3D Xpoint™ technology wafers are currently running in production lines at Intel Micron Flash Technologies fab. Image and caption courtesy of Intel

Chip makers Micron and Intel have announced a new form of computer memory that promises faster, more reliable storage than current technologies, in a smaller space and at similar prices. The technology could reduce the distinction between memory and storage within computers and provide a faster, more stable way of storing large Raw and video files.

The companies say that the 3D XPoint technology offers many of the speed advantages of DRAM (used as computer memory) with the price and storage capabilities of the NAND technology used in the solid state drives that are increasingly replacing hard drives. The new technology will tolerate 1000x more read/write cycles than NAND does, the companies say, making it more dependable than current SSDs.

Rather than using hard-to-build transistors as switches, the 3D XPoint (pronounced cross-point) technology features billions of individual memory cells sandwiched between arrays of wires set at right-angles to one another. Applying different voltages to specific pairs of wires allows individual memory cells to be addressed. The memory cells can each hold a single binary bit of data and can switch states much more quickly than existing technologies.

The companies herald 3D XPoint as the first new memory technology to be developed since NAND, over 25 years ago. Like NAND, 3D XPoint is non-volatile, meaning that it holds its data even when unpowered but, unlike NAND, it is tolerant of many more read/write cycles, making it more attractive as a long-term storage medium. In addition, the speed of the system is said to be nearer that of DRAM, making it much quicker to access the increasingly large data files that contemporary photography and videography can create.

The examples shown-off by Intel and Micron are based on two layers of memory cells but say that this could be increased. Equally, while the relatively simple fabrication of the structures allows them to pack data more densely than existing NAND designs, both makers say that this can be further improved as lithographic production pushes towards ever smaller scales.

Products based on the technology should be on the market as early as next year, the developers say.