Dubbed Optane drives, they have been touted as new way to store digital data that can operate as much as 1,000 times faster than flash.
Intel sheepishly said that the first Optane drives won’t be that much faster than today’s data storage. The early prototype shown by Intel at its annual developer conference in San Francisco yesterday was seven times as fast as a top-of-the-range flash disk drive. However Intel points out that Optane drives may perform better by the time they hit the market in 2016.
Intel’s Optane drives are based on a technology called 3D Xpoint, developed in collaboration with Micron.
Rob Crooke, a general manager on Intel’s memory project, said that they would improve gaming, supercomputers, and data analysis.
Intel says its technology is affordable enough that Optane drives will be made available next year for uses ranging from large corporate data centres to lightweight laptops.
“We expect to see breakthroughs in personalised medicine and in business analytics to allow companies, cities, and maybe countries to run more efficiently,” Crooke said.
A 3D Xpoint chip instead has a grid formed from metal wires layered over one another; data is stored by using electricity to change the arrangement of atoms inside material trapped at each junction of the grid.
3D Xpoint chips hold onto data even when powered down and while they can’t currently store data as densely, Xpoint grids can be stacked vertically, providing a route to storing more data on one chip.
The basic design is similar to HPs memristors and startups are working on similar technology. But Intel is the only company promising complete hard drives on the market next year. HP recently scaled back its memristor plans .