3D NAND: “I Have More Layers than You Do!”

Layer CountYesterday’s news really underscored the race currently underway between 3D NAND makers to produce higher layer counts than one another.

Intel produced an announcement in which VP Rob Crooke bragged that: “Intel has delivered the world’s first commercially available 64-layer, TLC, 3D NAND solid state drive (SSD). While others have been talking about it, we have delivered.”

The announcement explained that the new Intel SSD 545s could be purchased at Newegg beginning that day.

The Memory Guy received Intel’s announcement at 10:02 AM Pacific Time.  By 3:11 PM, five hours later, there was another announcement in my “In” box, this time from Western Digital (WDC).

WDC’s e-mail announced the development of the the SanDisk/Toshiba next-generation BiCS4 3D NAND technology, with 96 layers.  The companies expect to begin to sample a 256Gb part to OEM customers in the second half of 2017 with production starting by the end of next year.

One has to wonder if WDC was Continue reading

Super-Cooled DRAM for Big Power Savings

Frozen DRAM - Hacker10Recently Rambus announced that it was using cryogenic temperatures to boost computer performance in large datacenters.  This research is being done in a joint project with Microsoft who is developing a processor based on Josephson Junctions.

This is an effort to provide a performance increases greater than can be attained through standard semiconductor scaling.  The research project aims to attain improvements in cycle time, power consumption, and compute density, leading to better energy efficiency and cost of ownership (COO).  The companies hope to gain side benefits of being able to squeeze more bits onto a DRAM chip thus reducing cost per bit, improving performance, and making DRAM chips less costly to produce.

The system these two companies are researching uses a memory system that is cooled to 77 degrees Kelvin (77°K) with a processor that operates at 4°K.  To do this the memory system is bathed in liquid nitrogen while the processor is cooled by liquid helium.  The temperatures are the boiling points of these two liquids.

Surprisingly, the fact that these two subsystems are in different Continue reading

Examining 3D XPoint’s 1,000 Times Endurance Benefit

3D XPoint Endurance GraphicThe Memory Guy, as a regular reader of The SSD Guy’s posts, found an interesting one that compares the endurance of Optane SSDs against that of NAND flash SSDs.  Perhaps this could provide some insight into the Intel & Micron claim that 3D XPoint Memory’s endurance is 1,000 times that of standard NAND flash, shown in the graphic to the left.

The SSD Guy post converts several different measures of SSD endurance against each other: TBW, DWPD, and GB/Day.  Definitions of these terms can be found in that post.

It occurred to me that any of these can be used to roughly gauge the relative endurance of 3D XPoint Memory against that of NAND flash.

Take DWPD for example: Drive Writes per Day.  Not only is this a measure of how many times that an SSD can be over-written every day, but it’s also an indication of the number of times that each memory cell can be overwritten.  If you know this, and if you know how long Continue reading

Why Satellites Are Programmed Differently

We Are Doomed!Most engineers never consider the weight of the firmware in their designs.  You probably are saying to yourself: “Firmware doesn’t weigh anything!”  In fact, you are wrong.

There is probably no application to which this is more important than the satellite industry.  With payloads costing $20 – $40 per gram to launch into Earth orbit the weight of firmware becomes an enormously important part of the cost of putting a satellite into orbit.

Amplify this by the fact that a growing number of hardware-based functions are being replaced by their firmware equivalents, and by the fact that modularized firmware is being used to replace smaller hand-tuned subroutines with larger general-purpose routines, and you find that the number of ones and zeros in the average satellite is ballooning at a rate of more than ten times per year.

Is this bad?  In this blog post The Memory Guy will put some numbers around the issue.

Firmware is stored as ones and zeros.  In flash memory or DRAM these ones and zeros are stored either by adding Continue reading

Using ECC to Reduce Power

CMU Most DRAM Refreshes UnnecessaryA couple of papers at last week’s ISSCC (the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference) caught The Memory Guy’s attention.  Both SK hynix and Samsung showed low-power DRAM designs in which the refresh rate of the DRAM was reduced in order to cut power consumption, with ECC applied to correct the resulting bit errors.

Although I had not heard of this approach before, I have recently learned that researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and my alma mater Georgia Tech presented the idea in a paper delivered at another IEEE conference in 2015: The International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks.

Here’s the basic concept: DRAM consumes most of its power performing refresh cycles, the issue for which it was given the “Dynamic” part of its name: Dynamic Random-Access Memory.  This use of the word “Dynamic” is a euphemism.  In reality the bits are constantly decaying, but that doesn’t sound as nice.

When the technology was developed in the early 1970s DRAM manufacturers offered to Continue reading

Is Intel Adding Yet Another Memory Layer?

Where the Piecemakers DRAM FitsAt the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) last week a new “Last Level Cache” was introduced by a DRAM company called “Piecemakers Technology,” along with Taiwan’s ITRI, and Intel.

