How NAND Flash Has Charted a New Storage Course

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2012-04-11 Print this article Print


NAND flash also has helped chart a new path in which consumers are able to carry videos, music, books and data with them wherever they go, and not have to leave all that content inside a desktop or laptop PC.

"NAND flash has truly permeated our lives; this technology has been a game changer, making the world a different place and making many of the products we use today possible," said Scott Nelson, vice president of the Memory Business Unit at Toshiba America Electronic Components. "The cost/performance of NAND flash continues to stand the test of time."

For the record, the major difference between NAND and NOR flash, which tend to fit different use cases, is speed. NOR-based flash, which first came to the market from Toshiba in 1988, has long erase and write times but provides full address and data buses, allowing random access to any memory location. NAND flash has much faster read-write performance and thus is in more demand in the markets.

Flash memory stores information in an array of memory cells made from floating-gate transistors. In traditional single-level cell (SLC) devices, each cell stores only one bit of information. Some newer flash memory, known as multi-level cell (MLC) devices, can store more than one bit per cell by choosing between multiple levels of electrical charge to apply to the floating gates of its cells.

Key Facts, Figures on NAND Flash

The evolution of the flash memory types has been remarkable., a respected longtime daily email news source for the industry, has been following NAND flash development for years and has a deep archive of vendor information and analysis on the technology. Here are some facts from that archive:

Flash chips: Increased capacity and lower price of flash keys and SSDs depend directly on the manufacturing process of NAND flash memory chips. SanDisk and Toshiba are now offering MLC generation at 128GB capacity in a 3-bit-per-cell chip on a 170mm² silicon die built on the most recent 19nm process. Intel, Samsung, Seagate, Nvidia, LSI, Micron and Western Digital are among the world's major manufacturers of flash processors.

Flash keys (or thumb drives): The first USB flash keys were developed in the late 1990s, the first company in this field being apparently M-Systems, later acquired by SanDisk. In the U.S., IBM sold an 8MB version in 2001, named Memory Key. Now they have reached 128GB and the prices have declined rapidly. The first 128MB devices cost $30 or $234/GB. Now you can get a 64GB unit for $60 or $0.9/GB.

SSDs: Once more, M-Systems appeared to be the first one in SSDs in 1995. Since 1999, has referenced 590 different models launched by 97 different companies. Among the first ones, BiTMICRO Networks revealed in 1999 the E-Disk SNX35 in 3.5-inch form factor with a capacity from 128MB to 10GB, access time of 500ms, maximum 4MB/s read and write through SCSI-2 interface. The following year M-Systems revealed the FFD SCSI, a 2.5-inch 3GB SSD with maximum 4MB/s read and 3MB/s write. Today one can obtain as much as 16TB into a PCIe SSD (from OCZ) up to 4GB/s read and 3.8GB/s write (Foremay). OCZ recently announced access time as low as 0.04ms for read and 0.02ms for write operations.

Prices have declined drastically in recent years, and SSDs are now competing on a much-improved basis with HDDs. Globally, they still cost about five times more, but all their performance specs are superior. In 2003, Simple Technology's SSD of 2GB was priced at $2,000/GB. Last year, a 650GB unit from OCZ was selling at $1.30/GB. 

Toshiba's commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the invention of NAND flash will continue throughout 2012. Included in the celebration will be industry events and consumer participation. An interactive campaign that will reference industry voices and experiences exploring the impact of NAND flash is forthcoming.

Chris Preimesberger is eWEEK Editor for Features and Analysis. Twitter: @editingwhiz.

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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