In a sudden but perhaps not too surprising announcement, Micron has stated that they are ceasing all R&D of 3D XPoint memory technology. Intel and Micron co-developed 3D XPoint memory, revealed in 2015 as a non-volatile memory technology with higher performance and endurance than NAND flash memory.

Intel has been responsible for almost all of the commercial volume of 3D XPoint-based products, under their Optane brand for both NVMe SSDs and persistent memory modules in the DIMM form factor. Micron in 2016 announced their QuantX brand for 3D XPoint products, but never shipped anything under that brand. Their first and only real product based on 3D XPoint was the X100 high-end enterprise SSD which saw very limited release to close partners. Micron has now decided that further work to commercialize 3D XPoint memory isn't worth the investment.

Micron currently owns the only fab equipped to mass-produce 3D XPoint memory: the Lehi, Utah fab that was formerly the home of the Intel-Micron flash and 3D XPoint joint venture IMFT. Intel and Micron began splitting up their partnership in 2018, first parting ways for 3D NAND flash memory development, followed by dissolving the 3D XPoint partnership after completing development on the second generation 3D XPoint. In 2019, Micron exercised their rights to buy out Intel's share of the IMFT fab, leaving Micron as the sole owner of the fab and Intel in the position of buying 3D XPoint wafers from Micron to use in Optane products. Intel's Optane products have not been enough to fully utilize the capacity of that fab, and Micron's non-GAAP operating profits have been taking a hit of over $400 million per year in underutilization charges.

Micron is now putting that 3D XPoint fab up for sale, and is currently engaged in discussions with several potential buyers. Intel is the most obvious potential buyer, having recently begun the long process of selling their NAND flash and flash-based SSD business to SK hynix while keeping their Optane products. Intel has already moved their 3D XPoint R&D to Rio Rancho, NM but has not built up any 3D XPoint mass production capacity of their own; buying the Lehi, UT fab would save them the trouble of equipping eg. their NAND fab in Dalian, China to also manufacture 3D XPoint.

However, Intel is not guaranteed to be the buyer of the Lehi, UT fab. They've doubtless had opportunities to do so before as Intel and Micron unwound their partnership. Micron states that the Lehi, UT fab could be used to produce analog or logic ICs, not just memory—and that converting it to large-scale manufacturing of DRAM or NAND flash memory would not be as appealing to Micron as simply expanding capacity at their other existing fabs. With widespread semiconductor shortages affecting almost all corners of the industry, this fab is likely to sell quickly even if the buyer needs to put substantial effort into retooling.

Micron does not have a direct replacement lined up for 3D XPoint memory technology, but continues R&D into new memory and storage technologies. Micron's announcement is emphasizing a pivot toward developing memory products that will use the Compute Express Link (CXL) interface, which promises to be a vendor-neutral interface for DRAM and non-volatile memories such as 3D XPoint.

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Source: Micron

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  • Adramtech - Wednesday, March 17, 2021 - link

    "while seemingly having difficulty selling a die themselves" They didn't even try to make more than one product to sell. The X100 was the only product.
  • romrunning - Wednesday, March 17, 2021 - link

    Yeah, Micron really had the worst marketing for 3DXP. They didn't even want to seed X100 products among reviewers, it seemed.

    So when you have virtually no push yourself to get your product into the enterprise (or even consumer side) and you also have basically one major customer, then yeah, you're not going to make more money with it. Pretty bad business planning & execution on Micron's part.
  • Silver5urfer - Wednesday, March 17, 2021 - link

    Why would you even need 3DX Point or Optane, when you have the lowest quality garbage like QLC and PLC and whatever LC is coming soon to the consumer market with tons of bs variations with controllers, DRAM, SLC level caching and what not.

    The R&D is high but the rewards would benefit everyone, they do not want that since they want easy cash and cheap ways to get billions which is where NAND is at along with the <infinite>LC SSDs flooding the market now even Chinese are going to flood the market.
  • Oxford Guy - Thursday, March 18, 2021 - link

    'Why would you even need 3DX Point or Optane, when you have the lowest quality garbage like QLC and PLC and whatever LC is coming soon to the consumer market with tons of bs variations with controllers, DRAM, SLC level caching and what not.'

    It is absolutely worth losing 90% endurance, increasing latency by 3000%, and increasing power usage by 250% to get 10% more density!
  • Lolimaster - Wednesday, March 17, 2021 - link

    And I was hoping new SSDs with xpoint as a non volatile extra cache after ram where with the option allocate most frequent used data.
  • shabby - Wednesday, March 17, 2021 - link

    Hope there's a fire sale
  • CiccioB - Wednesday, March 17, 2021 - link

    Hope not, or many will just get burned...
  • CiccioB - Wednesday, March 17, 2021 - link

    Nooo.. the most promising technology that was not just on paper (or an idea) has been (half) scrapped.
    What a pity. I would have really liked a 3D XPoint SSD at a decent price.

    NAND is just becoming worse and worse each generation.. it won't be much longer that it will have to be replaced before extra silicon needed to try to correct (and most probably guess) the right content of the wearing cells will be bigger (and more power consuming) than the section containing those memory cells.

    Hope that Intel will believe in it and will continue develop it to decrease its costs and improve quality.
  • t.s - Wednesday, March 17, 2021 - link

    Not gonna happen. Intel pricing their 3D XPoint at half DRAM price. And knowing intel, they rather euthanize the product rather than changing their plan.
  • tommo1982 - Wednesday, March 17, 2021 - link

    Too bad. When Micron bought Intel's share I thought XPoint will become widely available. Intel actually killed it making some of XPoint based products Intel bound. I'd buy a 500GB M.2 drive even if it were more expensive than NAND.

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