Technical Trends

Flash Memory Summit: Limitless Layers of 3D NAND

SanDisk Technology Roadmap 2014The single most interesting thing I learned at the 2015 Flash Memory Summit was that 3D NAND doesn’t have a natural limit, after which some other memory type will need to be adopted.

For years SanDisk has been presenting a memory roadmap (this post’s graphic is one rendition) that anticipates a move to ReRAM after 3D NAND has run through its natural life, which was expected to be as little as three generations.  This has been backed by the idea that a 3D NAND stack would only be able to reach a certain number of layers before it would encounter difficulties caused by the need to etch a high aspect ratio hole through an increasing number of layers.

The aspect ratio issue is not hard to understand: Let’s assume that the hole in a 24-layer stack has an aspect ratio of 40:1, then a 32-layer hole would have an aspect ratio of about 50:1, and a 64-layer stack would be something close to 100:1.  Today’s technology starts to have trouble etching holes with an aspect ratio higher than 60:1.

These high aspect ratios were thought to be the limiting factor that would prevent 3D NAND from continuing for more than three generations.  3D NAND could only have as many layers as the aspect ratio could support.

On a panel that I moderated at this year’s Flash Memory Summit one panelist, Dr. Myoung Kwan Cho of SK hynix, explained that although there is a limit Continue reading

Micron/Intel 3D XPoint Raises More Questions than Answers

Micron-Intel 3D XPoint Memory InternalsMicron and Intel hosted an event in San Francisco Tuesday, July 28, to introduce a new memory technology that they have named “3D XPoint”.  This technology was explained to be “up to 1,000 times faster, with 1,000 times the endurance of NAND flash” while being significantly cheaper than DRAM.

Some technical details:

  • 3D XPoint is a “Fundamentally Different Technology” than current memory types.  It’s an ReRAM that uses material property changes for bit storage where both DRAM and NAND use charge to store a bit
  • The chip currently stores 128Gb in two stacked planes of 64Gb each, storing a single bit per cell
    • Today’s densest production NAND flash chips store 128GB by using MLC, so this chip actually has twice as many bit cells as any production NAND flash
    • The companies do not see a clear limit to the number of planes they can stack, but are optimistic about this
  • The bulk mechanism can be used to store multiple bits on a single cell (MLC)
  • Today’s chip is made using a 20nm process, but can scale well past that
    • There is no clear limit of how far the technology can be scaled
  • It’s 1,000 times faster than NAND flash and offers 1,000 times NAND’s endurance
  • It’s 10 times as dense as today’s “Conventional Memory” (which I suppose to be DRAM)
  • This is not intended to replace either NAND or DRAM, but to coexist as a new memory layer between NAND and DRAM

The companies claim that other Continue reading

Four New Players Join 3D NAND Market

Micron & Intel's 3D NAND Die PhotoThe following is excerpted from an Objective Analysis Alert sent to our clients on March 26: On March 25 SanDisk and Toshiba announced sampling of their 3D NAND flash technology, a 128Gb (gigabit) 48-layer second-generation product based on the BiCS technology that the companies pioneered in 2007.  Pilot production will begin in the second half of 2015 with meaningful production targeted for 2016. This release was issued at the same time that Intel and Micron were briefing the press and analysts for their March 26 announcement of their own 3D NAND offering (pictured), which is currently sampling with select customers, and is to enter full production by year-end.  The Micron-Intel chip is a 32-layer 256Gb device, which the companies proudly point out is the densest flash chip in the industry.

Similarities and Differences

These two joint ventures (Intel-Micron and SanDisk-Toshiba) are taking very different Continue reading

What’s This Nano-Imprint Litho that Toshiba and SK hynix are Co-Developing?

BackToZero Sealing WaxLast week Toshiba and SK hynix announced an agreement to jointly develop Nano Imprint Lithography (NIL), building on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that two companies signed in December last year.  Development efforts will begin this April and practical adoption is expected to start in 2017.  The collaboration is expected to reduce risk and accelerate commercialization of this technology.

