NVRAM pace quickens with Nantero investment

Despite all the noise that Intel's costly 3D XPoint non-volatile RAM (NVRAM) has generated, they aren't alone. Nantero, whose Carbon NanoTube (CNT) NVRAM promises DRAM-like speed, nonvolatility and low cost, has closed another investment round with some very big names - and exciting product plans.

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Nantero is currently working with more than a dozen partners and customers to productize their CNT NVRAM. The technology has numerous potential applications and the first products are expected next year.

Investors

Nantero has raised over $120 million over the years, including this latest round of over $29 million they announced today. The strategic investors include Dell Technologies Capital, Cisco Investments, Kingston Technology, and three undisclosed "leading global companies in the semiconductor industry" presumably not including Intel. Former Intel partner Micron, perhaps?

The importance of the strategic investors, besides their money, is that these are savvy tech companies with respectable due diligence. While Nantero hasn't yet proved their processes can scale, they have mustered sufficient evidence to justify further investment.

Nantero isn't proposing to build a multi-billion dollar fab for their CNT NVRAM. Like ARM Holdings, they want to license their technology to companies that already have multi-billion dollar fabs. In the conversations I've had with them, they say that their technology can be built on existing lines, even fully depreciated ones, which is one key to their cost-effectiveness.

New products in development

Investment is well and good, but it's products that get my attention. And Nantero has some nice ones in the pipeline, including:

  • A multi-Gb DDR4-compatible nonvolatile standalone memory product with speed comparable to DRAM and a lower price/GB than DRAM.
  • A standalone chip designed as a cache for SSDs or HDDs which removes the need for battery backup and allows dramatic expansion of cache size, substantially speeding up the drive.
  • A highly scalable embedded nonvolatile memory that can scale to 5nm in size and operate at DRAM-like speeds, and operate under very high temperature, making it suitable for many industrial applications.

The Storage Bits take

NVRAM is a game changer for the entire industry. Since the, in retrospect, premature Intel/Micron 3D XPoint announcement almost three years ago, the industry's big players have been working behind the scenes to get our systems and software ready for NVRAM.

What happens when turning off a crashed computer doesn't clear its memory? Hm-m-m? Bit of a head scratcher, that.

But NVRAM will affect more than operating systems. File systems and databases, whose architectures are built on the idea of volatile memory, have a whole host of new performance and data protection options to consider.

In short, NVRAM will be big. And for us all to benefit, we need healthy competition from suppliers to optimize it.

With this investment in Nantero and, I'm sure, future announcements from other NVRAM startups such as Crossbar, it looks very likely the competition will be fierce.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.

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