It looks like the end of Intel’s beleaguered Optane memory business may be in sight. The brutal Q2 2022 earnings release for the company (more on that later today) is a very interesting statement in the section dealing with non-GAAP adjustments: In Q2 2022, we began to spin off our Intel Optane memory business. Also, Intel’s earnings report notes that the company is taking a $559 million “Optane inventory impairment” charge this quarter.
Other than those two items, there was no further information about Optane in Intel’s earnings release or their associated presentation deck. We have contacted company representatives for additional information and are awaiting a response.
Taking these elements at face value, it appears that Intel is preparing to stop developing its Optane memory business and related 3D XPoint technology. To be sure, there’s a high degree of nuance around the Optane name and product lines – which is why we’re seeking clarification from Intel – as Intel has several Optane products, including “Optane memory” “Optane persistent memory” and “Optane SSD -s”. However, in Intel’s previous earnings releases and other financial documents, the entire Optane business unit has traditionally been referred to as their “Optane memory business”, so it appears that Intel is indeed discontinuing the Optane business unit and not just the Optane Memory product.
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After our inquiry, Intel sent a brief statement regarding Optane’s discontinuation. While not offering further details on Intel’s exit, it does confirm that Intel has indeed exited the entire Optane business.
We continue to rationalize our portfolio in support of our IDM 2.0 strategy. This includes evaluating businesses that are not sufficiently profitable or core to our strategic objectives. After careful consideration, Intel plans to discontinue further product development under its Optane business. We are committed to supporting Optane customers during the transition.
Intel, for its part, used 3D XPoint as the basis for two product lines. For data center customers, it offered Optane Persistent Memory, which packs 3D XPoint into DIMMs, partially replacing traditional DRAMs. Optane DIMMs offered greater bit density than DRAM, and their persistent, non-volatile nature combined made them an attractive proposition for systems that needed massive sets of working memory and could benefit from their volatile nature, such as database servers. At the same time, Intel used 3D XPoint as the basis for several storage products, including high-performance SSDs for the server and client markets, and as a smaller high-speed cache for use with slower NAND SSDs.
However, 3D XPoint’s unique attributes have also been a challenge for Intel since the technology’s launch. Despite being designed to scale through stacking, 3D XPoint production costs per bit continued to be higher than NAND, making the technology significantly more expensive than higher-performance SSDs. At the same time, Optane DIMMs filled unique space, were equally expensive, and offered slower transfer speeds than DRAM. So, despite Intel’s efforts to offer a product that can cross the two product areas, for workloads that do not benefit from the unique capabilities of the technology, 3D XPoint was not as good at its tasks as either DRAM or NAND – it produced Optane products. hard sell.
As a result, Intel has been losing money for most (if not all) of its life, including its Optane business. Hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020. Intel doesn’t regularly release Optane revenue data, but on the one-off occasions they do publish these numbers, they’ve gotten good results based on operating income. This was also claimed by the reports of Blocks & Files Intel is sitting on a significant oversupply of 3D XPoint chips – on the two-year inventory order as of the beginning of this year. All of this highlights the challenges Intel faces in selling its Optane products, and adds to the write-off/magic cost Intel is making today with $559 million in Optane impairment fees.
As a result, a potential break for Optane /3D XPoint has been in the tea leaves for some time now, and Intel is taking steps to change or reduce the business. Most notably, the dissolution of the Intel/Micron IMFT joint venture 3D left Micron with the sole manufacturing fab for XPointalways Micron abandoned its 3D XPoint plans. And after producing 3D XPoint memory by 2021, Micron eventually sold the fab to Texas Instruments for other uses. Since then, Intel hasn’t been able to get access to a high-volume fab for 3D XPoint – although if inventory reports are correct, they haven’t needed to produce more memory for quite some time.
On the product side, however, the discontinuation of the Optane business follows Intel’s earlier withdrawal from the client storage market. Although the company released two generations of Optane products for the data center market, it never released second-generation consumer products (such as the Optane 905P). And after selling its NAND business to SK Hynix (now operating as Solidigm), Intel no longer manufactures other types of consumer storage. So while the retirement of the remaining data center products is an unfortunate move, it is a logical next step.
Intel’s former Optane Persistent Memory Roadmap: It will never happen
Overall, Intel has chosen to discontinue the Optane/3D XPoint business at a critical time for the company. With Sapphire Rapids Xeon CPUs launching this year, Intel previously planned to introduce third-generation Optane products, most notably Crow Pass 3.rd next-generation DIMMs will update Optane DIMM technology to use the DDR5 interface, among other things. Even if Crow Pass development is complete or nearly complete at this point (given Intel’s development schedule and Sapphire Rapids delays), actually launching and supporting the product will still incur significant upfront and long-term costs and require Intel to purchase the technology. will require support. for another generation.
Instead of Optane persistent memory, Intel’s official strategy is to switch to CXL memory technology (CXL.mem), which allows adding volatile and non-volatile memory to the CPU over a CXL-capable PCIe bus. It can achieve many of the same goals as Optane (non-volatile memory, large capacities) without the expense of developing a completely separate memory technology. Sapphire Rapids, in turn, will be Intel’s first CPU to support CXL, and the overall technology has wider industry support.
AsteraLabs: CXL Memory Topology
Still, Intel’s retirement of Optane/3D XPoint marks an unfortunate end to an interesting product line. 3D XPoint DIMMs were a new idea, even if they weren’t fully functional, and 3D XPoint was made for ridiculously fast SSDs thanks to its massive random I/O advantage – a feature that no other SSD vendor can match. soon it will be fully repeatable at any time. So for the solid state storage market, this marks the end of an era.
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