Will faster data storage and chips with built-in lasers help turn Intel around?
THE WORLD’S biggest chipmaker says it’s time to start building computers differently. Intel executives recently showed off two new technologies for storing data and moving it around that could shake up established ways of designing computers. The new technologies are primarily being targeted at the giant data centres that power mobile apps, websites, and emerging ideas in artificial intelligence. They could also appear in consumer products.
Intel needs some new markets. In April, the company announced it was laying off 12,000 workers and abandoning making chips for mobile devices, a huge market Intel missed out on. The company has also had to slow the pace at which it brings out new generations of smaller transistors, a trend that has underpinned the industry and Intel’s business for decades.
One of Intel’s new technologies is a form of data storage that’s faster than the flash disks used in laptops and data centres today. Intel calls it Optane. It is based on technology called 3D Xpoint, developed in collaboration with memory manufacturer Micron. Intel has not disclosed how 3D Xpoint works, but it is believed to write data by heating a glass-like “phase change” material. Intel says it will launch Optane disks in 2016 and memory chips that fit into the same slots as a computer’s RAM in 2017. It says an Optane drive can locate and access a piece of data in a tenth the time a flash disk, or SSD, would need.