Ahead of the Ice Lake Xeon launch which we are now expecting in a few months, Intel is discussing its latest Intel Optane Persistent Memory 200 or PMem 200 series. If this sounds a bit familiar, this is technically an existing product launched alongside 3rd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Cooper Lake Launched for 4P and 8P systems. Intel is positioning PMem 200 (formerly the first-gen DCPMM for the now PMem 100 generation) as a gap-filler between DRAM and its Optane SSDs such as the P5800X launched today.
Intel Optane Persistent Memory 200 or PMem 200 Series
Effectively what Intel is showing as part of its PMem 200 discussion is two main points. First, CPUs are now getting faster at a rate that is outpacing DRAM performance and capacity increases. At some point, to maintain or grow memory footprint per core, one needs to increase capacity, and DRAM growth is slowing.
We are not exactly sure what the big processor core count jump is, perhaps that is the Intel Xeon Platinum 9200 Series but Intel will effectively have a maximum of 28 cores from 2017 through 2020 with the public Ice Lake Xeon launch in 2021 returning the company to growth again. Alternatively, with the 2019 number they may be referencing the AMD EPYC Rome CPUs or alternatively some of the new Arm CPUs such as Graviton 2 or the Ampere Altra 80 core CPU we highlighted in our recent Kioxia CD6-L PCIe Gen4 NVMe SSD Review Ending Data Center SATA.
With the new PMem 200 series, the company is showing that while Optane SSDs are much faster than NAND SSDs, by being on the memory bus, Intel is able to provide an all-hardware data path and management for the PMem 200 modules, rather than having to go through software. This is a big performance lever.
Again, here are the specs for the new PMem 200 modules that are being shown as new today but announced with Cooper Lake 6 months ago.
One of the big features is eADR in the new modules. This new Enhanced Asynchronous DRAM Refresh is a new second-gen feature with PMem 200 modules.
There is a quick catch to all of this in Intel’s presentation that we are going to discuss in the summary.
Technically as part of the PMem 200 series announcement with Cooper Lake in June 2020, the company let the market know that the PMem 200 modules could do both app direct (storage) and memory modes. It even had the Memory Mode in the Cooper Lake Xeon release.
As we noted at the time, Cooper Lake does not support these new modules in Memory Mode. So the modules can be used to expand memory capacity, just not with all 3rd Gen Xeon Scalable SKUs. Only with Ice Lake Xeons. The good news is that pressure from AMD as well as the Arm players means that Intel has been easing its stance on charging significantly more for PMem and DRAM capacity limits, instead looking at SGX capabilities as a key SKU differentiator for Ice Lake Xeons.
Still, this is one of the most exciting aspects of Ice Lake Xeon series that we expect in the first half of 2021. We now have a Cooper Lake system in the lab but are still working on sourcing PMem 200 for it. Official guidance is that PMem 100 is not supported in Cooper Lake the last we checked.