When Intel first discussed non-volatile memory – meaning more specifically RAM that was able to retain data storage even after power was withdrawn – it was in 2015 and the name of the project was 3D Xpoint. Today, as Ars Technica reports, Intel has announced the existence of what they are now calling Optane memory. Coming in the physical form factor of a typical DDR4 RAM module, but clocking in at hefty sizes such as 128gb, 256gb, and 512gb per stick, Optane memory appears to be set to revolutionize the personal computer marketplace.
The possibilities are extremely positive if things work out as planned, providing the opportunity for large-scale networks and databases to function much more efficiently. The reasoning, when simplified, states that because memory can be stored indefinitely in what were hitherto temporary caches, access and transfer speeds can be improved by an enormous quotient. When the data is already there, right where you left it, but can be accessed, moved, copied, and read much more quickly and in much greater volume, the system bottleneck shifts away from the RAM and onwards to the most vulnerable part in the process. Depending on the express purpose of each custom-built rig, whether it's gaming (straining the GPU and RAM) or database administration and storage (calling for more memory, and faster transactions) each primary purpose could be improved by a significant improvement to the basic architecture of what we currently understand to be temporary RAM buffers.
With their marketing materials loudly boasting up to two times faster general tasking, 3.2 times faster level-loading, and three times faster preparation of large media files for desktop computers – and comparable numbers being offered for laptop users – Intel seems to be staking a huge claim to the cutting edge of PC tech with this announcement. How traditional manufacturers such as Corsair, Kingston, G.Skill and others react to the Optane in the coming year remains to be seen. DDR4 is becoming the bog standard for new builds, with DDR3 still hanging on to a respectable share of the market but slipping month after month and year over year.
Intel is being somewhat tight-lipped about the deep specifications of the product, though they are promising the earliest test modules to certain developers bound by a non-disclosure agreement later this year. Wider release is anticipated to be shown to vendors and the general public sometime in 2019, though it should be noted that the Optane DDR4 is meant to be expressly paired with the next-generation Intel Xeon processors and may not function optimally, or at all, with incompatible CPUs.