3D NAND: Benefits of Charge Traps over Floating Gates

Real California Cheese SealA prior post in this series (3D NAND: Making a Vertical String) discussed the difficulties of successfully manufacturing a charge trap flash bit.  Still, Spansion, and now other flash makers, have determined to take this route.  Why is that?

In Spansion’s case, a charge trap was a means of doubling the bit capacity of its products.  It was an inexpensive alternative to standard MLC flash.  To date this strategy has worked very well.

As mentioned in that earlier post, 3D NAND uses a charge trap because it’s extremely difficult to create features, like a floating gate, sideways – lithography works from the top down.  A charge trap, when used to replace a floating gate, doesn’t need to be patterned, since the charge on one bit’s charge trap will not leak through the insulating charge trap layer into an adjacent bit cell.

There are other benefits to using a charge trap though.  Charge traps require a lower programming voltage than do floating gates.  This, in turn, reduces the stress on the tunnel oxide.  Since stress causes wear in flash memories, the lower programming voltage gives charge trap flash greater endurance than conventional floating gate.

A charge trap can improve bit reliability another way: Since the charge trap is an insulator the charge in the trap can’t flow from one side of the trap to the other, the way it would in a floating gate.  At the Flash Memory Summit Samsung likened this to using cheese instead of water for the charge trap, thus this post’s graphic.  Although stress-induced leakage can drain the charge off a floating gate, the same phenomenon would only drain the charge off of a portion of a charge trap without disturbing the charge on the remainder of the trap.  This makes it far less likely that a single point defect in the tunnel oxide layer would cause a bit to fail as it would in a conventional floating gate flash.

Reduced oxide stress, and lower sensitivity to single-point defects combine to significantly improve overall reliability.  Samsung, in its V-NAND roll-out last August claimed that a charge trap provides twice to ten times the reliability of a sub-20nm planar floating gate NAND flash memory

Also, charge traps consume less energy during program and erase, so a 3D NAND that is based upon a charge trap is likely to be more energy-efficient than its floating gate counterpart.  This translates to longer battery life.  Samsung says its V-NAND provides a 40% improvement in power consumption over planar flash.

Charge traps are also faster to program than conventional floating gate flash.  Samsung claimed that its 3D NAND charge trap supports twice the write performance of a sub-20nm planar floating gate NAND flash memory, although a subsequent release said that the sequential and random write speeds of a V-NAND-based SSD increase only 20%.

All-in-all Charge trapping is a good technology and it’s something of a surprise that it hasn’t found more widespread use n planar flash designs.

This post is a part of a series called What is 3D NAND? Why do we need it? How do they make it? that was published in weekly segments during the fourth quarter of 2013 on The Memory Guy blog.  The different sections are listed below, with a hot link to each section.

Click on any of the above links to learn more about 3D NAND technology.

9 thoughts on “3D NAND: Benefits of Charge Traps over Floating Gates”

  1. Hello Jim,

    Sorry for arriving late to the party, I haven’t found this blog earlier. A big thank You for Your wonderfully comprehensible articles. It was really a joy to read a lot of them for the last hour or so.

    I was just curious after thinking about charge traps vs. floating gate. From another source, I read that with utilization of silicon nitride instead of polysilicon, the isolating layer of silicondioxide can be made smaller.

    Smaller, because polysilicon had higher electron mobility and would discharge as soon as there are enough defects in the silicondioxide layer. This can not happen with the traps inside Silicon nitride if I recall correctly.

    When the silicondioxide layer through which the electrons have to tunnel through is smaller, there is less voltage required to program/erase – another advantage.

    But now to my actual point: doesn’t this lead to more discharge at higher temperature? As soon as the trapped electrons get enough energy (e.g. when it gets too hot), they might tunnel somewhere else, right?

    In this case, would it be fair to say that Charge Traps are more sensitive regarding higher temperatures? I guess in some use-cases this is an issue. But I guess in such environments, it would be best to stick with the good old SLC NAND anyways.

    Greetings from Germany,


    1. Simon, Thanks for the compliment!

      I asked around about your Charge Trap question and got given a lot of quantum physics in return, but, in a nutshell, I was told that the issue you noticed is only one of several ways that electrons try to escape from a charge trap or a floating gate. It appears that this is a big challenge on several fronts.

      You should be consoled, though, by the idea that all of these mechanisms have received a lot of attention in the part’s design, and that flash chips do come with the manufacturer’s guarantee that they will perform to their specifications. The one you would be concerned about in this case is data retention.

      The difference between Charge Traps and Floating Gates really shouldn’t matter, as long as you’re using the part within its specifications. If either kind of flash is rated to retain its bits for 10 years at 0°-70°C and some specific operating voltage then you shouldn’t notice a difference.

      This isn’t a perfect answer, but I hope it works for you. Thanks for reading The Memory Guy.


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