Micron recently announced that is has begun sampling 16nm NAND flash to select partners. Micron expects to begin full production of the NAND chips using the smaller flash manufacturing process in the fourth quarter of this year (Q4 2013). Drives based on its new 16nm MLC NAND flash are expected to arrive as early as next year. (PC Perspective's own storage expert is currently overseas, but I managed to reach out over email to get some clarification, and his thoughts, on the Micron annuoncement.)
The announcement relates to new NAND flash that is smaller, but not necessarily faster, than the existing 20nm and 25nm flash chips used in current solid state drives. In the end, Micron is still delivering 128Gb (Gigabit) per die, but using a 16nm process. The 16nm flash is a pure shrink of 20nm which is, in turn, a shrink of 25nm flash. In fact, Micron is able to get just under 6 Terabytes of storage out of a single 300mm wafer. These wafers are then broken down into dies in individual flash chips that are used in all manner of solid state storage devices from smartphone embedded storage to desktop SSDs. This 16nm flash still delivers 128Gb –which is 16GB– per die allowing for a 128GB SSD using as few as eight chips.
A single 16nm NAND flash die with a SSD in the background
Micron expects the 16nm MLC (multi-level cell) flash to be used in consumer SSDs, USB thumb drives, mobile devices, and cloud storage.
The 16nm process will allow Micron to get more storage out of the same sized wafer (300mm) used for current processes, which in theory should mean flash memory that is not only smaller, but (in theory) cheaper.
A single wafer of 16nm NAND flash (just under 6TBs)
As Allyn further notes, the downside to the new 16nm NAND flash is a reduction in the number of supported PE cycles. Micron has not released specific information on this, but the new 16nm MLC flash is expected to have fewer than 1,000 P/E cycles. For comparison, 25nm and 20nm flash has P/E cycles of 3,000 and 1,000 respectively.
In simple terms, P/E (program-erase) cycles relate to the number of times that a specific portion of flash memory can be written to before wearing out. SSD manufacturers were able to work around this with the transition from 25nm to 20nm and still deliver acceptable endurance on consumer drives, and I expect that similar techniques will be used to do the same for 16nm flash. For example, manufactuers could enable compression that is used prior to writing out the data to the physical flash or over-provisioning the actual hardware versus the reported software capacity (ie a drive sold as a 100GB model that actually has 128GB of physical flash).
I don't think it will be a big enough jump that typical consumers wil have to worry too much about this, considering the vast majority of operations will be read operations and not writes. Despite the reduction in P/E cycles, SSDs with 16nm NAND MLC flash will still likely out-last a typical mechanical hard drive.
What do you think about the Micron announcement?
The full press release can be found below:
Micron Unveils 16-Nanometer Flash Memory Technology
World’s Smallest and Most Advanced Semiconductor Process Node Will Feed the Storage Demands of Consumer Applications and Data Centers
Boise, Idaho, July 16, 2013 – Micron Technology, Inc., (Nasdaq:MU) today announced that it is sampling next-generation, 16-nanometer (nm) process technology, enabling the industry’s smallest 128-gigabit (Gb) multi-level cell (MLC) NAND Flash memory devices. The 16nm node is not only the leading Flash process, but it is also the most advanced processing node for any sampling semiconductor device. It solidifies Micron’s leadership position in storage technology development and delivers on the company’s vision to provide the most advanced semiconductor solutions.
Micron’s 128Gb MLC NAND Flash memory devices are targeted at applications like consumer SSDs, removable storage (USB drives and Flash cards), tablets, ultrathin devices, mobile handsets and data center cloud storage. The new 128Gb NAND Flash memory provides the greatest number of bits per square millimeter and lowest cost of any MLC device in existence. In fact, the new technology could create nearly 6TB of storage on a single wafer.
“Micron’s dedicated team of engineers has worked tirelessly to introduce the world’s smallest and most advanced Flash manufacturing technology,” said Glen Hawk, vice president of Micron's NAND Solutions Group." Our customers continually ask for higher capacities in smaller form factors, and this next-generation process node allows Micron to lead the market in meeting those demands.”
“Cost reductions will always be fundamental to the NAND industry and so companies who can continue to lead on the flash process technology will be poised for success, particularly in vertically integrated solutions,” according to Gartner.*
Micron is sampling the 16nm, 128Gb MLC NAND with select partners now and plans to be in full production in 4Q13. Micron is also developing a new line of solid-state drive (SSD) solutions based on these devices and expects to ship SSDs with 16nm Flash in 2014.
Images of Micron’s 16nm NAND can be downloaded at:
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*Gartner, Inc., Weekly Memory Pricing Index, Gerald Van Hoy, Joseph Unsworth, Brady Wang, July 2013
Micron Technology, Inc., is one of the world's leading providers of advanced semiconductor solutions. The company transforms foundational memory technologies—including DRAM, NAND Flash and NOR Flash—into innovative solutions such as solid state drives (SSDs) and storage appliances, modules, multichip packages and other semiconductor systems. Micron's worldwide operations design, manufacture and market these solutions for use in leading-edge computing, consumer, enterprise servers and storage, networking, embedded and mobile products. Micron's common stock is traded on the NASDAQ under the MU symbol. To learn more about Micron Technology, Inc., visit www.micron.com.
The Micron Technology, Inc. logo is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/newsroom/prs/?pkgid=6950
©2013 Micron Technology, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is subject to change without notice. Micron and the Micron orbit logo are trademarks of Micron Technology, Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
This news release may contain forward-looking statements regarding the production and availability of 16nm, 128Gb MLC NAND and solid-state drive (SSD) solutions incorporating this device. Actual events or results may differ materially from those contained in the forward-looking statements. Please refer to the documents Micron files on a consolidated basis from time to time with the Securities and Exchange Commission, specifically Micron's most recent Form 10-K and Form 10-Q. These documents contain and identify important factors that could cause the actual results for Micron on a consolidated basis to differ materially from those contained in our forward-looking statements (see Certain Factors). Although we believe that the expectations reflected in the forward-looking statements are reasonable, we cannot guarantee future results, levels of activity, performance or achievements
Micron 16nm NAND
Micron’s new 16nm NAND—the world’s most advanced semiconductor process—provides 16GB of storage on a single die. The company says the new storage technology will be released on next-generation SSDs in 2014.