The chip was designed with a focus on latency, rather than bandwidth.  This is unusual for a DRAM.

Presenter Tah-Kang Joseph Ting explained that, although successive generations of DDR interfaces has increased DRAM sequential bandwidth by a couple of orders of magnitude, latency has been stuck at 30ns, and it hasn’t improved with the WideIO interface or the new TSV-based High Bandwidth Memory (HBM) or the Hybrid Memory Cube (HMC).  Furthermore, there’s a much larger latency gap between the processor’s internal Level 3 cache and the system DRAM than there is between any adjacent cache levels.  The researchers decided to design a product to fill this gap.

Many readers may be familiar with my bandwidth vs. cost chart that the Memory Guy has used to introduce SSDs and 3D XPoint memory.  The gap that needs filling is Continue reading

64-Layer 3D NAND Chips Revealed at ISSCC

Toshiba-WD 64-Layer 3D NAND at ISSCC17This week both the Toshiba-Western Digital team and Samsung disclosed details of their 64-layer 3D NAND designs at the IEEE’s International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC)The Memory Guy thought that it would be interesting to compare these two companies’ 64-layer chips against each other and against the one that Micron presented at last year’s ISSCC.

Allow me to point out that it’s no easy feat to get to 64 layers.  Not only must the process build all 64 layers (or actually pairs of layers plus some additional ones for control) across the entire 300mm wafer with high uniformity and no defects, but then holes must be etched through varying materials from the top to the bottom with absolutely parallel sides at aspect ratios of about 60:1, that is, the hole is 60 times as deep as it is wide.  After this the fab must deposit uniform layers of material onto the sides of these skinny holes without any variation in thickness.

None of these processes have ever been used to build any other semiconductor — it’s all brand new.  This is what makes 3D NAND so challenging, and it’s why the technology is already 3 years behind its original schedule.

It’s not easy to tell from the conference papers whether or not Continue reading

Toshiba Decides to Split Off Memory Business

Toshiba Revenue HistoryIn a letter to shareholders released today, Toshiba finally clarified its plans for restructuring the company.  Since January 18 there have been numerous rumors that Toshiba planned to spin its memory business off or sell it outright.  Today’s letter indicates that this hasn’t been decided yet.  In fact, other than to call a late March shareholder vote and to reveal a restructuring, the letter discloses extraordinarily little.

In a nutshell Toshiba has decided to isolate the memory business (including the SSD business but not the HDD and image sensor businesses) into a separate wholly-owned subsidiary.  There was no mention of either the recently-shrinking Discrete business or the System LSI business, which has been in a steady decline for the past decade.  Click on this post’s graphic to see how each of the company’s semiconductor businesses has been doing.

The intent appears to be to groom the subsidiary to be spun off or sold, but this has not been expressly stated.  Instead Toshiba simply states that: “The Company is still considering various structures with a view to an injection of third-party capital.”

The letter reiterates Toshiba’s prior position that the memory business Continue reading

US Plans Response to China’s Chip Plan

Presidential SealOn its way out the door the Obama Administration put together a proposed response to China’s plans to invest $150 billion in the semiconductor market over the next five years.  It seems that US semiconductor industry views China’s investment as a threat to its position in the market.

Last week the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) delivered a 25-page Report to the President entitled: “Ensuring Long-Term U.S. Leadership in Semiconductors.”

You might ask: “Who is PCAST?”  The organization states its mission in this paragraph: “The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is an advisory group of the Nation’s leading scientists and engineers, appointed by the President to augment the science and technology advice available to him from inside the White House and from cabinet departments and other Federal agencies. PCAST is consulted about, and often makes policy recommendations concerning, the full range of issues where understandings from the domains of science, technology, and innovation bear potentially on the policy choices before the President.”

PCAST has a small Semiconductors Working Group whose elite members include Continue reading

Memsys: A New Memory Conference

1999 White HouseSince I am the Memory Guy I hate learning that I missed something new and cool in the world of memories, but somehow I was unaware of last week’s Memsys conference in Washington DC until a participant notified me on Saturday that his paper: “Reverse Engineering of DRAMs: Row Hammer with Crosshair,” had been given the the best paper award.

Upon looking at the Memsys website it looks like a very intriguing academic conference.  about sixty papers were presented in eight interesting sessions:

  • Issues in High Performance Computing
  • Nonvolatile Main Memories and DRAM Caches, Parts I & II
  • Hybrid Memory Cube and Alternative DRAM Channels
  • Thinking Outside the Box
  • Improving the DRAM Device Architecture
  • Issues and Interconnects for 2.5D and 3D Packaging
  • Some Amazingly Cool Physical Experiments

in addition to a few apparently-fascinating keynotes.

Fortunately, all of the papers are Continue reading

Contact

Jim Handy Objective Analysis Memory Market Research +1 (408) 356-2549 Jim.Handy (at) Objective-Analysis.com

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