It seems like every time we look at NAND in 2014, it’s all bad news. From a listless SSD market to a challenging entrance for 3D NAND and finally to declining smartphone and tablet sales, NAND has really had a tough time through the first quarter this year. However, it appears that there is some good news on the horizon: semiconductor growth is continuing across the industry, based on a report from the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA). According to the report, the industry has shown the largest Year-over-Year (YoY) surge in three years. New innovations such as 3D architectures, which we looked at in December 2013, and other new types of memory will all contribute to further growth in the semiconductor industry, and at the same time support NAND growth.
Toshiba and Sandisk, partners in NAND, announced this month their 15-nanometer process technology for NAND products used in smartphone and tablets. By replacing their current 19-nm chips, they are able to boost the data transfer rate 1.3x faster for a wide range of products from memory cards to enterprise solid state drives (SSDs). The plant in Yokkaichi, Japan is expected to begin production on the 15-nm chips by the end of this month.
Along the same line, Micron announced a few weeks ago that they plan to offer 16-nm triple-level cell (TLC) NAND by 4Q2014. TLC NAND is typically used in products such as memory cards, USB drives and related consumer storage items due to its low cost. However, it is the least durable option, when compared to multi-level cell (MLC) and single-level cell (SLC) NAND, with a lifecycle of only about 1000 erase/write cycles. By shrinking their die and focusing on TLC NAND, Micron is hoping to position themselves from a cost perspective in the retail/consumer markets and with the potential to produce low-cost SSDs in early 2015 through their Crucial division.
There has been a lot of discussion about NAND’s future in the enterprise market and it seems that there is good potential for growth. SanDisk is still in the qualifying stages of their ULLtraDIMM SSDs, a DRAM module-sized SSD that fits in the memory bus and can store up to 400GB of data; SanDisk already sees the huge opportunities in enterprise products, including SSDs and flash accelerators. Micron has also upped their interest in this market and plans to increase the endurance and capacity of their SSDs lines designed for data centers. Micron's M500DC lines will offer storage capacities of up to 800GB at a price point of $1 per gigabyte. Data center managers are interested in products that will last a long time in their heavy data environments and Micron claims that these new SSDs will last at least five years while maintaining performance and efficiency.