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Intel's new storage chip is 1,000 times faster than flash memory

Intel and Micron have a new way to store data that they say is denser, tougher, and faster than the competition, and it's already starting production. In a live keynote today, the companies announced 3D Xpoint, a new category of non-volatile memory that claims to be 1,000 times faster than the NAND architecture underlying most flash memory cards and solid state drives. The new architecture does without transistors entirely, relying on a bulk material property change to switch bits from a low-resistance to a high-resistance state. From there, memory cells are layered in an intricate three-dimensional checkerboard pattern that Intel researchers say is 10 times denser than conventional memory.

"For decades, the industry has searched for ways to reduce the lag time between the processor and data to allow much faster analysis," said Intel VP Rob Crooke in a statement. "This new class of non-volatile memory achieves this goal and brings game-changing performance to memory and storage solutions."

The limitations of the new memory class are still unclear, but its earliest applications are likely to be in real-time data analysis, where fast access to large datasets is at a premium. Intel singled out fraud detection and disease tracking as likely early applications, but said the chip could also be used to power more immersive gaming experiences if brought to the PC. Because the memory is durable and non-volatile, it's likely to be used primarily for long-term storage, but executives at the keynote said fast access to that long-term data could enable entirely new applications for everyday services.