The changing dynamics of the semiconductor and electronics industry include not only a reshuffling of market sector dominance, but importantly technology innovations driven by the rapid and continued demand for smartphones and tablets. Among the sectors realizing positive changes is memory that has benefitted from supply and pricing conditions which have pushed this often turbulent sector into positive positions for a number of months.
NAND flash innovation showcased
The annual Flash Memory Summit was held this week in Santa Clara, CA. The Summit "showcases the mainstream applications, key technologies, and leading vendors that are driving the multi-billion dollar non-volatile memory and SSD markets." At this event, there was much discussion of and many presentations about the latest flash memory architectures, technologies, applications, and implementations.
Among the leading technologies showcased were the latest offerings from Micron and Samsung. Earlier this month, Samsung announced that it has now begun mass production of "the industry's first three-dimensional (3D) Vertical NAND (V-NAND) flash memory, which breaks through the current scaling limit for existing NAND flash technology." This technology is targeted for the consumer, enterprise, embedded NAND storage, and SSD applications, according to Samsung. More specifically, Samsung highlights the following advantages of this breakthrough 3D V-NAND technology:
Samsung's new V-NAND offers a 128 gigabit (Gb) density in a single chip, utilizing the company's proprietary vertical cell structure based on 3D Charge Trap Flash (CTF) technology and vertical interconnect process technology to link the 3D cell array. By applying both of these technologies, Samsung's 3D V-NAND is able to provide over twice the scaling of 20nm-class* planar NAND flash.
Micron also recently announced its latest flash NAND technology innovation, 16nm planar NAND memory made with the HKMG (High K Metal Gate) process, as recently discussed by Seeking Alpha. Micron's "16-nanometer (nm) NAND process technology, enabling the industry's smallest 128-gigabit (Gb) multilevel cell (MLC) NAND Flash memory devices," is an important process technology innovation. As Micron's announcement underscored:
Micron's 128Gb MLC NAND Flash memory devices are targeted at consumer SSDs, removable storage (USB drives and Flash cards), tablets, ultrathin devices, mobile handsets and data center cloud storage. They provide the greatest number of bits per square millimeter and the lowest cost of any MLC device in existence. In fact, the new technology could create nearly 6TB of storage on a single wafer.
Micron and NVMdurance named Most Innovative Technology
Naturally, many were curious to see which of the latest flash NAND technologies would win the Best of Show Award the year, announced at the close of the Summit. The judging criteria for the Best of Show Award for Most Innovative Flash Memory Technology were:
- Distinctiveness of the application, technology, or product
- Central use of Flash memory as a solution or innovation
- Technical and business significance to the general marketplace
This year's winners are Micron and NVMdurance:
- Most Innovative Flash Memory Technology
Most Innovative Flash Memory Technology addressing innovations that will change the way flash memory is used in products to improve performance, availability, endurance and/or energy efficiencies.
Award Co-Winner: Micron Technology – Micron 16nm NAND
Award Co-Winner: NVMdurance – NVMdurance
NVMdurance was named a co-winner alongside of Micron. NVMdurance "[…] provide[s] software that extends the endurance of the non-volatile memory used in Solid State Disks (SSDs). [… That] can achieve higher levels of improvement with the newer smaller geometry devices, many of which have major endurance challenges."
Pushing NAND flash forward
Given the interesting demonstrations and presentations at this week's Summit, and with a still hot market demand for those devices and storage solutions that rely heavily on flash NAND technologies, the path forward for new device and technologies is bright. These positive advances underscore that the opportunities for continued consumer and enterprise demand for flash NAND solutions and devices are sustainable.
As industry analysts have reported, we continue to see ongoing shortages this summer for existing NAND due to increased adoption of and demand for SSDs, particularly in new Ultrathins and PC tablets. According to iSuppli, the NAND shortage situation could persist for at least another quarter: "All told, the current NAND shortage could extend to most of the second half this year, with the dearth lifting only at the beginning of the fourth quarter."
The second wave of demand for lower-priced smartphones and tablets in the emerging markets is likely to hold the present NAND positions regarding supply and pricing, while the new devices for the higher-priced, more feature-rich devices that continue to be developed will provide ample market opportunities for the new technologies that were showcased at this week's Flash Memory Summit.