Evidence for Intel’s gen-4 Optane program emerges

An aerial view shows the Intel Rio Rancho campus in New Mexico. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

While checking out 3D XPoint’s manufacturing location – Intel’s Rio Rancho fab in New Mexico – we came across evidence that Intel had a gen-4 Optane development in April 2020.

Optane uses 3D XPoint technology which features a two-layer or deck crosspoint array with phase change memory cells and selectors providing a non-volatile memory that is faster than flash but not as fast as DRAM. Intel has locked its use to features in Xeon processors with each XPoint generation requiring a specific class of Xeon processor.

Optane products area available in DIMM (PMem) or slower SSD format and their capacity depends upon the capacity of the 3D XPoint die used to build them. Unlike 3D NAND, increasing XPoint layering is more complex and, so far, we have seen gen-1 (Apache Pass) with two layers and gen-2 (Barlow Pass) with four layers.

The Barlow Pass products, using gen-2 3D XPoint, were launched in December 2020.

Intel has mentioned two further generations in various presentations over the past couple of years, but with few specifics.

Intel Optane future slide

We have gathered together what we know and think we know about 3D XPoint generations in the following table:

The text in red represents our questions/assumptions.

The gen-4 program giveaway was in a video about the Rio Rancho site, called “The Epicentre of Intel Optane Technology” dated 10 April 2020. 

Screenshot from Intel Rio Rancho video – “The Epicentre of Intel Optane Technology

It contained a contribution by Darren Denardis, who was titled 4th Gen Optane Program Manager. 

What he said was generic – Intel and Rio Rancho are both great stuff. He didn’t say anything specific about gen-4 Optane.

An odd thing is that LinkedIn knows nothing about Darren Denardis; a search returns “No results found”. He is listed as a symposium organiser from Intel for the 2010 Materials Research Society Spring Meeting and has various patents listed by Justia. We have asked Intel if he is still working on the 4th gen Optane program. If and when we get an answer we’ll update this article.