Intel, Micron Unveil New 3D Flash Chips with 3 Times Higher Capacity
The world’s fastest flash memory is soon hitting the market. Micron Technology and Intel will roll out their latest NAND technology innovation, which they are billing as the highest-density flash memory in the industry, in the fourth quarter of 2015.
Flash is the storage technology used inside the lightest laptops, fastest data centers, and nearly every cellphone, tablet and mobile device. The new 3D NAND technology stacks flash cells vertically in 32 layers to achieve 256 Gb multilevel cell and 384 Gb triple-level cell die that fit within a standard package. These capacities can enable gum stick-size SSDs with more than 3.5 TB of storage and standard 2.5-inch SSDs with greater than 10 TB.
“This 3D NAND technology has the potential to create fundamental market shifts,” said Brian Shirley, vice president of Memory Technology and Solutions at Micron Technology. “The depth of the impact that flash has had to date -- from smartphones to flash-optimized supercomputing -- is really just scratching the surface of what's possible."
The Floating Gate Cell
What’s so special about this innovation? The 3D NAND paves the way to pack more storage into smaller spaces. That, in turn, drives down costs, lowers power usage and ups performance for mobile devices and enterprise deployments.
The reality is that planar NAND flash memory, the current approach, is nearing its limits of scale and presenting the memory industry with unwanted challenges. Intel-Micron’s 3D NAND technology could make a dramatic impact on the market by aligning flash storage solutions with Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits has doubled every year since they were invented.
Industry watchers seem to be most excited about the foundational memory cell. Intel and Micro are using a floating gate cell, which is a universal approach to design that has been refined through years of high-volume planar flash manufacturing. This release marks the first use of a floating gate cell in 3D NAND chips.
Cheaper Flash Drives
Intel and Micro pointed out several key product features that set it apart from competing solutions on the market today. First, there’s the already-mentioned three times capacity of existing 3D technology, making it possible for three-quarters of a terabyte to fit in a single fingertip-size package.
This first-generation 3D NAND is also architected to achieve better cost efficiencies than planar NAND. And the new tech offers high read/write bandwidth, I/O speeds and random read performance; contains new features to improve latency and increase endurance; and hosts new sleep modes to drive low-power use by cutting power.
We asked Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, for his take on the new tech. Given the increasing importance of flash memory -- especially in mobile technologies and products -- he told us it's a logical focal point for innovations like the new NAND flash solutions announced by Intel and Micron.
“In essence, the companies have developed a method for cost-effectively stacking memory bits and cells into forms for use in high-density flash solutions,” King said. “As a result, later this year we should begin seeing attractively priced flash drives with far higher capacity than what is available today. That means Intel and Micron should have the means to compete more effectively with market leaders like Samsung but it will also deliver significantly improved options for consumers and businesses.”
The companies said they plan to offer products using the new NAND chips within the year.