While today's Intel event was mostly focused on the announcement of their Optane DIMMs, they have also provided updates on their plans for using their new QLC NAND flash memory. Intel and Micron jointly announced their 64-layer 4 bit per cell (QLC) 3D NAND flash memory earlier this month, but at that time only Micron announced a specific product: the 5210 ION enterprise SATA SSD. Intel still hasn't officially launched any QLC-based SSDs, but they have now confirmed two different QLC SSDs in development.

For the client market, Intel will introduce a QLC-based SSD in the second half of this year. While still officially unnamed, we expect this to be the Intel SSD 660p that has shown up on several leaked roadmaps and a few unofficial online retailer product listings. Those leaks point to a low-end M.2 SSD with a PCIe x2 interface and capacities up to 2TB.

On the enterprise side, Intel has put up to 20TB of QLC NAND into a 2.5-inch drive. During today's discussions about Optane at Intel HQ, one of Intel's partners accidentally disclosed that they were working with 20 TB sized QLC drives in a 2.5-inch form factor - this is most likely a 15mm thick U.2 NVMe SSD. That would be positioned below the Intel SSD DC P4510 TLC-based SSD family that currently offers up to 8TB in a 2.5" 15mm U.2 form factor. Intel is currently sampling enterprise QLC drives to select cloud service providers and OEMs, and production availability is planned for the second half of this year. It is not confirmed whether the 20TB capacity will be available for that initial launch, but it seems likely. Even higher capacities may be available in Intel's Ruler form factor.

At the event, Intel was presenting with a laptop using a QLC, so there are engineering samples around. We were unable to determine if this was a 2.5-inch drive or an M.2 drive.

Intel is currently manufacturing all of their 3D NAND at Fab 68 in Dalian, China. A major expansion to this fab is coming online soon that will increase its capacity by 75%. The joint Intel/Micron Fab 2 in Utah is no longer producing 3D NAND and has been converted entirely to producing 3D XPoint memory. With Intel and Micron's NAND flash partnership coming to an end as Micron prepares to switch to a charge-trap memory cell design after the 96-layer generation, the IM Flash Technologies joint venture could use a renaming to reflect its 3D XPoint future.

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  • The Chill Blueberry - Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - link

    R.I.P HDDs
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - link

    Projections for when the raw price per TB crosses over to favor SSDs are in the mid 2020's.

    SSDs have already won for anything IO limited and for power limited cases (eg laptops), but even with data center pricing built in spinning rust is still cheaper for bulk near/offline storage (eg the farcebook posts you made a year ago that only a stalker will be looking at and various other forms of backup/archival data).
  • Billy Tallis - Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - link

    The crossover isn't a single threshold. We're already at the point where a 120GB SSD is cheaper than a 120GB hard drive. That capacity point is on the rise, and in a few years SSDs will have displaced hard drives over the entire capacity range that makes sense for local storage in consumer machines.
  • Glaurung - Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - link

    Does anybody make 120gb hard drives anymore?

    Another way of looking at it: a basic 240gb SSD costs slightly more than a 500gb desktop hard disk, or less for laptop drives. *But*, if you only need 200gb of storage, then for essentially the same amount of money, you are *far* better off buying the SSD, even though it's more expensive per GB. If all those cheap gigabytes on the hard drive will never get filled, then buy the SSD instead.

    In my case, I ran out of room on a 250gb hard drive a decade ago, but I've never needed to upgrade past 500gb of storage in all the time since then. When I had the chance to buy a 500gb SSD, I took it, and sold my data drive.
  • boozed - Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - link

    "a basic 240gb SSD costs slightly more than a 500gb desktop hard disk"

    Blimey. In my neck of the woods, the crossover's between 1 and 2TB HDDs.
  • stephenbrooks - Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - link

    I'd like to have 2TB of storage because with games running at 10GB each, I could leave my Steam stuff installed. At that capacity, the gulf between SSD and HDD pricing is enormous. Using a small SSD and large HDD is a bit pointless because I'd then have a fast bootup time (when I only reboot about once per month) and slow game load times, which happen more frequently.

    As it stands, I'll probably migrate from a 1TB HDD to a 1TB SSD, with no increase in storage capacity over almost a decade.
  • Spunjji - Thursday, May 31, 2018 - link

    Most game load times don't benefit a lot from SSD storage. OS and application load times, on the other hand, really really do - especially with Windows 10.

    Given how steam works now I just run as many games as possible on an average-sized SSD and archive older games to slower drives.
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, May 31, 2018 - link

    It's not just about loading one level. People look at "game loading" as this monolithic, one-time event, but in reality many games stream assets over time and can be very I/O intensive at any time in-game. MMOs are a particular standout in this regard, where many CPU cycles are busy communicating with the server and hard drive latency compounds problems like lag spikes and textures/assets not loading. Open world games often fall victim to HDD access times as well, the same is true of crafting/collection games with large item/consumable menus. The CPU hangs while waiting for the HDD to catch up. Even with 32GB of RAM in my machine, playing games off my SSD makes a dramatic difference when playing Rift, Destiny 2, Borderlands 2, etc. Shower With Your Dad Simulator, not so much.
  • xTRICKYxx - Sunday, July 8, 2018 - link

    Andrew gets it.
  • rahvin - Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - link

    Even today most of the spinning rust is in the cloud, the vast majority of new conventional hard disks are being sold into the cloud providers with an ever smaller percentage directly in machines and a small remaining percentage in back up type usb drives. I think there will still be a market for the massive usb backup drives, particularly with spinning rust topping out at 12tb and soon to be 18tb or more for a 3.5. But I do agree that the embedded drives in the computer are all going to be NAND very soon. Most cases designed in the last year or two don't even include drive slots for either 3.5 or 5 1/4. Most only have a few mounts for 2.5".

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