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We live in a world that is in constant demand for more storage space. What everyone really needs is bigger, faster, and cheaper memory. And 3D NAND technology is being touted as the next big thing in solving storage problems.

Samsung was the first manufacturer to produce 3D NAND flash on a mass scale in 2013. The name it went by was Vertical NAND (V-NAND). Of course, later others like Intel and Micron Technology, SK Hynix, and Toshiba joined in as well.

Although manufacturers have their own unique approaches to building 3D NAND flash technology, the process involved in writing data to a 3D NAND cell and a planar NAND cell is basically the same.

There are three types of NAND flash technology:

  • Single-level cell (SLC): Stores 1 bit per cell, offers the highest endurance.
  • Multi-level cell (MLC): Stores multiple bits per cell, although the term MLC typically equates to 2 bits per cell; provides lower endurance than SLC.
  • Triple-level cell (TLC): Stores 3 bits per cell, offers lower endurance than SLC and MLC. (Source: 3D NAND flash)

3D NAND typically uses MLC NAND flash or TLC NAND flash. But before we get into what 3D NAND is and is not, here is a quick introduction to its predecessor.

Flash memory which is typically used in SD cards, smartphones and similar devices, has memory blocks that are organized in a two-dimensional layout, side-by-side. As technology evolved, we have been able to squeeze more and more blocks onto a single die, to create higher capacity flash memory.  Compared to HDD (Hard Disk Drives), Solid-state drives (SSD, also known as flash drives or flash cards) equipped with NAND flash can help improve application performance and reduce latency.

However, scaling 2D/planar NAND technology to achieve higher storage densities while still keeping costs per bit low quickly became a challenge. As silicon transistors were continually being crammed onto a die in accordance with Moore’s Law, it also resulted in physical problems.

Moore’s Law misses the fact that there is an actual physical limit to how much smaller the transistors can get. Planar NAND flash technology uses a single layer of memory blocks and when NAND manufacturers attempted to reduce the size of the memory cells, the walls became smaller, causing electrons to leak out. The resulting interference between cells affected the reliability of planar NAND. Manufacturers have found it incredibly difficult to scale down transistor size to 13 nm and lower without experiencing at least some loss in performance.

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Now we come to the important question – how does 3D NAND help?

  • Older NAND designs scaled outward on chips and dies of increasing size, as additional cells were simply crammed onto the die. On the other hand, 3D NAND scales upward. The result is increased storage density and capacity. Infact, current 3D NAND technology allows for the production of flash memory featuring three times the storage capacity of any 2D NAND.
  • Building upward instead of outward eliminates the challenge manufacturers faced with scaling planar NAND. 3D NAND offers the potential for higher capacity in a smaller physical space.
  • 3D NAND involves cutting multiple layers into the silicon and assembling memory cells to increase storage density. Stacking cells in 32 layers allows for much higher storage density in each die. It also allows more space between the cells on each plane, thus minimizing interference issues between the cells.
  • With 3D NAND, stacked cells can still be MLC and TLC, resulting in surprisingly large increases in storage.
  • All the business and consumer applications for which planar NAND was used can take advantage of 3D NAND flash.
  • When compared with planar NAND, 3D NAND offers lower cost per gigabyte, optimizes the usage of electricity to reduce the consumption of power, increases reliability, and delivers far better data write performance.

What does the future of 3D NAND look like?

Intel and Micron are working on 3D NAND in a joint partnership model. Together, they aim to create SSDs that are the size of a mere stick of gum, but hold within its tiny surface area, over 3.5TB of storage, or 2.5-inch laptop sized SSDs that hold over 10TB of storage!

Of course, we are still in the inception phase of 3D NAND. And quite frankly, it has its own complications. There is a considerably steeper cost to manufacture them, at least in the beginning. It also requires immense precision to create, because each column has to be aligned perfectly to ensure that the memory blocks are organized in a continuous series.

However, we predict that all of the advances being made in the production of 3D NAND will be a boon for our generation. Who doesn’t want cheaper, more reliable and bigger storage capacities than ever for our devices?

Are you interested to learn more about 3D NAND technology and how you might leverage it for your organization’s storage requirements? Do get in touch with one of our IT experts.

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