The Future of NAND Flash Memory – Predictions for 2010

This is the last AgigA Tech blog entry for 2009. We’ve covered a lot of ground in a bit less than three short months of blogging and it’s been a blast. Now it’s time for some prognostication. What will happen to NAND Flash memory next year? There are tons of clues. Here are some educated guesses:

2x nm will happen – Currently, vendors are shipping 34nm NAND Flash memory in volume. That’s a tremendous engineering feat in itself. As reported in an earlier blog entry (“Intel, Micron striving to regain lead in NAND tech”), Intel and Micron Technology are apparently planning to ship NAND Flash devices based on 2x nm lithography (called 2x because it’s not yet clear if it’s 26nm, 25nm, 24nm, or 22nm). Lithography shrinks are a true race to the bottom. Features on chips have become so small that one or two atoms of difference from one part of a chip to another cause real changes in device characteristics. This phenomenon is called on-chip variation or on-chip variability (OCV) and it’s a tough problem to tackle, requiring the use of smarter on-chip circuitry to deal with the variation. (See “My Head Hurts, My Timing Stinks, and I Don’t Love On-Chip Variation” by Matt Weber.) The problems do not appear to be insurmountable and NAND Flash vendors currently leading the lithography derby appear intent on keeping that lead until it’s no longer possible.

SDDs will get bigger and faster – This prediction needs to be written, but it’s really a no-brainer. The “bigger” part of the prediction is based on the ever-increasing capacity of the NAND Flash chips used to make SSDs. They will get bigger, driven by economic forces far beyond SSD usage. USB Flash-memory drives are the big volume driver in this market and there’s always demand for more capacity there while the form factor emphasizes small and slim. Nowhere to go but more on-chip capacity. Number two driver is SD cards for cameras and camcorders, with the same forces at work. As for faster, it’s clear that SATA 6G is in the immediate future for SSDs. Marvel’s SATA 6G controller (see “Early Results Show SATA 6G Performance All Over the Map”) and Micron’s introduction this month of an SSD that exploits SATA 6G to good effect (see “New SSD Introductions from Seagate and Micron”) clearly point the way to faster SSD operation, once the internal architectural designs are aligned with the faster interface.

ONFi 2.1 gets big – ONFi stands for the “Open NAND Flash interface” and the ONFi organization ( bills it as the fastest Flash interface on the planet. Hyperbole aside, ONFi supports transfer rates to 200 Mbytes/sec. and that’s speedy in anyone’s book. The ONFi Working Group was formed in May 2006 and currently has over 80 member companies including Hynix Semiconductor, Intel Corporation, Micron Technology, Inc., Numonyx, Phison Electronics Corporation, Sony Corporation and Spansion. Wanna fight those guys as a group?

MLC and TLC get big – It’s already happening. Several NAND Flash vendors already offer MLC (multi-level cell) and TLC (three-level cell) NAND Flash devices. They are working to improve the reliability of these devices while SSD and other subsystem manufacturers are working to develop system-level techniques to mask the reliability of these devices. That’s not a patch job. HDD vendors have spent the last 50 years paving over the data-reliability problems of rotating magnetic storage and no one pays much attention any more except the engineers tasked with keeping those problems at bay. Much the same will happen for NAND Flash devices and for products based on those devices.

NAND Flash prices firm up – NAND Flash prices have recently risen and a lack of capital investment in new fabs and processing equipment foretells the usual period of spot shortages and price peaks associated with scarcity. See MemoTrek’s extensive analysis: NAND Flash Prices: 4Q Trends & 2010 Forecast.

Joker’s wild – If we told you, then it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?

Please have a happy and safe New Year’s celebration and we’ll see you next year.

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 at 15:10
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