Micron Prepping MX300 With 3D TLC NAND For April

In addition to launching a new series of enterprise SSDs, Micron has also updated us on their plans for their consumer and OEM client business. While it’s interesting and all to read about enterprise drives, most of you probably won’t need the performance or be able to shell out the big bucks for them. To that end, Micron is planning on a number of releases for their Crucial consumer brand, the big one being the MX300.

With a pedigree that stretches back years from the M4, M500, M550, MX100 and MX200, the MX300 will be the first to utilize TLC. Prior to that, all drives had used the faster and more durable MLC. This won’t be any plain old TLC though as the MX300 will be using Micron’s first 3D TLC NAND. This TLC will come in 384Gbit dies and feature better performance and endurance compared to the planar TLC found in the BX200. No word has been revealed about the controller, but I would expect the Marvell 88SS1074 since that controller is optimized for TLC and the M series have always used Marvell controllers. I would expect the MX300 feature some kind of SLC NAND cache as well.

In addition to the MX300, Micron will also be releasing 2 OEM client SSDs as well. While not targeted to consumers, they still might be available in retail channels. These are the 1100 and 2100 series, both with unknown NAND. We can make some guesses about controllers as one is Marvell M.2 SATA and likely the 88SS1074 and the other is Silicon Motion Industries M.2 PCIe, likely the 2260.

Micron also expected 3D NAND to hit the data center lineups later in the year. There is no timeline yet on when we might see Intel and Micron’s vaunted 3D XPoint. Hopefully, we will be able to bring you some performance numbers for the MX300 once it launches later this month.

Intel Announces New 3D NAND SSD Lineup

Intel has had a set of super-fast high-speed SSDs based on the cutting edge 3D NAND flash storage chips in the works for some time now, with the first of these drives having been announced on Thursday. This lineup of SSDs combine both amazing speed and capacities of up to 2TB, which may seem impressive, but some customers have been left disappointed, expecting the drives to be capable of up to 10TB.

The drives announced by Intel that make use of 3D NAND include the SD DC P3320, SSD DC 3520, SSD DC D3700 and D3600, which are all targeted at data centers, workstations, storage arrays and other heavyweight business uses. The drives were designed with the needs of enterprises in mind, developing them with a focus on speed, durability and reliability over sheer capacity, which leaves them a long way behind Samsung’s 15.36TB PM1633a SSD.

Intel’s drives make use of Micron’s 3D NAND chips, which only started being shipped last month. These 3D NAND flash storage chips offer improvements in both speed and density compared to typical flash storage as the storage cells are layered on top of one another, instead of side-by-side. That closeness also allows for far higher transfer speeds. In order to capitalize on these speeds, these SSDs connect to PCI Express 3.0 slots, which allows for higher data rates than typical SATA. This has been shown as the drives are capable of data rates of 365,000 input-output per second for read operations and 22,000 IOPS for writes. Sequentially, the read speed is 1600 megabytes per second, and the write 1400 megabytes per second, making it significantly faster than Intel’s previous SSD, the DC S3510. The DC D3700 and D3600 are even able to make use of multiple PCI-E slots in order to boost the speeds even further, offering as much as a 25% speed increase for some operations.

Unfortunately, both the price and the release date for the drives are yet to be revealed, with the only clue being that they would hit the market sometime in the second quarter of 2016.

Flash Memory Density Surpasses Traditional Hard Drives

SSDs are most definitely on the rise, being the go-to source of faster boots and the best loading experience for software and games. Traditional disk-based hard drives have always continued to rule the domain of mass storage, having advantages over SSDs in both areal density and price per Gigabyte. One of these advantages is about to become history now, with Micron revealing at the 2016 IEEE International Solid State Circuits Conference that its NAND flash storage had areal density beyond that of hard disk drives.

