As part of this year’s Intel’s Developer Forum, we had half expected some more insights into the new series of 3D XPoint products that would be hitting the market, either in terms of narrower time frames or more insights into the technology. Last year was the outing of some information, including the ‘Optane’ brand name for the storage version. Unfortunately, new information was thin on the ground and Intel seemed reluctant to speak any further about the technology that what had already been said.

What we do know is that 3D XPoint based products will come in storage flavors first, with DRAM extension parts to follow in the future. This ultimately comes from the fact that storage is easier to implement and enable than DRAM, and the characteristics for storage are not as tight as those for DRAM in terms of break-neck speed, latency or read/write cycles.

For IDF, Optane was ultimately relegated to a side presentation at the same time as other important talks were going on, and we were treated to discussions about ‘software defined cache hierarchy’ whereby a system with an Optane drive can define the memory space as ‘DRAM + Optane’. This means a system with 256GB of DRAM and a 768GB Optane drive can essentially act like a system with ‘1TB’ of DRAM space to fill with a database. The abstraction layer in the software/hypervisor is aimed at brokering the actual interface between DRAM and Optane, but it should be transparent to software. This would enable some database applications to move from ‘partial DRAM and SSD scratch space’ into a full ‘DRAM’ environment, making it easier for programming. Of course, the performance compared to an all-DRAM database is lower, but the point of this is to move databases out of the SSD/HDD environment by making the DRAM space larger.

Aside from the talk, there were actually some Optane drives on the show floor, or at least what we were told were Optane. These were PCIe x4 cards with a backplate and a large heatsink, and despite my many requests neither demonstrator would actually take the card out to show what the heatsink looked like. Quite apart from which, neither drive was actually being used - one demonstration was showing a pre-recorded video of a rendering result using Optane, and the other was running a slideshow with results of Optane on RocksDB.

I was told in both cases that these were 140 GB drives, and even though nothing was running I was able to feel the heatsinks – they were fairly warm to the touch, at least 40C if I were to narrow down a number.  One of the demonstrators was able to confirm that Intel has now moved from an FPGA-based controller down to their own ASIC, however it was still in the development phase.

Click through for high resolution

One demo system was showing results from a previous presentation given earlier in the lifespan of Optane: rendering billions of water particles in a scene where most of the scene data was being shuffled from storage to memory and vice versa. In this case, compared to Intel’s enterprise PCIe SSDs, the rendering reduced down from 22hr to ~9hr.

It's worth noting that we can see some BGA pads on the image above. The pads seem to be in an H shape, and there are several present, indicating that these should be the 3D XPoint ICs. Some of the pads are empty, suggesting that this prototype should be a model that offers a larger size. Given the fact that one of the benefits of 3D XPoint is density, we're hoping to see a multi-terabyte version at some point in the distant future.

The other demo system was a Quanta / Quanta Cloud Technology system node, featuring two Xeon E5 v4 processors and a pair of PCIe slots on a riser card – the Optane drive was put into one of these slots. Again, it was pretty impossible to see more of the drive aside from its backplate, but the onscreen presentation of RocksDB was fairly interesting, especially as it mentioned optimizing the software for both the hardware and Facebook.

RocksDB is a high-performance key/store database designed for fast embedded storage, used by Facebook, LinkedIn and Yahoo, but the fact that Facebook was directly involved in some testing indicates that at some level the interest in 3D XPoint will brush the big seven cloud computing providers before it hits retail. In the slides on screen, the data showed a 10x reduction in latency as well as a 3x improvement in database GETs. There was a graph plotted showing results over time (not live data), with the latency metrics being pretty impressive. It’s worth noting that there were no results shown for storing key/value data pairs.

Despite these demonstrations on the show floor, we’re still crying out for more information about 3D XPoint, how it exactly work (we have a good idea but would like confirmation), Optane (price, time to market) as well as the generation of DRAM products for enterprise that will follow. With Intel being comparatively low key about this during IDF is a little concerning, and I’m expecting to see/hear more about it during Supercomputing16 in mid-November. For anyone waiting on an Optane drive for consumer, it feels like it won’t be out as soon as you think, especially if the big seven cloud providers are wanting to buy every wafer from the production line for the first few quarters.

More images in the gallery below.


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  • bcronce - Friday, August 26, 2016 - link

    I assume it's similar, but a big issue with really high bandwidth low latency swap files is talking to a block device has to go through many many IO related abstract layers. If this new "optane" interface can remove most of the layers and mostly let the OS talk to the device as if it was just another bank of memory, that's a big win. Probably similar to how PAE works on 32bit CPUs.
  • JoeyJoJo123 - Friday, August 26, 2016 - link

    "Facebook and Intel are collaborating closely on Intel Optane technology..."

    That's all I needed to read. Never buying this crap. Facebook destroyed Oculus Rift and its goal of being an open VR platform. They'll destroy XPoint, as well.
  • Omoronovo - Friday, August 26, 2016 - link

    That's an incredibly short sighted (and, frankly, incorrect) view to have. Facebook have been a major force in the open hardware industry, they founded the Open Compute Project, open sourced their server designs and welcomed improvements and input from other companies.

