Will Intel abandon Optane?
Intel and Micron conducted a joint development and production program for phase-change memory known as 3D XPoint. This non-volatile semiconductor memory product is faster and more durable than NAND flash and slower than DRAM. Companies wanted 3D XPoint to be less expensive than DRAM and provide nonvolatile memory that could replace or supplement DRAM in data centers, enterprises, and consumer applications.
3D XPoint was jointly announced by the two companies in 2015. The image below from 2016 shows some details of the first generation 3D XPoint product. Intel started shipping this product as Optane memory, first in NVMe SSDs in 2017, then as DIMM-based products (to fit into computer memory slots). Intel provided Optane for data center, enterprise, and consumer applications. Several storage systems used Optane memory and it was popular with gamers because they could boost their memory at a lower cost.
As recently as December 2020, Intel announced two new Intel Optane SSDs, the P5800X for data centers and the H20 for client applications. The company has also indicated that it intends to deliver its 3rd generation Intel Optane persistent memory (DIMM) for cloud and enterprise customers. But in March 2021, Micron announced that it would immediately cease development of 3D XPoint and shift resources to new memory-centric products using the Compute Express Link (CXL) standard. Micron had not shipped any 3D XPoint products in volume, although it had made a few announcements over the years.
Micron also announced that it would sell its production plant in Utah for manufacturing 3D XPoint, where most of the 3D XPoint memory for Intel’s Optane products was manufactured. He then sold the facility to Texas Instruments. In January 2021, Intel announced that it was discontinuing all Optane SSDs for the consumer market only. Pat Gelsinger joined Intel as CEO in February 2021.
Although Intel continues to ship Optane products to its enterprise customers, the company has not made any new announcements or talked about Optane on its investor calls for several quarters. Current Optane SSD products are based on PCIe Gen 4 products and Gen 5 systems are expected to start appearing by 2023. Other companies have announced PCIe Gen5 products in anticipation of this faster computing bus.
In December 2021, Intel announced that it was selling its SSD and NAND business to SK hynix (SK hynix acquired most of this business as well as Intel’s NAND factory in Dalian, China, with Intel owning a small stack until 2025).
At On February 24 Stratechery published an interview with Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger where he said, “I never want to be in memory, you see, I’m doing everything I can to exit our memory business in this regard.” This follows a statement that China is pumping money into its semiconductor business for use in memories and mature lithographic nodes. Later in the interview, Gelsinger pointed out that although the last memory surplus was around 3.5 years ago, the last logical surplus was over 10 years ago, pointing out that there is an insatiable demand for computing and high performance. Intel has a history of getting into the memory business and then getting out of it, the most famous example being Andy Grove’s drive to pull Intel out of the DRAM business in 1985.
Intel sold its NAND and SSD businesses and remained silent on its Optane memory for over a year. Its 3D XPoint product factory in New Mexico does not appear to have made many products since the Micron-owned 3D XPoint factory closed. Rumors abound that the company will not be developing new Optane products. It is believed that the company was selling these products below the cost of making them in the hope that higher production volumes would drive the price down to a level where the product would sell for less than it did. cost to make it.
It is likely that Intel will sell its remaining stock of current Optane products but not create new products for CXL and PCIe Gen 5. CXL products, although developed in part to support the use of non-volatile memory such as ‘Optane, will become a major driver of computer architecture changes this year, but likely focusing on DRAM pooling rather than a mix of DRAM and Optane memory. Optane memory has been the flagship product driving a major increase in standalone nonvolatile memory. Intel’s release of this product leaves a hole that other memories may struggle to fill.
Intel hasn’t announced new Optane memory products in over a year and hasn’t created significant new 3D XPoint production since the Micron-owned Lehi factory closed in 2021. This non-volatile memory technology once promising could be in its last generation of products. .