One technology that Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) has been promoting for quite some time is 3D XPoint, a new non-volatile memory technology that it co-developed with memory specialist Micron (NASDAQ: MU).
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3D XPoint is interesting because it promises dramatic improvements in performance compared to traditional NAND flash -- the storage medium at the heart of today's solid-state storage solutions spanning from smartphones to data centers.
Though, to be fair, 3D XPoint is also dramatically more expensive than NAND flash.
Intel's first 3D XPoint products have been ultra-fast (and ultra-expensive) storage drives targeted at data center applications and small solid-state drives intended for use as cache memories in personal computers.
Thanks to a new leak from computer hardware review website Gamers Nexus (via VideoCardz), we now have some details about Intel's upcoming Optane-based storage drives for the enthusiast/high-end gaming segment.
Two capacities, coming next month
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Per the Intel slide published by Gamers Nexus, Intel's upcoming 3D XPoint-based storage devices for the enthusiast segment will be marketed under the name Intel Optane SSD 900P. These will apparently be PCI Express add-in cards (just as Intel's data center-oriented storage drives -- both NAND flash and 3D XPoint based -- are) and come in 280 GB and 480 GB capacities.
Those familiar with typical solid-state storage drives, will know that those capacities are pretty small compared to typical NAND flash-based drives. For example, high-end NAND flash based storage drives, like the Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) SSD 960 Pro come in capacities of up to 2 TB (that's 2,000 GB).
However, given that this technology is relatively new, 3D XPoint-based drives with NAND flash-like capacities, particularly for the consumer/enthusiast space, are unlikely to be economically feasible.
Indeed, while pricing of these drives hasn't yet leaked, I'd be quite surprised if the 280 GB model retailed for under $800. The 480 GB model could easily cost north of $1,000.
But, Intel isn't aiming these drives at cost conscious consumers, who will almost certainly opt for either standard NAND-flash based solid state drives, traditional hard disk drives, or some combination of both. Instead, these drives are going to be aimed at the same crowd that won't flinch at the thought of spending between $1,000 and $2,000 for Intel's Core i9 high-end desktop processors.
Intel may soon be back on top
One gap that has existed in Intel's storage product portfolio has been a compelling offering for the enthusiast portion of the personal computer market.
Intel made waves with its SSD 750-series of solid state drives. Those drives were pricey, but when they launched in the second quarter of 2015, as well as for quite some time after, they were considered the fastest consumer-grade solid state drives that one could buy.
However, between then and now, Samsung released its 960 EVO and the higher-end 960 Pro lines of solid state drives. These generally offered better performance than the Intel drives at lower cost-per-gigabyte price points.
Additionally, while the Intel SSD 750 series topped out at 1.2 TB of capacity, the Samsung 960 Pro is offered in a 2 TB capacity.
The new Optane SSD 900 drives obviously won't put it back in the running with Samsung's 960 EVO and 960 Pro products in the consumer NAND-flash solid state drive space, but what they are likely to do is give PC enthusiasts the option to buy non-volatile storage drives from Intel that offer the best possible storage performance -- even at a significant premium.
I don't expect the impact of the launch of these enthusiast-grade Optane-based solid state drives to Intel's non-volatile solutions group, or NSG for short, to be financially significant.
But, considering that Intel is already developing this technology for its major data center customers, and considering how easy it is for Intel to simply bring this technology to the enthusiast desktop market, this should lead to easy money for Intel and help build the value of Intel's brand among PC enthusiasts and storage drive aficionados worldwide.
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