Memory and Storage

Micron and Intel Team for 3D-NAND Flash

27 March 2015

Micron Technology Inc. and Intel Corp. announced that their jointly developed 3D NAND flash memory chips will be in production by the end of 2015.

The 3D NAND technology stacks layers of data storage cells vertically, offering three times higher capacity than competing NAND technologies. The stacking of data allows for a high level of storage in a small space, enabling cost savings, lower power consumption and higher performance in mobile consumer devices and solid state drives (SSDs).

Micron (Boise, Idaho) recently broke ground on a new $4 billion expansion of its Fab 10 NAND facility in Singapore in order to prepare for 3D NAND flash production.

Dee Robinson, senior analyst for memory and storage at IHS Technology, tells Electronics360 that as part of this agreement Intel should be considered more of a customer because Intel sold its interest in two out of the three NAND fabs that the firms co-owned in 2012, resulting in a very small portion of the NAND output for Intel.

“Intel has a growing solid state drive business, so they are investing to maintain its technology leadership, and be able to help develop and foster the next generation technology,” says Robinson. “Without Micron’s fabs, [Intel] wouldn’t be able to develop the technology on its own. It is putting in the money so it can say that it is part of the next big thing in NAND.”

At present, Samsung has been the only company with a 3D NAND flash product and is planning to have all of its SSD products this year utilize 3D NAND. Robinson calls this “a rather aggressive plan because SSD makes up a substantial share of [Samsung’s] overall NAND revenue.”

Toshiba also announced March 26 its 48-layer 3D NAND flash memories would be in production in the second half of 2016.

3D NAND flash is still in its infancy and has not yet reached cost parity with more advanced planar NAND devices, according to Robinson. But flash memory vendors are expected to produce only one more generation of planar NAND flash chips before the technology reaches its practical limit, Robinson added.

“So after 2015, to meet the growing demand, suppliers will need 3D to be a success, or try to squeeze out another generation of die shrink,” says Robinson.

With Spansion also announcing its plans for 3D NAND last month, Robinson says the only competitor that has yet to publicly acknowledge its 3D NAND flash plans is SK Hynix who is also anticipated to commence production at the end 2015.

The Micron manufactured 3D NAND technology stacks flash cells vertically in 32 layers to achieve 256 gigabyte (Gb) multilevel cell (MLC) and 384Gb triple-level cell (TLC) die that fits within a standard package, Micron says. In these capacities, Micron will manufacture “gum stick-sized” SSDs with a storage capacity of 3.5TB and standard 2.5-inch SSDs with greater than 10TB capacity.

The 256Gb MLC 3D NAND version is sampling with the 384Gb TLC design expected to begin sampling later this year with full production slated to begin in the fourth quarter of 2015.

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