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Mystery in memory: Why 3D XPoint is not PCM

Posted: 01 Sep 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Intel? 3D XPoint? PCM? memory? NVM Express?

Micron and Intel have been extremely tight-lipped as regards the technology behind their recently announced 3D XPoint memory. The clandestine device has undoubtedly afforded the engineering and design community a fun challenge amid phrases that include "new recipe," "bulk switching," "fundamental and new."

What could it be? Can work out what is under the hood before the actually technology underlying 3D XPoint memory is revealed, bearing in mind that most new developments that are successfully turned into products are based on evolution, not revolutionary breakthroughs?

One approach to solving the mystery is searching through patents, as well as literature and personnel who work at Intel and Micron now and where they have worked in the past.

My own initial reading of the runes came from looking at the memory technologies the two companies have previously disclosed they are interested in or involved with and try to cross-correlate to where to find something new might have originated, such as Intel's work on NVM Express and Micron's work on phase change memory (PCM), while eliminating what the companies involved suggest it isn't, non-filamentary, for example, with the acronym ReRAM seeming to be something they want to avoid at all costs.

3D XPoint memory

The result is shown in the image above and leads one to conclude that if it is really new and not a new composition recipe for PCM, then it is most likely some combination of a binary oxide, metal vanadium oxides (MVOs), or molecular device, with a second star for a born-again PCM.


There are some other considerations, related to crystal growth rates that might help to make the case against a PCM-based 3DXPoint and its claimed write/erase performance. These start with the work of IBM over its complete temperature range from room temperature up to its melting point. From that data I constructed, the curve is shown in the image above, which for the first time that I am aware provides a continuum linking PCM SET time to elevated temperature data retention time for two planar PCM cell structures.

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