Jim Handy

Emerging Memories Today: Understanding Bit Selectors

Emerging Memory ParadeThe previous post in this series (excerpted from the Objective Analysis and Coughlin Associates Emerging Memory report) explained why emerging memories are necessary.  Oddly enough, this series will explain bit selectors before defining all of the emerging memory technologies themselves.  The reason why is that the bit selector determines how small a bit cell can get, and that is a very significant component of the overall cost of the technology.  Cost, of course, is extraordinarily important because no system designer would use a component that would make a system more expensive than it absolutely needs to be!

A number of the Memory Guy’s readers may never have heard of a selector. I’ll explain it here.  It’s not complicated.

Every bit cell in a memory chip requires a selector.  This device routes the bit cell’s contents onto a bus that eventually makes its way to the chip’s pins, allowing it to be read or written.  The bit cell’s technology determines the type of selector that is appropriate: SRAMs use two transistors, DRAMs use one transistor, and flash memories combine a transistor with the Continue reading

Videos Demystify MLC NAND Programming

TLC one-Pass WriteWhat really happens in NAND flash during an MLC, TLC, or QLC write?  Although there are lots of websites that explain that multilevel cells store four, or eight, or sixteen different voltage levels on a cell (for MLC, TLC, or QLC), they don’t spell out the process of putting those voltage levels onto the bit cell.

Fortunately, Vic Ye, Manager, NAND Flash Characterization at Yeestor Microelectronics Co., Ltd. in Shenzhen, China presented the programming process in a series of short videos at the Flash Memory Summit last August.  The Memory Guy was fortunate enough to attend his presentation.  Yeestor is a fabless semiconductor manufacturer that manufactures flash storage controllers for SSDs (PCIe & SATA) and flash cards (SD, UFS, eMMC, etc.)

Mr. Ye later gave me permission to share his videos and these are the foundation of this post.  They’re brief (13 seconds to 1:10) so they won’t take much time to review.  The videos were a part of his slide presentation titled: A Graphical Journey into 3D NAND Program Operations that can be downloaded from The Flash Memory Summit website by clicking the presentation title above and entering your e-mail address.

A multilevel flash bit cell has Continue reading

Emerging Memories Today: Why Emerging Memories are Necessary

Emerging Memory ParadeNon-silicon memory technologies have been studied for about as long as have silicon-based technologies, but the silicon technologies have always been preferred.  Why is that, and why should anything change?

This is a question that The Memory Guy is often asked.  The answer is relatively simple.

Silicon memory technologies benefit from the fact that they have always been manufactured on process technologies that are nearly identical to those used to produce CMOS logic, and can therefore take advantage of the advancements that are jointly developed for both memory and logic processes.  In fact, before the middle 1980s, logic and memory processes were identical.  It wasn’t until then that the memory market grew large enough (over $5 billion/year) that it could support any additional process development on its own.

Even so, memory processes and logic processes are more similar than different.  This synergy between memory and logic continues to reduce the process development cost for both memories and logic.

Emerging memories depart from Continue reading

Valuable Memory Technical Resources

India Inst of Tech Hyderabad SealEver since moving to Silicon Valley some time ago The Memory Guy has worked with a number of impressively-talented engineers from India.  Some are educated in the US, while others are educated in India.  One university that produces excellent engineers is the Indian Institute of Technology, or IIT.

It comes as no surprise, then, to find a valuable resource produced by an IIT faculty member.  Dr. Sparsh Mittal, an assistant professor at IIT Hyderabad, reached out to me to share some papers that he thought might be of interest to Memory Guy readers. They were a few of roughly 40 papers that he has posted on his publications page.  He explained that he previously worked at Oak Ridge National Lab, in the US.

Dr. Sparsh has published several very comprehensive surveys on memory systems, both conventional and emerging, covering topics like DRAM reliability, NVM/Flash, ReRAM-based processing-in-memory, and the architecture of neural networks.  The web page lists 34 surveys, eight of them Continue reading

Emerging Memories Today: New Blog Series

Emerging Memory ParadeThere’s never been a more exciting time for emerging memory technologies. New memory types like PCM, MRAM, ReRAM, FRAM, and others have been waiting patiently, sometimes for decades, for an opportunity to make a sizeable markets of their own.  Today it appears that their opportunity is very near.

Some of these memory types are already being manufactured in volume, and the established niches that these chips sell into can provide good revenue.  But the market is poised to experience a very dramatic upturn as advanced logic processing nodes drive sophisticated processors and ASICs to adopt emerging persistent memory technologies.  Meanwhile Intel has started to aggressively promote its new 3D XPoint memory for use as a persistent (nonvolatile) memory layer for advanced computing.  It’s no wonder that SNIA, JEDEC, and other standards bodies, along with the Linux community and major software firms are working hard to implement the necessary standards and ecosystems to support widespread adoption of the persistent nature of these new technologies.

This post introduces a Continue reading

Memory Market Falling, as Predicted

Memory Price & Cost BehaviorIt’s earnings call season, and we have heard of a slowing DRAM market and NAND flash price declines from Micron, SK hynix, Intel, and now Samsung.  DRAM prices have stopped increasing, and that can be viewed as a precursor to a price decline.

