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Intel's XPoint emperor has no clothes, only soiled diapers

Micron's deafening silence on space-age memory chip tech

Opinion Intel's XPoint marketing is such frenetic, hype-filled BS that it is setting up the world to be utterly underwhelmed by the reality.

We have had a mini deluge of XPoint memory chip news recently, with Frank Hady – Intel Fellow and Chief 3D XPoint Storage Architect – giving a pitch at the 7th Annual Non-Volatile Memories Workshop 2016 at UC San Diego, and with Intel demo'ing an Optane SSD at its IDF 2016 event in Shenzhen, China.

Yet from Micron, listen as hard as we can, all we hear is a deadening silence. Why is this?

It's the way the Intel-Micron joint venture is structured. According to people not a million miles away from Intel and Micron XPoint activities, their XPoint JV is 51 per cent owned by Micron, and 49 per cent by Intel. Micron has the right to buy out Intel's share, but Intel doesn't have a reciprocal right. This asymmetry affects the marketing/PR side of the XPoint JV as well, with Intel allowed to do as it's doing and Micron effectively hobbled for some period of time.

The hobble duration is not known, but we think it's measured in months rather than years.

Another aspect of the JV is that the XPoint chips come from one place and we can confidently assume that XPoint drives from either Intel or Micron will share the same basic performance details. Thus an Optane drive's latency, IOPS, throughput and endurance will basically be the same as a Micron XPoint drive, subject to firmware variations and market positioning.

Now, this "1,000 x" market positioning, as in XPoint being 1,000 times faster than flash and having 1,000 times more endurance. There will be venerable flash drives that are slow enough and short-lived enough to justify these ratios, but not enterprise-class stuff that's available today, and the latest XPoint performance stats revealed by Intel show this.

They confirmed the realization that's been dawning on us – that XPoint performance numbers are being wildly overstated.

Latest XPoint stats

An examination of the reported Hady presentation and the IDF Shenzhen demo revealed these XPoint Optane gen 1 numbers:

  • 20nm process
  • SLC (1 bit/cell)
  • 7 microsec latency, or 7,000 nanoseconds
  • 78,500 (70:30 random) read/write IOPS
  • NVMe interface

Well, at last, real numbers. So XPoint is 1,000 times faster than SSDs, with an Intel PC3700 PCIe flash card having a latency of 85 microseconds; yeah, right, prepare to be under-freaking-whelmed by XPoint's latency.

It is only 12 times faster than a modern Intel PCIe flash card, 16 times faster than a Micron NVMe 7100 or 9100 flash drive's read latency, and a mere six times faster than said drives' write latency.

The random IOPS numbers are a miserly five times faster than the PC3700's 70:30 random read/write 15,000 IOPS.

So here is a bomb detonated under the XPoint-is-1,000-times-faster claim, which is shown to overstate the speed difference tenfold. This is a brass neck of giraffe proportions.

With such a devastating difference between reality and claim on the latency and IOPS fronts, we are really doubtful about the 1,000 times longer endurance claim as well.

Please stop this unrealistic marketing hype around XPoint. It's shiny, brown and creamy crap; everyone knows it, and your XPoint emperor has no clothes, only soiled diapers. Enough already. ®

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