The market for 3D flash storage solutions heats up as Toshiba announces its industry-first QLC memory.
Samsung isn't the only semiconductor company that's upping its 3D flash game.
Toshiba America Electronic Components this week announced the latest advance in BiCS Flash, the company's 3D NAND flash technology, setting the stage for higher-capacity solid-state drives (SSDs) and flash-based arrays for the data center. Claiming an industry first, Toshiba unveiled its new 4-bit-per-cell, quadruple-level cell (QLC) 3D flash memory chips.
Compared to the preceding 3-bit-per-cell, triple-level cell (TLC) technology's die capacity of 512Gb, or 64GB, from Toshiba, the newer, 64-layer QLC BiCS Flash memory technology yields a record-breaking die capacity of 768Gb or 96GB. Using a stacked architecture comprised of 16 dies, Toshiba claims it can deliver 1.5TB of flash-storage capacity in a single package, another record.
"From SLC to MLC and MLC to TLC, large technology shifts are often met by industry resistance and the introduction of QLC is no exception," said Scott Nelson, senior vice president of Toshiba America Electronic Components' memory business division. "There will always be demand for compelling storage solutions that bring higher densities and produce a favorable cost/performance equation – our QLC technology falls squarely into that sweet spot."
Toshiba expects its new QLC flash chips to appear in enterprise SSDs, as well as other storage solutions for the consumer and mobile space. Some vendors already have a head start. This month, the company began quietly shipping evaluation samples to SSD and SSD controller makers. Toshiba also plans to demonstrate samples during the upcoming 2017 Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara, California (Aug. 7-10).
Meanwhile, Samsung has begun ramping up production of its own 64-layer 3D flash chips.
Samsung's new 3-bit 256Gb V-NAND chips is 1.5 times faster than its 48-layer predecessor. The chips are capable of data transfers of up to 1Gbps and feature industry-leading page program times (tPROG) of 500 microseconds, claims the South Korean electronics giant. tPROG is a measure of the time required to write data to a specified flash cell.
These recent moves by both Toshiba and Samsung may have a big impact on the economics of all-flash arrays, potentially leading to increased adoption.
Jim Handy, general manager of Objective Analysis, expects flash prices to remain flat or jump slightly until 3D NAND is mastered. His firm predicts that perhaps by mid-2018, prices will drop significantly as flash producers grow more adept at pumping out 3D NAND, driving prices far lower than the current 30 cents per GB.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Enterprise Storage Forum. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.