With the recent announcements by Toshiba, Intel and Micron Technology that 48-layer and 32-layer 3D NAND flash storage drives are set to be available within the next year, the question now becomes “How long will Flash dominate the storage market?” This winter, MediaSilo wrote about the current state of drives, and we found 3D NAND’s nearing availability to be so exciting that we wanted to follow up with where things stand for SSDs.
2D Planar NAND capacities vs. 3D NAND:
Up until now, 2.5 inch SSDs have rarely gone above 1TB of storage. Sandisk did release a 4TB Optimus Max SSD in 2014, but the SSDs on our laptops are usually supplemented by external drives if they reach their storage limit. With 3D NAND set to replace 2D Planar NAND, Intel says that we can now expect 3.5 TB on drives that are roughly the size of a stick of gum or over 10 TB of flash storage on standard 2.5” drives.
The reason 3D NAND drives can reach these capacities is because the data storage cells are in vertical stacks. 3D NAND’s availability is incredibly timely, because 2D Planar NAND was “nearing its practical scaling and reliability limits.” In the past 15 years, Samsung reports, “NAND Flash memory cell structure has gone from 120nm scale to 19nm scale. Along with this drastically shrinking structure, capacity has grown by 100 times.”
Samsung’s ‘3D V-NAND’ drives -- the “v” is for vertical -- replace conductors with an insulator, so that the cells can hold their charges after writing data. This removes cell-to-cell interference, which can lead to data-corruption. In layman’s terms, this means faster, smaller, and more powerful SSDs. If you’re interested in more specifics, see Toshiba and Sandisk’s BiCS 3D NAND structure here.
How These Advancements Will Help Beyond Local Storage:
Samsung noted that these advancements will help meet high demands in today’s explosion of data transfers. However, there are still reservations about how long Flash storage’s dominance in the market could last. While Intel says producing the newest drives in large quantities will lead to “cheaper SSDs in the future”, Brad Bourque of DigitalTrends points out that the new manufacturing complexities could make the availability of 3D NAND drives limited through 2018. On top of that, consumers may not see a drop in SSDs already high prices. According to The Economist’s article “The end of Moore’s law,” semiconductor fabrication plants now cost over $6 billion. Essentially, smaller transistors mean an increase in cost, “And with the rise of cloud computing, the emphasis on the speed of the processor in desktop and laptop computers is no longer so relevant.”
The new advancements in Flash are without a doubt staggering and impressive. But Manek Dubash of Computer Weekly does a great job of describing the several alternatives to Flash that we may see in the years ahead, including Memristors, MRAM, and PRAM. The reason we have not seen these technologies surpass Flash’s popularity yet is that they are all far more expensive. For now, and in the coming years, it is safe to say that we can expect to see 3D NAND SSDs being used to store our growing iTunes libraries and photo galleries, as well as our HD and increasing UHD footage.