of the parts inside the car can tell you where they’ve been or what they’ve done in the past up until now because they’re designed for performance purposes and not for storing data. The same is the case with all of the other memory types on your computer parts including RAM and all the microchips you can see on your motherboard and so on, even your central processor. This design architecture affects every computer that you know and every satellite we have in space. The problem with this type of memory is that if it loses power, it loses information just like a calculator. If you used our existing ram technology to power your data storage needs, you would need a source of infinite power to retain your information. It would be like keeping your car on forever and ever in the example I gave above; just not something that’s going to happen.
How does 3D Xpoint work?
The short explanation is that it’s like a technological skyscraper of little cubes that contain information. Each information sector has a 3 dimensional position making it extremely precise, scale-able, and efficient. When you have 3 different address lines to reach information, you con’t have to bounce information across physical transistors shortening the amount of time it takes for a computer to get to information. Because transistors are unnecessary for this type of architecture, the response time will be dramatic. This paves the way for future technologies and much more immersive because the performance thresholds will be lifted. A direct result of this technology in production will be an evolution of how we use computers over the next 8 years. More so than computers however, it will change the way you look at smartphones.