Intel lets us have a sneaky peek at 144-layer flash and gen 2 Optane plans

Intel’s Non-volatile Memory Solutions Group briefed the press today on its NAND and Optane plans and status. The TL;DR version is that Intel SSDs are all going 144-layer; gen 2 Optane drives will use PCIe gen 4 – and we’ll hear more in June.

Rob Crooke, head of Intel NSG, who led the briefing, said Keystone Harbor, a 144-layer 3D NAND, QLC SSD is on track to ship later this year. Also, Intel’s entire SSD portfolio will transition to 144-layer NAND in 2021. For collectors of Intel codewords, that technology is called Arbordale Plus.

See how Intel’s 144-layers compares to the competition

Crooke announced Intel QLC SSD shipments have surpassed 10 million units, citing “tremendous momentum” for a game-changing technology. He said Intel is still developing its PLC (5 bits per cell) SSD technology.

Intel will ship the Alder Stream Optane SSD in single port form this year and dual port form in 2021. Alder Stream uses second generation 3D XPoint media, with four layers instead of gen 1’s two. It has a new controller ASIC with new firmware and the aforementioned PCIe 4 link.

Gen 1 2-layer 3D XPoint diagram.

Alder Stream capacity points are still being planned. The current DC P4800X dual-port drive is available with 375GB, 750GB, and 1.5TB capacities. A simple doubling, consequent on the layer count doubling, would mean 3TB maximum capacity.

Crooke said Intel uses its Rio Rancho, New Mexico facility for Optane-branded 3D XPoint technology development and has a number of plants capable of making 3D XPoint chips but has not decided yet what goes where. In the meantime, the company retains a chip supply agreement with Micron.

3D XPoint media is used in the H10 drive, which twins it with QLC NAND, Optane SSDs and Optane Persistent Memory. Intel said it is seeing increased momentum with Optane. For example, more than 85 per cent of customers that run a proof-of-concept test go on to deploy Optane in production mode. Kristie Mann, Intel senior director for Optane DC persistent memory products, said more than 200 of the Fortune 500 are Optane customers.

She confirmed a gen 2 3D XPoint DIMM, codenamed Barlow Pass, will launch later this year and told us to expect an Optane update in June. Current gen 1 DIMM capacities are 128GB, 256GB and 512GB. Perhaps we’ll see a 1TB DIMM product as well as the Alder Stream product announced at the June event.

The company said it has no plans for external fit, portable Optane products.