Flash Memory Innovation Moves Into 3D

Flash memory moves into 3D (image from Intel)

Physical limitations are unavoidable. When it comes to technology, like our smartphones or tablets, there is only so much memory to pack into an area of silicon. As devices start to trend lighter and thinner (we won't say smaller since phablets are a thing), the space is decreasing while the demand increases. It's a perfect environment for flash memory innovation, and that's what we're seeing come out of Intel, Micron and Toshiba. Per a report from New Atlas

  • Intel and Micron partnering and producing 3.5 TB flash sticks and 10 TB standard-sized SSDs
  • 48-layer cell tech developed by Toshiba leading to higher write speeds and cheaper solid state drives

But how does this solve the space issue? By going into the 3rd dimension. 

 

Close-up on the wafer used for flash memory  (Image from Intel)

Flash Memory in 3D

To explain this, it's necessary to understand how flash memory works. Memory cells store information by retaining a bit of charge, held by the electrons in the cell. As cells become smaller, the amount of electrons decreases as well. So, the charge decreases as well, and this is part of what makes devices sluggish or more likely to experience errors. 

The other part is how we are storing information, or bits. As devices have matured, the ratio of bits to cells has increased (one bit used to be spread over two cells, now it's not uncommon to be spread over 3). Flash memory is more dense and cheaper in this format, but again, it's more unreliable as well. 

The innovation involves going 3D. Intel and Microns's 3D NAND technology stacks memory cells on top of each other. More cells can fit in the space without compromising the ratio of cells to bits in a detrimental way. Traditional USB drives could hold five packages; this technology essentially triples that maximum capacity. Flash memory (for a flash drive) increases to 3.5 TB, and nearly 10 TB for SSD memory.

Powerful Pocket Memory

While this flash memory news is exciting and could have implications outside of the portable memory world, we're still a few months from having it in hand. Intel has created 32 3D layered NAND flash memory; Toshiba is planning a 48 layer release. There's no release date for the latter, but Intel believes their drives could be in production by the end of the year. So don't hold your breath if you're expecting one for the holidays. 

For now, we here at Sunrise (Minnesota's custom USB drive stop) will continue our focus on designing custom flash drives and custom USB packaging solutions. Get in touch with a representative today to design yours today!