Just when we thought we had plenty of changes in the NAND market to track, early 2015 brings us yet another set. Although conventional NAND construction nearly hit its limits, and 3D manufacturing is starting to take over, triple-level cell (TLC) NAND is expected to make a big push, especially in data center and high-end smartphone applications.
According to Forward Insights, the advancement in controllers, the devices that interact with the host device and oversee the file system directory in the flash memory, has helped increase the endurance of TLC NAND which has historically been very low. Combined with improved flash management firmware, TLC could actually make a huge jump and beat multi-level cell (MLC) NAND at its own game.
Although these advanced controllers cost more than their predecessors, TLC NAND is about 80% the cost of MLC. The cost difference is not big enough to make the huge move away from MLC but it does offer a big advantage in devices such as enterprise and client solid state drives (SSDs). There are still limits with these new controllers, especially when it comes to error correction. TLC is not expected to ever fully replace MLC, but the applications that TLC could move into are endless.
The successor to today’s mainstream planar NAND is 3D or vertical NAND. This technology stacks layers and that increases performance in the areas of write speed and reliability. Most NAND manufacturers have been working on this technology for quite some time, but Samsung continues to lead the way. The company announced this month a new line of external SSDs capable of up to 1 terabyte (TB) of storage and a read speed of up to 450MB/s in a device the size of a credit card. There are some perceived drawbacks to this new line of devices, including proprietary disk caching software and price point, but Samsung is not holding back in the 3D NAND game.
With all of these fast-paced changes in NAND architecture, we are also seeing big changes in overall components on a global scale. China and India are expected to make a big push in technology in an effort to boost GDP growth and pride in products built within their borders (read more about China and India's tech push in Smith's latest MarketWatch Quarterly (free subscription)). On a related note, worldwide CAPEX investment numbers are up as companies are looking for the next advancement in electronic component manufacturing. A lot of this has been tied to the 3D memory technology and should have a huge impact on how all semiconductor chips are fabricated in the future.