Micron Buys Out Intel’s Stake in Optane-Fabbing Partnership

The IM Flash Technologies (IMFT) joint venture (formerly called Intel-Micron Flash Technologies) is now officially dead, with Micron exercising its right to buy Intel out of the venture. 

Although Micron announced intentions to buy out Intel’s share of the IM Flash Technologies joint venture last October, Intel was quick to tell us that Micron wouldn’t be able to do that until January 1, 2019, as per the two companies’ contract. Now that January 1 has passed, Micron didn’t waste any time in exercising its right to buy Intel out of the venture. Micron will have to pay $1.5 billion for Intel’s non-controlling (49 percent) share, and the company said it will eliminate the $1 billion member debt from its balance sheet.

Micron Technology President and CEO Sanjay Mehrotra seems to think that its development and commercialization of 3D XPoint, a non-volatile memory tech used in Intel Optane, will no longer be slowed by Intel: “The IM Flash acquisition will enable Micron to accelerate our R&D and optimize our manufacturing plan for 3D XPoint. The Utah-based facility provides us with the manufacturing flexibility and highly skilled talent to drive 3D XPoint development and innovation and to deliver on our emerging technology roadmap.”

Optane Sales Lower Than Expected

In 2015, Intel and Micron announced the 3D XPoint technology, claiming the memory would be up to 1,000 times faster than flash.

The two companies created the IMFT joint venture, which has been developing this technology back since 2006. The joint venture has also been responsible for the two companies’ shared production of NAND SSDs.

Even though Micron announced its own retail 3D XPoint product back in 2006, QuantX, the company hasn’t started to sell it. Instead, it kept selling all the 3D XPoint chips it was making to Intel. However, Intel’s Optane SSDs haven’t caught on as much as the company had hoped, in part because competing NAND SSDs have become almost as good for a much lower price.

Furthermore, the Optane DIMMs, which are arguably the more exciting application of 3D XPoint because they turn 3D XPoint into a sort of (slower, but still useful) DRAM alternative, have only recently come to market, due to the lack of support within Intel’s CPUs. The delayed support has hurt Intel’s ability to sell Optane DIMMs to the data center market.

Now, Micron seems to think it’ll be better off on its own. It plans to release its own 3D XPoint SSDs later this year, once the second generation technology is ready.