Micron is far from the only company aiming to improve the performance and density of flash storage. SSD market leader Samsung revealed in 2015 that their flash storage offerings had as much as 1.19Tbits per square inch (Tbpsi), predicting that by 2016, this could reach as much as 1.69Tbsi. Micron’s revelation of their 3D NAND technology had smashed the aims of Samsung, having reportedly demonstrated density as high as 2.77Tbpsi in their laboratory tests. This puts the 3D NAND head-and-shoulders above the densest HDDs around, which only offer around 1.3Tbsi, with many consumer drives offering as little as 850Gbsi despite using techniques like shingled magnetic recording to increase density.

Of course, many of the super-high density flash devices shown at ISSCC are definitely laboratory pieces and not consumer devices, SSDs that are on the market are definitely not far behind. Samsung announced last year that they had plans to release a 16TB SSD and Fixstars already offer a 13TB SSD costing a whopping $13,000. And while price per GB, HDDs still hold an advantage, the tables could be turned as soon as 2017, with the tumbling price of SDDs vastly outstripping the relatively stable price of hard drives.

What this all means is that the future could be bleak for the hard drive. With its main advantages of density and price set to vanish in the next few years, it is likely that we will see more and more SSDs appearing in both desktops and laptops. I for one look forward to the mass adoption of flash memory technology over the traditional hard drive as I doubt many will miss the times waiting for their hard drive to spin up or the painful sounds of their parts failing.

Image credit to Micron

Toshiba Wants 128TB SSDs with QLC and BiCS by 2018

 

Remember those 6TB and 8TB SSDs some vendors have planned for next year? You can ignore those, because pretty soon, we’re going to get drives that are going 16x as large. At least that is what Toshiba is planning on releasing in 2018. With capacities like those, hard drives will lose both the capacity and speed wars, relying solely on their price to compete. With enterprise 128TB drives being the norm then, maybe consumer grade drives will also benefit from a price drop as well.

In order to get to those unprecedented sizes, Toshiba is banking on two “new” developments, quad-level cell (QLC) and  BiCS (bit cost scalable) 3D NAND, to drop the price of flash enough to make these drives both possible technically and financially. It looks like price parity will be coming pretty close to on time if Toshiba and other NAND producers manage to master both QLC and BiCS .

QLC as the name implies allows NAND cells to store 4 bits per cell, doubling capacity over current MLC and adding 33% more over TLC. BiCS (bit cost scalable) 3D NAND is Toshiba and SanDisk’s 3D NAND offering with the stacking of layers to improve density without raising the cost too much. With 3D NAND, older processes can be used and more bits stuffed into each die. Combined with QLC, this can create pretty high density per die. The decreased performance and durability of QLC compared to MLC and TLC can also be partially offset by the use of 3D NAND.

Besides having to develop all new controllers to address all that capacity, Toshiba will probably have to make improvements throughout their SSDs. Datacenters will also have to figure out new ways to utilize such large SSDs and it’s possible a new connection protocol will have to be developed as well, though PCIe 4 might suffice. Even if there are some delays and technical difficulties, HDDs are going to have a hard time competing with these SSDs. Seagate and WD will have to hope HAMR does pan out or their business may soon end.

Thank you Nordic Hardware for providing us with this information 

Samsung Starts Mass Production of 256bit V-NAND

With super large SSDs arriving for both consumers and enterprise, the ability to produce dense NAND dies is critical. As with all silicon products, a denser die means lower costs on the same wafer size as it means you can get more usable dies out of the same wafer if the dies are denser. Samsung looks to have raced ahead of its competitors with the mass production of 256 Gbit (32GB) 3D V-NAND dies.

Samsung has always been at the forefront of extracting more efficiency from their wafers with dense dies. They were the first to arrive at market with TLC dies and the first to get 3D NAND out. With the first 32GB 3D V-NAND, Samsung has the ability to offer cheaper NAND or to reap a larger margin. One major caveat though is that the 256 Gbit dies are actually TLC, which normally is slower but denser than the usual SLC or MLC and suffers from slower speeds and lower lifespan. This shouldn’t be an issue though as V-NAND TLC is just as fast as 2D MLC and the lifespan should be improved compared to 2D TLC.

