Intel's Optane faces threat as Micron chases future QuantX tech

Micron is researching second- and third-generation 3D Xpoint storage technology

Intel made waves at CES in January with Optane, a new class of memory and storage that will supercharge PCs and servers.

But don't forget that Optane has competition. Memory company Micron is coming out with memory and storage based on the same underlying 3D Xpoint technology.

Intel and Micron jointly developed the first-generation 3D Xpoint technology, which was announced in 2015. The fruitful partnership is now turning into a healthy rivalry.

While Intel ships its first low-capacity Optanes for PCs, Micron is already researching the second- and third-generations of 3D Xpoint technology. Micron's 3D Xpoint products are called QuantX.

The companies believe 3D Xpoint products could ultimately replace conventional SSDs and DRAM in PCs and servers.

Intel has said Optane SSDs are 10 times faster than conventional SSDs. The companies say the new technology is significantly denser than DRAM.

The first low-capacity Optane storage should appear in PCs in the second quarter of this year. It will be used as cache to allow PCs to boot faster and load applications and games more quickly.

Micron has moved a bit slower and expects to ship its first QuantX products in small quantities by the end of the year, the company said during an earnings call in late January.

Micron has a different strategy than Intel for the development of QuantX. Instead of PCs, it will target high-capacity QuantX SSDs and DRAM at servers and high-end systems.

In the next-generation QuantX products, Micron wants to tack on more storage capacity and reduce latency, Scott DeBoer, vice president of Micron, said during an analyst meeting Scottsdale, Arizona, this week.

"This a real exciting technology for the future," DeBoer said.

There is significant interest in using both Optane and QuantX in data centers for applications like machine learning. The dual-threat ability for the technologies to be used as both memory and storage makes them handy for caching and hot and cold storage.

Micron won't offer the QuantX drives directly but will make it available through companies making storage products.

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