Intel and its 3D XPoint memory have dominated recent headlines on NAND flash alternatives, but they’ve never been the only game in town. Everspin, a company whose technology we’ve covered several times in the past, announced today that they will bring new MRAM-based drives to market with new partners and commercial relationships.
In theory, as we’ve discussed before, MRAM could represent a so-called ‘Holy Grail’ — a non-volatile memory solution that is lower power than DRAM while offering improved performance. MRAM is extremely reliable (much more so than NAND flash) and should be faster than NAND flash, but its storage densities are much lower. Today, Everspin’s densest chips reach 256Mb per die. That’s not particularly large compared with even planar NAND, and the advent of 3D NAND has sent flash densities soaring.
Everspin’s new SSDs will be marketed under the nvNitro brand name, and will ship in 1GB and 2GB capacities. These small drives are intended to be used for accelerating storage workloads, not as bootable OS drives, and they offer 1.5 million IOPS with what Everspin terms “six microsecond end-to-end latency.” They can be mapped as either NVMe SSDs or as memory-mapped I/O. The longevity of MRAM means fancy controller schemes to implement wear leveling or write combining aren’t needed, though how much impact this will have on price is open to debate. Anandtech notes that the very high rated performance on these drives compares well against the fastest NAND you can buy today, though the capacity is obviously much smaller.
Everspin claims it will introduce 4GB – 16GB capacities this year in one part of its press release, but elsewhere refers to “capacity options ranging from 512MB to 8GB throughout the year.” Either way, it’s clear the company wants to make a name for itself in the storage market and is ramping towards the higher capacities that could make that possible.
What’ll be particularly interesting is to see how these drives stack up against both NAND flash and Intel’s 3D XPoint / Optane technology. Optane may well end up being the better comparison point — Intel is expected to bring 16GB and 32GB drives to market this year (which better matches the modest capacities of MRAM drives) and the two non-volatile storage technologies have similar claims of high reliability and superior-to-NAND performance. It may also prove to be the better price comparison, since the sheer volume of NAND produced each year makes it extremely difficult for challengers to match that memory’s price scaling.