Can Toshiba's XL-FLASH SLC compete with Intel in the storage-class memory market?

Toshiba's new XL-FLASH product can be used as storage-class memory or for traditional SSDs.

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On Monday, Toshiba Memory America introduced a new storage-class memory (SCM) product, putting it head-to-head with 3DXPoint, which is sold by Intel under the Optane brand name, and marketed by Micron as QuantX (though Micron has yet to sell any QuantX-powered products at retail).

The new offering from Toshiba (which is pending a rebranding to Kioxia America, starting in October) differs from 3DXPoint in a significant way, however. While 3DXPoint was built from scratch (more or less, it bears some resemblance to ReRAM), Toshiba's XL-FLASH offering is essentially a high speed, super-dense, single-level cell NAND—bringing with it the nonvolatile properties and higher densities inherent to NAND, but with access times and write endurance closer to traditional DRAM.

"Sitting in between DRAM and NAND flash, XL-FLASH brings increased speed, reduced latency
and higher storage capacities – at a lower cost than traditional DRAM," according to a press release. "XL-FLASH will initially be deployed in an SSD format but could be expanded to memory channel attached devices that sit on the DRAM bus, such as future industry standard non-volatile dual in-line memory modules (NVDIMMs)."

SEE: Special feature: Managing the multicloud (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

XL-FLASH will be produced in a 128 gigabit / 16 gigabyte die, and sold in 2-die, 4-die, and 8-die packages, with Toshiba touting it as "[providing] a low read latency of less than 5 microseconds, approximately 10 times faster than existing TLC."

The differentiation between SLC and TLC NAND is an important one: As the number of bits per cell increases, the endurance decreases. As explained in TechRepublic's Flash storage cheat sheet, SLC NAND offers relatively low capacities, though it can withstand approximately 100,000 write/erase cycles per block. For comparison, 3D TLC NAND—which is widely deployed in client SSDs—is rated for 1,000 to 3,000 cycles. 

While the controllers inside SSDs manage block health to prolong the lifespan and ensure consistent performance, workloads between SSDs and RAM vary significantly. The increased write endurance provided by SLC NAND—such as Toshiba's XL-FLASH—can be used for write-heavy workloads for RAM, as well as in mission-critical client SSDs where write endurance is prioritized over mass storage capabilities.

For more, check out "How Intel Optane DC Persistent Memory could up capacity, lower cost of in-memory databases" and "Redis and Intel partner for Optane in-memory database solutions to increase performance" on TechRepublic.

Also see

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Image: Toshiba

By James Sanders

James Sanders is a staff technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI/ML, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on ...