Intel paves way for 3D XPoint SSDs and memory to work on AMD PCs

The SSDs and DIMMs will work with standard storage and memory interfaces

Intel's lightning-fast Optane SSDs and memory won't be limited to PCs featuring the company's own chips, but could work with PCs based on AMD processors as well.

Intel wants to make adoption of Optane easy for makers of PCs and servers regardless of the chips they use, said Rob Crooke, senior vice president and general manager of the company's Non-Volatile Memory Solutions Group, in an interview. 

Optane is a brand name for a new class of storage and memory that could make PCs significantly faster. It is based on a technology called 3D XPoint, which Intel claims can be 10 times faster than flash storage and DRAM.

Facebook and Intel tested Optane SSD prototypes in servers and found that data throughput increased by three times, allowing for faster movement of data between the storage device and CPU, the companies said at the Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara, California, on Tuesday.

In a way, Intel is designing Optane to be backward-compatible with industry-standard interfaces so drives and memory can be plugged into existing slots. It's similar to the way the first SSDs were fit into slower SATA slots meant for hard drives, Crooke said. While that continues, SSDs that support the NVMe protocol -- a storage protocol based on PCI Express -- are being slotted into faster PCI Express 3.0 slots.

Optane's benefits will be clearly felt in gaming and server applications, Crooke said. For example, a particular game level can be pre-loaded on an SSD so users don't have to wait for chapters to load as they advance. The gaming experience will be "amazingly fast," Crooke said.

The first Optane SSDs will first be available at the end of the year for servers and high-end desktops. Some BIOS, engineering and validation work may be needed, but the goal is for Optane to work across PCs and servers. If a PC board supports NVMe then Optane may work with it, Crooke said.

Optane could be attractive to enthusiasts who buy or build gaming PCs with AMD's upcoming Zen chip, which will first be targeted at gamers. Some gaming PC motherboards for AMD processors that support NVMe are already available from companies like MSI and Gigabyte.

Similarly, Intel is building 3D XPoint memory to be compatible with an advanced DDR4 technology, which is based on an industry-standard interface. Intel has said it will ship memory DIMMs next year, but it has not specified an exact timeframe.

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