October 12, 2015

HP partnering with Sandisk to offer competing memristor memory solution against Intel / Micron 3D Xpoint

-SanDisk Corporation, a global leader in flash storage solutions, and HP announced a long-term partnership to collaborate on a new technology within the Storage Class Memory (SCM) category. The partnership will center around HP’s Memristor technology and expertise and SanDisk’s non-volatile ReRAM memory technology and manufacturing and design expertise to create new enterprise-wide solutions for Memory-driven Computing. The two companies also will partner in enhancing data center solutions with Solid State Drives (SSDs).

The technology is expected to be up to 1,000 times faster than flash storage and offer up to 1,000 times more endurance than flash storage. It also is expected to offer significant cost, power, density and persistence improvements over DRAM technologies. The SCM technology and its characteristics are intended to allow systems to employ tens of terabytes (TB) of SCM per server node for applications such as in-memory databases, real-time data analytics, transactional and high-performance computing.

This technology is focused on addressing the massive streams of data generated by the convergence of social media, security, mobility, big data analytics, cloud and the Internet of Things. The partnership aims for the companies to augment existing flash memory-based SSD product lines with this technology, providing high-performance storage solutions to enterprise data centers. It also aims to contribute to HP’s breakthrough new computing model, The Machine, which reinvents the fundamental architecture of computers to enable a quantum leap in performance and efficiency, while lowering costs and improving security.

* HP is partnering to help launch its vision of the Machine
* HP is partnering to actually get high volume Memristor technology shipping

In June, 2015, HP said new computer architecture called the Machine would not have memristors in its early versions. However, this could change with the new Sandisk deal.

The machine is to have specialized cores, a purpose-built open source operating system optimized for non-volatile systems, and was to have: memristor non-volatile memory, a special kind of resistor circuit that functions as both storage and memory.

HP will use DRAM memory for its prototype, and will convert the shared memory pool to non-volatile memory, for example phase change memory, in future versions.

HP had said the Machine would rely on a memristor, which is a kind of digital memory that has been talked about for four decades, but has been difficult to bring into commercial use. The company expects to spend close to $500 million on the Machine as it develops the many-years-off computer, putting it on a par with its move from selling computer servers to offering cloud computing systems.

Martin Fink, HP’s chief technology officer, repositioned the Machine as a “memory-driven computer architecture,” which focuses on the large amounts of data stored, rather than the processing power.

Memristors were barely in sight. A prototype of the new computer could be out next year, Mr. Fink said, based on more conventional DRAM memory. Instead of a special-purpose computer operating system, he said, the Machine will initially have a version of the popular Linux system.

Memristors are still on the table and HP is aiming to have them inside the system when it makes its market debut five years from now.

Next year’s promised Machine could still be impressive. Mr. Fink said it would have 320 terabytes of memory, compared with 12 terabytes in the most memory-rich computers HP now offers.

Intel and Micron 3D Xpoint

3D Xpoint has 128 gigabit array memory chips which is non-volatile (does not electricity to retain memory) and has 10s nanosecond read latency.

Volume production at a fabrication plant in Utah is expected in 2016. Claimed operating speed and write durability are both up to 1,000 times higher than flash memory.

While NAND flash uses electric charge and block addressing to store data, 3D XPoint uses electrical resistance and is bit addressable. Individual data cells do not need a transistor, so packing density will be 8-10 times greater than DRAM, and similar to NAND. Operating speed is expected to be slower than DRAM, while price per bit will be higher than NAND and lower than DRAM.

After looking through patents, he came to the following conclusions.

* if 3D Xpoint is really new and not a new composition recipe for PCM, then it is most likely some combination of a binary oxide, metal vanadium oxides (MVOs), or molecular device, with a second star for a born-again PCM.

* all that is required for 3DXPoint to be chalcogenide PCM-based is for Intel/Micron to have found or developed a new phase change memory material that at a low temperature has a high crystallization rate, equal or better than that of GST close to its melting point, combined with an activation energy of crystallization that moves its crystallization rate at elevated temperature well outside the planned operating chip temperature range.

* Is it possible that Intel/Micron have found or developed such a Golden++ material from the chalcogenide family of compounds? Or is there some property of the chalcogenides that has not yet been exploited? On the balance of probability my answer would be no. I would look somewhere else for what is under the hood of 3D XPoint.

3D XPoint Innovations

Cross Point Array Structure
Perpendicular conductors connect 128 billion densely packed memory cells. Each memory cell stores a single bit of data. This compact structure results in high performance and high density.

The initial technology stores 128Gb per die across two stacked memory layers. Future generations of this technology can increase the number of memory layers and/or use traditional lithographic pitch scaling to increase die capacity.

Memory cells are accessed and written or read by varying the amount of voltage sent to each selector. This eliminates the need for transistors, increasing capacity and reducing cost.

Fast Switching Cell
With a small cell size, fast switching selector, low-latency cross point array, and fast write algorithm, the cell is able to switch states faster than any existing nonvolatile memory technologies today.

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