Micron shrinks NAND 28% in upcoming flash drives

A strand of human DNA is 2.5 nanometers in diameter, and there are 25,400,000 nanometers in one inch.

Now consider this, Micron this week announced it's producing NAND flash based on transistors only 16-nanometers in size, and each microscopic cell is capable of storing three bits of data.

The new NAND flash is Micron's first triple-level cell (TLC) solid-state technology to be targeted at the consumer SSD market, and the new process for creating it is 28% more dense than anything previously produced. Micron had been shipping products using 20nm NAND flash.

The 16nm TLC NAND flash memory will produce 16GB (128Gbit) chips that will be used in cost-competitive consumer storage applications, including media cards, USB drives and consumer SSDs that will begin shipping in the third quarter of this year.

Last fall, at the Flash Memory Summit, Toshiba revealed its smallest lithography process for NAND flash with a 15nm 128Gbit MLC NAND wafer. The 15nm wafer was developed in partnership with SanDisk.

According to a report released in March from market research firm DRAMeXchange, TLC flash memory will account for nearly half of the total NAND flash output in the fourth quarter of this year.

By comparison, multi-level cell (MLC) flash, which stores two bits of data per cell, has traditionally been the leading form of memory.

While Micron's 16nm TLC NAND is not unique, it is among the densest ever produced, and it's in production at fabrication plants today.

Micron expects to begin shipping SSDs and other products based on the new memory next quarter. While Micron would not disclose product pricing or NAND flash cost figures, a spokesperson did say in an email comment to Computerworld "that this product offers a 28% savings in die area over our 16GB MLC die."

Brett Pemble, vice president of SSD products for drive maker Seagate, said his company will be using its new SF3500 client SSD controller with Micron's new NAND to create PCIe and SATA SSDs.

ADATA, another drive maker, also said it plans to use the new TLC NAND flash in an upcoming line of consumer SSDs.

While several other NAND makers are already shipping TLC products, Micron said the denser memory wasn't previously a focus because of the technology's "historically limited market applications" due to inherent performance and endurance limitations.

"We prefer to market conservatively and not push new technology on our customers before it is ready," the spokesperson said. "Cost reductions -- the key advantage of TLC -- were best achieved by quickly transitioning to the next process node. Now that node transitions are slower and TLC management capabilities enable better reliability, it is a more compelling product choice."

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