Santa Clara (CA) - Despite continuing pricing pressure in the global flash industry, manufacturers are pushing hard to drive the technology further along: Intel and Micron are first to announce 34 nm NAND flash chips, which hold the potential to store 4 GB on a tiny chip, 64 GB on chips for portable devices and up to 512 GB in solid state disk drives.
Looking at current flash market prices, there appears to be little incentive for manufacturers to invest even more into a business that delivers huge losses for most suppliers these days. However, it is quite the contrary what we are witnessing: Flash technology and capacities are advancing at an impressive pace, laying the foundation for mobile devices with huge storage capacities and solid state disk drives that are challenging traditional hard drives one more levels than just the portable segment.
Intel and Micron are first to unveil a sub-40 nm NAND memory chip. The 34 nm multi-level-cell (MLC) 32 Gb package is just about the size of an average fingernail (172 mm2), but packs enough storage space (4 GB) to store about 1000 MP3 songs, or about 2000 5-megapixel digital pictures. In comparison, the bulky 1.8" hard drive of the first iPod, released in 2001, had a capacity of 5 GB. A full 300 mm wafer of these 32 Gb chips carries about 1.6 TB of NAND flash memory chips.
For commercial products, this new NAND flash generation could mean several things: Your average iPod could see its capacity jump to 32 GB in mainstream products and solid state disk (SSD) drives, which are specifically targeted by these chips, could put 32 GB and 64 GB products, while enabling the production of 256 GB and 512 GB solid state disk drives in 1.8" form factors on the high-end.
If you keep in mind that 2.5" hard drives have just reached the 500 GB mark, and 1.8" drives are still stuck at 160 GB, the 34 nm chip generation could mark the very first time in which SSDs are offering more than twice the capacity of their 1.8" counterparts and are close or even ahead of 2.5" hard drives. However, we are not talking about pricing at this time, as it is clear that SSDs are expected to remain much more expensive on the high-end than hard drives.
Intel and Micron also plan to introduce lower density multi-level cell products including single-level cell products by the end of this year.