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 responding to the Intel announcement, or if instead Intel learned of the impending WDC announcement and decided to preempt it with one of their own.  Of course, it all could have been nothing more than a coincidence – we may never know!

Quite interestingly, the Intel announcement boasted of the company’s superior “Areal Density” a term used exclusively by the HDD industry until now.  This is a measure of the number of bits that can be fit into a unit of area (typically one square inch) of disk space.  The semiconductor memory equivalent of this is called “Bit Density”.  Intel’s use of the term indicates that the company may be trying to learn the language of old-time HDD users in order to win a place in their hearts and minds.

I find it amusing that Intel also states that: “[We] expect a fast ramp of bit supply based on 64-layer, TLC, 3D NAND by mid-2018.”  This coincides perfectly with the NAND oversupply that Objective Analysis has been predicting for the past two years.