WD unveils world's highest-capacity flash memory chip — 2Tb 3D QLC flash chips open the door to bigger and cheaper SSDs

Western Digital
(Image credit: Western Digital)

In a rather unexpected turn of events, Western Digital (WD) has teased the industry's first 2Tb 3D QLC NAND device at an investor conference ahead of its official announcement. The new flash memory could potentially reshape the high-capacity solid-state drives market, enabling much faster and larger SSDs that consume less power. The device uses the proven 218-layer BiCS8 production node and is so tiny it can fit on a fingertip. WD also shared plenty of comparative performance data, touting power, density, and I/O performance gains over competing flash.

"I am really excited to share with you a preview of the BiCS8 2Tb 3D QLC die," said Robert Soderbery, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Western Digital's Flash Business. "We have designed this die to meet the data center and AI storage needs. We are going to shortly announce this product, but I want to share it with you today. This happens to be the world's highest-capacity memory die."

(Image credit: Western Digital)

A 2Tb (256GB) 3D QLC NAND die is indeed a huge achievement, as the 'base' product that Western Digital introduced on its 218-layer BiCS8 production technology is a 1Tb 3D TLC device. At this point, we have no idea about the exact architecture of the 2Tb IC, such as the speed of its interface (it is probably fast), or the number of planes, or its latency. However, the company did share detailed comparative performance and power metrics (below), and given the fact that the company positions the device for data centers in general and AI storage needs in particular, one can make some assumptions about its performance targets. 

Now, a 256GB 3D QLC NAND device would allow manufacturers to build a 1TB SSD using just four memory ICs and a 2TB drive using eight devices, which greatly lowers their costs. Creating a 16-die package would enable a stunning 4TB in a single chip package.

Thus, assuming that Western Digital (and its manufacturing partner Kioxia) can produce these 2Tb 3D QLC NAND ICs in high volume and with decent yields, the new device can redefine the cost of high-capacity solid-state drives.

As you can see in the album above, WD says its QLC die density is 15 to 19% denser than the competition. It also claims to be 50% faster than competing NAND (I/O speed) while requiring 13% less power to program per gigabyte of data than competitors. You can also see the method the company uses to create the die — WD creates a die with only the CMOS control circuitry and another with the stacked memory cells, then flips the latter over and bonds the two devices together using hybrid bonding technology (much like Chinese fab YMTC's Xtacking tech).

"We typically show you a wafer, but I felt like the view of a wafer does not quite convey what we have achieved," said Sodebery. "So, if you allow me for a quick second, I want to show you the die. I have one here. Please zoom in [on] what I am holding on my finger here. This is the size of the die, much smaller than my fingertip." 

(Image credit: Western Digital)

Western Digital plans to formally announce its 2Tb 3D QLC NAND device soon, so we'll likely learn more detailed specifications soon.

Anton Shilov
Contributing Writer

Anton Shilov is a contributing writer at Tom’s Hardware. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • peachpuff
    open the door to cheaper high-capacity SSDs
    Lol I'll believe it when I see it.
    Reply
  • DougMcC
    peachpuff said:
    Lol I'll believe it when I see it.
    Yeah it's not like this was some design breakthrough that changes the economy of cost per bit. It's just progress. Cost/bit will come down slowly, and Price/bit will remain driven by AI demand for the next couple of years.
    Reply
  • Notton
    So I guess we can expect WD to release a 4TB 2230?
    Reply
  • Metal Messiah.
    Article:

    A 2Tb (256GB) 3D QLC NAND die is indeed a huge achievement, as the 'base' product that Western Digital introduced on its 218-layer BiCS8 production technology is a 1Tb 3D TLC device

    Might sound like an improvement in capacity, but in all fairness, we’re still comparing QLC with TLC in this case.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    peachpuff said:
    Lol I'll believe it when I see it.
    10-12 years ago, how much was a 128GB SATA SSD?
    Reply
  • peachpuff
    USAFRet said:
    10-12 years ago, how much was a 128GB SATA SSD?
    My memory is a bit fuzzy on sata drives, but i can tell you that a 128gb usb drive has been the same price basically since 2015 to now. And i know that detail because i bought them yearly for my company during xmas, they were $20 back then and are still $20 cad now.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    peachpuff said:
    My memory is a bit fuzzy on sata drives, but i can tell you that a 128gb usb drive has been the same price basically since 2015 to now. And i know that detail because i bought them yearly for my company during xmas, they were $20 back then and are still $20 cad now.
    From my Newegg....
    Nov 2014, 250GB Samsung 840 EVO, $110

    June 2024, 1TB Samsung 990 Pro, $129


    8x the size, 10x the speed, basically same price.
    Reply
  • ValhallaCanWait
    Having worked in NAND (SSDs) I'll tell you all this, I wouldn't put a QLC drive in any high-performance machine including gaming rigs and PS5. The endurance and performance are significantly less than TLC. Also, they are going to start talking about PLC and that is 75% less endurance and performance than QLC. The very best is MLC (which you cannot really get anymore) then TLC. Stick with TLC if you want your SSD to last.
    Reply