    That Intel is collaborating with them - arguably on one of the largest hot data sets in the world - simply means that these devices are going to have far more useful real-world performance tuning before release instead of being optimised for marketing materials.
  • JoeyJoJo123 - Friday, August 26, 2016 - link

    Let's be real here, Facebook isn't winning any awards for humanism or receiving Nobel Peace Prizes for their outstanding dedication to user privacy. They're just about as evil as it gets for a corporation.

    Secondly, I am not incorrect, for two reasons: 1) My opinion that I dislike Facebook and everything they stand for cannot be incorrect, as it is just an opinion. 2) It is a fact that Facebook has altered Oculus Rift from being an open platform to being a closed platform.

    Oculus Rift was intended to be an open PC VR platform. They were bought out by Facebook. Then, behind closed doors, offer large sums of money to VR game developers (such as Croteam and their Serious Sam IP) to develop their games exclusive to Oculus Rift (with no support to HTC's Vive or Razer's OSVR). Based Croteam has turned down these offers so as to create open games for the VR community. This underhandedness was not a part of the Oculus Rift platform until Facebook stepped in. This move is done for business (ie: $$$) so as to lock people into the Oculus Rift platform to reap the benefit of future sales of VR headsets and Oculus Rift funded VR games.


    I'm not at all very trusting of Intel to begin with. But no way in hell do I trust Facebook with ANYTHING, and anything the Facebook touches turns to utter garbage. Intel + Facebook? Not touching it at all, not even with a 10 foot pole, as knowing Facebook, they'd turn right around and give me advertisements trying to sell me 11 foot poles.
  • Friendly0Fire - Friday, August 26, 2016 - link

    Oculus was *bought* by Facebook. 3D XPoint remains firmly an Intel project, they're just using Facebook for real life data and testing.

    So yes, you are entirely incorrect in the assumption that Facebook can somehow "destroy" XPoint.
  • Omoronovo - Friday, August 26, 2016 - link

    I don't bring my emotions into discussions about companies for this very reason - it makes you lose focus of the points at hand.

    Intel is working with a company that has an avid interest in helping them make a great product. Intel gets the benefit of some amazing engineering talent at facebook, a proper real-world data set to work out performance problems and get real world feedback, and Facebook gets to have a head start on building support for this kind of device to make their software and hardware environment better.

    I'm sorry to say, but your personal feelings towards either of these companies is completely immaterial to discussions about the technology itself. When the tech launches it can just as easily be used by humanitarian organizations, it doesn't mean Intel is going to ask PETA for engineering advice because of their higher moral ground (in your opinion).
  • JoeyJoJo123 - Friday, August 26, 2016 - link

    Completely missing the point that I, personally, will not be touching XPoint technology from here on out.

    >I'm sorry to say, but your personal feelings towards either of these companies is completely immaterial to discussions about the technology itself.
    You keep changing the subject here, dude. I'm allowed to most my opinions on technology articles. I don't really care if you're here to disagree with my opinions. And right now your opinion is that opinions are immaterial to technology articles. I'd disagree and say opinions have a fair place in any article, technology or not. If a technology article gets posted tomorrow stating that Intel's releasing a new chip called the 7990X Hyper-Extreme Edition for $1999, it is perfectly acceptable and reasonable for someone to post their _opinion_ that the chip is overpriced and isn't worth $1999. As a result, it's perfectly acceptable and reasonable for someone to post that they'd be abstaining from purchasing XPoint technology due to Intel's involvement with Facebook.

    Also, I've never implied that it made any sense for any engineering firm to ask animal rights groups such as PETA for engineering advice, so take your strawman back with you, because I don't want it.
  • DanNeely - Friday, August 26, 2016 - link

    fArseBook is a big enough company that they almost certainly use Intel CPUs, AMD CPUs, ARM SoCs, along with both AMD and NVidia GPUs in various products; and are a big enough customer that they probably have access to pre-release hardware for testing purpose. Are you also going to dump all of your mainstream computing hardware for some sort of oddball device with a MIPS cpu that requires you to compile 99.9% of your software from source because there aren't any binaries available to download?
  • woggs - Friday, August 26, 2016 - link

    Wow. Your loss. Please don't touch it.
  • CaedenV - Friday, August 26, 2016 - link

    exactly right. You, personally, will not be able to buy or use 3DxPt technology. Ever. Period. Get over it.
    It is an extremely expensive, extremely high-end Ram/storage consolidation technology for servers. I don't understand why people keep thinking they are going to be able to wake up one morning 2-3 years from now and just pick up one of these drives and expect it to work in a general purpose PC. You wont. You will have to buy it through a vendor, or already integrated into a server. Even if you could pop over to your local microcenter and pick one up... what on earth are you going to use it for? to have a 1 sec boot time on your PC? To load games a little faster? It is a complete misunderstanding of what the technology offers and what it will be really good at: Running large multi-user databases. For pretty much any other application you will be able to find much cheaper and nearly as fast (for single-user workloads) traditional storage options.
    Down the road (like 5-10 years from now) we will see the next iteration of this come out for consumer use and it will be built into the motherboard for devices like performance tablets and laptops. For desktops we will see other solutions that will be more appropriate, and probably more similar to HMC technology being developed in Japan right now.

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