Samsung’s 31 October, 2018 3Q18 earnings call vindicated Objective Analysis‘ forecast for a 2H18 downturn in memories that will take the rest of the semiconductor market with it.

Those familiar with our forecast know that for a few years we have been predicting a downturn in the  second half of this year as NAND flash prices fall, followed by a DRAM price collapse.  After the DRAM collapse the rest of the semiconductor market will undergo a downturn.

We’ve been calling for this downturn for some time.  Dan Hutcheson at VLSI Research has been videotaping our forecast every December for the past Continue reading

Monatomic PCMs: A New Direction

Ron Neale[The following is a guest post written by Ron Neale.]

Until now designers of PCM devices have tried to make PCM meet their expectations by experimenting with an almost infinite number of possible multi-element glass compositions, in order to tinker with or emphasise a particular composition-related device characteristic. The apparent advantage of this great variety of materials comes with the baggage of reliability and performance-compromising element separation, driven by the forces of electro-migration, electrostatic effects and phase separation.

Is it possible to cast aside the problems of the multi-element PCM compositions and look at the possibility of monatomic PCMs?  For a team at IBM, Zurich and Aachen University the answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” and recently they have published details of the remarkable progress they have made with amorphous antimony (Sb), as an initial candidate element. This research was published in a June 2018 paper in Nature Materials Letters titled: Monatomic phase change memory, by Martin Salinga et al, IBM and Aachen University).

A difficulty faces those venturing in this new direction: While it is possible to bring many elements to the amorphous state, they very quickly crystallize at room temperature and higher.  The IBM researchers used simulations to find that the keys to obtaining a stable amorphous state is to control the quenching rate and the volume of the sample. That part of the antimony research is underpinned by some very impressive simulations that use only about 200 atoms.

Here’s the issue that this approach Continue reading

Why are NAND Flash Fabs so Huge?

NAND Economies of ScaleMany readers have probably wondered why NAND flash fabs are so enormous.  Although DRAM fabs used to be the largest, running around 60,000 wafers per month, NAND flash fabs now put that number to shame, running anywhere from 100,000-300,000 wafers per month.  Why are they so huge?

The reason is that you need to run that many wafers to reach the optimum equipment balance.  The equipment must be balanced or some of it will be sitting idle, and with some tools costing $50 million (immersion scanners) you want to minimize their idle time to the smallest possible number.  I am sure that this is a tough problem, although I have never had to solve it myself.

The most important reason that so much attention is focused on this is that the cost of the wafer depends on the efficiency of the fab.  If you built a $13 billion NAND flash fab that produced 90,000 wafers per month instead of 100,000 wafers per month, then the amount of investment per wafer would be 10% higher.  That can make a significant difference to Continue reading

Extending the Write/Erase Lifetime of Phase Change Memory: Part 4 – The Possible Implications for 3D XPoint and Optane

Ron NealeThis is Part 4 of a series contributed by Ron Neale to the Memory Guy blog, in which Ron looks into some important detailed analytical work by a joint team at IBM and Yale University which might point to the way of achieving improved PCM endurance.


I want, in this final part, to focus on its possible implications for commercial PCM products.

When Intel and Micron first introduced 3D XPoint Memory the companies claimed that it would be 1,000 times as fast as flash memory with 1,000 times the endurance at ten times the density of standard memory (meaning DRAM).  Now that Intel’s XPoint-based Optane SSDs have been released and their specifications are public we can estimate what the technology’s endurance might be.

The table below, explained in another Memory Guy blog post, gives estimates of best-case endurance for the cells in the XPoint memory in Optane SSDs.  In other words, with a sophisticated enough controller, good DRAM buffering, and overprovisioning, all of which are techniques commonly used to extend the life of the media in a NAND flash SSD, the cell lifetime could be significantly lower than that shown in the last column of the table and the SSD would still provide the specified endurance.  (These techniques are explained in detail in an SSD Guy blog post series for anyone who is interested in understanding them.)

As the calculated Continue reading

Making Sense of Intel & Micron’s XPoint Breakup

Micron-Intel 3D XPoint Memory InternalsOn Monday, July 16, Intel and Micron announced the termination of the two companies’ 3D XPoint Memory development efforts.  The companies will complete development of the second-generation product after which the IMFT Lehi, Utah facility will continue to manufacture the product but the two companies will no longer co-develop new versions of the 3D XPoint Memory.

Most readers haven’t been watching this business as carefully as The Memory Guy, and are puzzled by the move.  I will share what I know in an attempt to make the decision a little clearer.

Three years ago in July 2015 the two companies held an event to launch 3D XPoint Memory technology.  This upcoming technology would be 1,000 times faster than flash, and provide 1,000 times the endurance, on a chip that was 10 times as dense as “Standard Memory,” which everyone was to infer was DRAM.  This last implied that the technology would sell for a lower price than DRAM, and that’s the most important way that a technology that’s slower than DRAM can gain acceptance in a Continue reading