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These technologies will blow the lid off data storage

Lucas Mearian | March 10, 2016
Hard disk drive (HDD) and solid-state drive (SSD) makers are about to wow the storage market again.

Hard disk drive (HDD) and solid-state drive (SSD) makers are about to wow the storage market again.

This year, Intel and Micron will introduce 3D XPoint memory, also known as Optane, which will increase performance and durability 1,000-fold over today's NAND flash.

Don't count NAND flash out. While the Optane chip and other resistive memory technologies coming down the pike may result in storage-class memory that could replace costly DRAM for many applications, it won't be cheap for a long while. That leaves the door open for continued NAND flash advances.

Enter 3D NAND flash, which Samsung, Intel/Micron, Toshiba and others believe will continue to grow capacity and tamp down prices. Eventually, 3D NAND will even convince consumers that SSDs can be as affordable as HDDs.

"Very soon flash will be cheaper than rotating media," said Siva Sivaram, executive vice president of memory at SanDisk.

Meanwhile, Seagate has demonstrated its heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) for HDDs, which will enable data densities of more than 10 trillion (10Tbits) per square inch. That's 10 times higher than the areal density in today's highest density HDDs. Seagate expects to work with equipment makers in 2017 to demonstrate HAMR products for data center applications, and in 2018 the company expects to begin shipping HAMR drives to broader markets.

These recent technology advances are just the latest chapter in the long story of ever-growing storage needs forcing innovations to meet the new demand.

Storage is always up against a wall

When HDD companies faced capacity limits in the early 2000s, Toshiba and Seagate flipped data bits from lying flat on a platter to standing up side-by-side. The change from longitudinal to perpendicular magnetic recording increased HDD capacity by as much as 10 times.

When the HDD industry again faced capacity limits in 2013, Seagate overlapped data tracks like roof shingles, increasing capacity by 25%; then in 2014, HGST introduced helium filled drives, boosting capacity by 50%.

In the non-volatile memory industry, the same kind of advances have occurred to blow past capacity limits. Single-level cell (SLC) NAND flash became mult-level (MLC) NAND, where instead of one bit per transistor, two and three bits were stored. When MLC NAND faced its limits with the sub-10 nanometer (nm) lithography process, Samsung introduced 3D NAND flash, a move quickly followed by Intel/Micron and Toshiba, which stacked NAND cells up to 48-layers high. Flash manufacturers believe there's no limit in site to how high they may climb.

NAND flash skyscrapers to grow beyond 100 stories

From the first iteration, 3D NAND flash technology offered from two to 10 times higher reliability and twice the write performance of planar NAND.

 

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