from the smaller-and-faster dept.
SSDs with 64 layers of 3D NAND are now available:
Today Intel is introducing their SSD 545s, the first product with their new 64-layer 3D NAND flash memory and, in a move that gives Intel a little bit of bragging rights, the first SSD on the market to use 64-layer 3D NAND from any manufacturer.
The Intel SSD 545s is a mainstream consumer SSD, which these days means it's using the SATA interface and TLC NAND flash. The 545s is the successor to last year's Intel SSD 540s, which was in many ways a filler product to cover up inconvenient gaps in Intel's SSD technology roadmap. When the 540s launched, Intel's first generation of 3D NAND was not quite ready, and Intel had no cost-competitive planar NAND of their own due to skipping the 16nm node at IMFT. This forced Intel to use 16nm TLC from SK Hynix in the 540s. Less unusual for Intel, the 540s also used a third-party SSD controller: Silicon Motion's SM2258. Silicon Motion's SSD controllers are seldom the fastest, but performance is usually decent and the cost is low. Intel's in-house SATA SSD controllers were enterprise-focused and not ready to compete in the new TLC-based consumer market.
[...] Intel will be using their smaller 256Gb 64L TLC die for all capacities of the 545s, rather than adopting the 512Gb 64L TLC part for the larger models. The 512Gb die is not yet in volume production and Intel plans to have the full range of 545s models on the market before the 512Gb parts are available in volume. Once the 512Gb parts are available we can expect to seem them used in other product families to enable even higher drive capacities, but it is reassuring to see Intel choosing the performance advantages of smaller more numerous dies for the mainstream consumer product range. Meanwhile, over the rest of this year, Intel plans to incorporate 64L 3D NAND into SSDs in every product segment. Most of those products are still under wraps, but the Pro 5450s and E 5100s are on the way as the OEM and embedded versions of the 545s.
Samsung recently announced its fourth generation of 3D/vertical NAND, with 64 layers and a capacity of 512Gb (64GB) per die. Now SK Hynix is announcing its plans for 512 Gb V-NAND dies with 72 layers:
Later this year SK Hynix intends to start volume production of 72-layer 3D TLC NAND (3D-V4) memory and this is where things start to get interesting. Initially, SK Hynix intends to produce 256 Gb 3D TLC ICs and these are going to be available already in Q2 2017, according to the company's product catalog. Later on, sometimes in Q4, the company plans to introduce 512 Gb 3D TLC ICs (64 GB), which will help it to significantly increase capacities of SSDs and other devices featuring NAND flash.
What is important about SK Hynix's fourth-gen 3D NAND is that it will feature block size of 13.5 MB, which will increase the performance of such ICs compared to 3D-V3 and 3D-V2 that have a block size of 9 MB. At this point, we do not know whether SK Hynix intends to increase interface speed of its 512 Gb 3D-V4 ICs to compensate lower parallelism in lower-capacity SSDs, like Samsung did with its high-capacity 64-layer 3D V-NAND chips. What we do know is that SK Hynix's catalog already includes NAND multi-chip packages of 8192 Gb capacity (1 TB) that will enable high-capacity SSDs in smaller form-factors (e.g., [2 TB] single-sided M.2). Meanwhile, 64 GB NAND flash chips may force SK Hynix and its partners to abandon low-capacity SSDs (i.e., 120/128 GB) unless there is sufficient demand.
The article also talks about the company's plans for 18nm DRAM and fabrication facility expansion.
A number of companies have made announcements related to 64-layer 3D NAND production and products at Computex 2017:
64-layer NAND, and subsequently products with the technology, will make the largest splash at Computex 2017 this week. Toshiba, Western Digital, and SanDisk have product announcements in queue, with others set to follow. Toshiba already released some information about the technology at Dell World, so the other shoe has to drop from manufacturing partner WD. This is the moment many of us have waited for.
In short, Toshiba/WD are supposed to take us out of the NAND recession by delivering third-generation 3D NAND called BiCS FLASH.
BiCS FLASH may gain praise for reducing the strain on NAND supply, but our readers will be left behind for several quarters. SanDisk has said for years that the future focus will be on 3-bit per cell NAND (or TLC). That philosophy carried over to infect Western Digital after the SanDisk acquisition. No one talks about BiCS MLC for use in the client space, even though 3D TLC is unproven technology for high-performance products (outside of Samsung).
SK Hynix is currently developing 96-layer and 128-layer 3D NAND with 3 bits per cell, but may be skipping quad-level cell 3D NAND for some time:
The 64-layer 3D NAND about to land from Micron and Toshiba certainly sounds impressive, but it pales in comparison to what Sk Hynix is working on for future release. The company is developing 96-layer and 128-layer 3D NAND flash. The new flash won't be available for a few years, but that makes it no less exciting. We have yet to see 72-layer 3D from Sk Hynix in our lab, but it will begin shipping soon in the PC401 using 256Gbit TLC die, according to the UNH-IOL list of tested products.
The information we found about the successor to 256Gbit 72-layer 3D TLC shows 96 layers with 512Gbit die capacity. The follow up to that is a massive 1Tbit die from 128-layer TLC from the other South Korean SSD manufacturer with full vertical integration.
Toshiba (or whichever company acquires Toshiba's memory division) may be more likely to introduce QLC 3D NAND.
64-layer 3D NAND is shipping, but the 256Gbit die will come and go rapidly. That's what makes this NAND cycle different. Many of the companies we've spoken to do not want to invest in products with such a limited shelf life. The 512Gbit die are right around the corner from the fabs. Some estimates put a major ramp up coming before mid year. The technology offers a 2x capacity increase while taking only a little more space on the wafer. The bits per wafer doesn't double, but it gets very close. The retail products coming in the second half of 2018 with have a heavy impact on SSD pricing. Some estimates from engineers we've spoken with put retail pricing on track for a 20% to 30% reduction over similar-capacity products shipping today.
Emerging technologies and form factors that reduce the material costs will also play a role. Toshiba Memory America showcased the new RC100 NVMe SSD that uses multi-chip packaging to cram the controller and flash in a single package.
Toshiba has described stacking 8-16 512 Gb dies with through silicon vias (TSVs) to create 512 GB and 1 TB packages. Samsung plans to stack 32 256 Gb dies to make 1 TB packages for an upcoming 128 TB SSD.
Previously: SK Hynix Plans 72-Layer 512 Gb NAND for Late 2017
SK Hynix Developing 96 and 128-Layer TLC 3D NAND
Intel First to Market With 64-Layer 3D NAND SSDs
Western Digital Announces 96-Layer 3D NAND, Including Both TLC and QLC
Toshiba's 3D QLC NAND Could Reach 1000 P/E Cycles
WD Announces 64-Layer 3D QLC NAND With 768 Gb Per Die, to be Shown at Flash Memory Summit