NIL is expected to produce next-generation lithography at high throughput rates more economically than established lithography tools.  It is should compete against Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, an alternative technology whose use has been delayed by numerous technical challenges.  EUV, a euphemism for X-Rays, cannot use transmissive optics like glass lenses, so a completely new reflective imaging technology has had to be developed to support its use.  The advantage of EUV is that the light wavelength is only 13nm, which is an order of magnitude smaller than the 193nm light currently used to produce leading-edge chips, allowing it to print significantly smaller features.

Unlike today’s lithography, which uses a purely photographic process, NIL mechanically stamps a pattern into the photoresist in a similar manner to the sealing wax stamp shown in the photo (courtesy of BackToZero, a wax stamp maker).  The stamp is produced using Continue reading

Finally! Samsung’s 3-Bit V-NAND Arrives

3-bit V-NANDSamsung has finally introduced the 3-bit 3D NAND chip it revealed at last August’s Flash Memory Summit.  This announcement was made in the form of an SSD announcement.

For those who were unable to attend the Flash Memory Summit, Samsung’s Senior VP of Memory R&D, Bob Brennan, announced in his keynote speech that a 3D 32-layer V-NAND, a chip that would achieve twice the chip density of planar NAND, was entering production and that SSDs would follow in a month.  Now, two months later, Samsung has announced those SSDs.

This week’s release reiterates Continue reading

New Book: Vertical 3D Memory Technologies

Book: Vertical 3D Memory Technologies - Betty PrinceWiley has recently published a new book by Betty Prince titled Vertical 3D NAND Technologies that is one to consider if you want to bring yourself up to speed on recent research behind today’s and tomorrow’s 3D memory technologies.

For those who haven’t previously encountered Dr. Prince, she is the author of a number of key books covering memory design and holds memory patents written over her 30-year career in the field.

The book provides capsule summaries of over 360 papers and articles from scholarly journals on the subject of 3D memories, including DRAM, NAND flash, and stacked chips.

These papers are organized into Continue reading

SanDisk’s Amazing 512GB SD Card

SanDisk's 512GB SD CardSanDisk has introduced an SD Card with a whopping 512 gigabytes of storage.  Noting that SD Card capacities have increased by 1,000 times over the past ten years, from 512MB to 512GB, the company says that this product is aimed at professional HD videographers (who can justify its $800 price) allowing them to shoot Raw-format footage without shutting their cameras off, which could potentially allow them to miss a magic moment.

To The Memory Guy this represents an amazing piece of packaging technology.  Let’s see why:

In 2003 SanDisk’s 512MB card contained Continue reading

Intel to Use Micron Hybrid Memory Cube

Micron: "Bursting Through The Memory Wall"Intel and Micron today announced that the new version of Intel’s Xeon Phi, a highly parallel coprocessor for research applications, will be built using a custom version of Micron’s Hybrid Memory Cube, or HMC.

This is only the second announced application for this new memory product – the first was a Fujitsu supercomputer back in November.

For those who, like me, were unfamiliar with the Xeon Phi, it’s a module that uses high core-count processors for problems that can be solved with high degrees of parallelism.  My friend and processor guru Nathan Brookwood tells me Continue reading

Making 3D NAND Flash – Animated Video

The good people at Coventor have graciously allowed me to post their video of the Pipe-Shaped BiCS 3D NAND flash process onto The Memory Guy blog site.  Click the image to see it play out.

Coventor tells me that they are the leading Continue reading

Samsung Begins Operations at its Xi’an Fab

Samsung's Xi'an, China fabSamsung has announced that the company’s newest memory fabrication plant (Fab) in Xi’an, China has “begun full-scale production operations”, adding that: “The new facility will manufacture Samsung’s advanced NAND flash memory chips: 3D V-NAND.”

I immediately asked whether the plant will build products other than 3D NAND, and the company has replied that this will be the only product produced in the Xi’an plant.  What Samsung has not said is what is meant by “full-scale production operations.”  Typically wafer fabs start with a very low production capacity as new tools are being qualified, only ramping to high-volume production a year or more after initial production.

Samsung points out that production has begun a mere 20 months after initial groundbreaking, which is quite Continue reading

Contact

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

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