Samsung likely plans to use these new dies in their tablet and smartphone lines where space and cost savings are always welcome. We can also expect the V-NAND to show up in the refresh of the 850 EVO TLC SSD lineup later on. With ever cheaper NAND, the 16GB tier of smartphones may soon disappear from flagship devices as NAND gets cheaper and cheaper; you can find the Samsung release here.

Samsung Launches 2TB 850 Pro and 850 EVO SSDs

Super sized SSDs are not new as both SanDisk, Intel, as others have launched 2TB SATA SSDs already. However, those drives have all been enterprise or server oriented. Samsung has just announced the first 2TB consumer SSDs, with the new drives coming from the current 850 Pro and 850 EVO families. Pricing is set at $1000 and $800 respectively which in the grand scheme of things is quite reasonable. Of course, those prices are the MSRP and retail pricing will likely be different.

While the 840 and 840 EVO has experienced ongoing problems for a while, the 850 Pro and 850 EVO have not yet suffered any documented slowdown issues. Both the 850 Pro and Evo are based on Samsung’s 3D V-NAND technology, using MLC and TLC respectively. Most users will do fine with the EVO though the Pro has a longer warranty, more stated durability and is faster.  The 2TB drives are limited to 2.5 inch SATA for now, but M.2 and mSATA may be coming shortly.

While priced 8-10x more than a similar sized HDD, the speed increase of an SSD can be well worth it. For those needing lots of fast storage, the larger drives will reduce drive count, eliminate RAID difficulties and reduced shuffling of files. As HDDs start hitting a capacity wall, it offers a chance for SSDs to finally catch up. Maybe 2016 will be the year that SSDs and HDDs finally reach price parity. I for one, can’t wait till my entire system is on NAND.

Micron and Intel Unveil New 3D NAND Flash Memory

Yesterday we could report that Intel was teasing a revolution in the SSD Market and today we’re getting another possible hint as they’ve revealed the availability of their 3D NAND technology in cooperation with Micron. This new 3D NAND technology stacks layers of data storage cells vertically with precision to create storage devices with three times higher capacity. This enables more storage in a smaller space, bringing significant cost savings, low power usage and high performance to a range of mobile consumer devices and also the most demanding enterprise deployments.

Planar NAND memory has reached it practical limits and we haven’t really seen any big changes lately, but this is seriously about to change. The new 3D NAND technology from Intel and Micron is built on a floating gate cell and features 32 layers of flash cells to achieve 256Gb MLC and 384Gb TLC dies that fit into standard packages.

Let me explain what that could mean for those of you who aren’t that familiar with the insides of flash cells. Basically, this means that we can see M.2 modules with more than 3.5TB of storage and standard 2.5-inch SSDs with greater than 10TB capacity; if the previous two paragraphs didn’t catch your attention, I’m sure this did.

The key product features of this 3D NAND design include:

  • Large Capacities -Three times the capacity of existing 3D technology1-up to 48GB of NAND per die-enabling three-fourths of a terabyte to fit in a single fingertip-sized package.
  • Reduced Cost per GB – First-generation 3D NAND is architected to achieve better cost efficiencies than planar NAND.
  • Fast – High read/write bandwidth, I/O speeds and random read performance.
  • Green – New sleep modes enable low-power use by cutting power to inactive NAND die (even when other die in the same package are active), dropping power consumption significantly in standby mode.
  • Smart – Innovative new features improve latency and increase endurance over previous generations, and also make system integration easier.

The big question now is when we’ll see those new drives. The 256Gb MLC version of 3D NAND is sampling with partners now and the 384Gb TLC design will be sampling later this spring. The production lines have begun initial runs and both devices will be in full production by the fourth quarter of this year. Both Micron and Intel are already working on SSDs with the new technology, so we can expect them at the end of 2015 to start of 2016. CES 2016 in Vegas is my personal estimate.

Thanks to TechPowerUp for providing us with this information