Subject: Editorial, Storage
Manufacturer: PC Perspective
Tagged: ssd, nand, Intel, flash, 3d

It has become increasingly apparent that flash memory die shrinks have hit a bit of a brick wall in recent years. The issues faced by the standard 2D Planar NAND process were apparent very early on. This was no real secret - here's a slide seen at the 2009 Flash Memory Summit:

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Despite this, most flash manufacturers pushed the envelope as far as they could within the limits of 2D process technology, balancing shrinks with reliability and performance. One of the largest flash manufacturers was Intel, having joined forces with Micron in a joint venture dubbed IMFT (Intel Micron Flash Technologies). Intel remained in lock-step with Micron all the way up to 20nm, but chose to hold back at the 16nm step, presumably in order to shift full focus towards alternative flash technologies. This was essentially confirmed late last week, with Intel's announcement of a shift to 3D NAND production.

progression-3-.png

Intel's press briefing seemed to focus more on cost efficiency than performance, and after reviewing the very few specs they released about this new flash, I believe we can do some theorizing as to the potential performance of this new flash memory. From the above illustration, you can see that Intel has chosen to go with the same sort of 3D technology used by Samsung - a 32 layer vertical stack of flash cells. This requires the use of an older / larger process technology, as it is too difficult to etch these holes at a 2x nm size. What keeps the die size reasonable is the fact that you get a 32x increase in bit density. Going off of a rough approximation from the above photo, imagine that 50nm die (8 Gbit), but with 32 vertical NAND layers. That would yield a 256 Gbit (32 GB) die within roughly the same footprint.

blog9_fig2.jpg

Representation of Samsung's 3D VNAND in 128Gbit and 86 Gbit variants.
20nm planar (2D) = yellow square, 16nm planar (2D) = blue square.

Image republished with permission from Schiltron Corporation.

It's likely a safe bet that IMFT flash will be going for a cost/GB far cheaper than the competing Samsung VNAND, and going with a relatively large 256 Gbit (vs. VNAND's 86 Gbit) per-die capacity is a smart move there, but let's not forget that there is a catch - write speed. Most NAND is very fast on reads, but limited on writes. Shifting from 2D to 3D NAND netted Samsung a 2x speed boost per die, and another effective 1.5x speed boost due to their choice to reduce per-die capacity from 128 Gbit to 86 Gbit. This effective speed boost came from the fact that a given VNAND SSD has 50% more dies to reach the same capacity as an SSD using 128 Gbit dies.

Now let's examine how Intel's choice of a 256 Gbit die impacts performance:

  • Intel SSD 730 240GB = 16x128 Gbit 20nm dies
    • 270 MB/sec writes and ~17 MB/sec/die
  • Crucial MX100 128GB = 8x128Gbit 16nm dies
    • 150 MB/sec writes and ~19 MB/sec/die
  • Samsung 850 Pro 128GB = 12x86Gbit VNAND dies
    • 470MB/sec writes and ~40 MB/sec/die

If we do some extrapolation based on the assumption that IMFT's move to 3D will net the same ~2x write speed improvement seen by Samsung, combined with their die capacity choice of 256Gbit, we get this:

  • Future IMFT 128GB SSD = 4x256Gbit 3D dies
    • 40 MB/sec/die x 4 dies = 160MB/sec

Even rounding up to 40 MB/sec/die, we can see that also doubling the die capacity effectively negates the performance improvement. While the IMFT flash equipped SSD will very likely be a lower cost product, it will (theoretically) see the same write speed limits seen in today's SSDs equipped with IMFT planar NAND. Now let's go one layer deeper on theoretical products and assume that Intel took the 18-channel NVMe controller from their P3700 Series and adopted it to a consumer PCIe SSD using this new 3D NAND. The larger die size limits the minimum capacity you can attain and still fully utilize their 18 channel controller, so with one die per channel, you end up with this product:

  • Theoretical 18 channel IMFT PCIE 3D NAND SSD = 18x256Gbit 3D dies
    • 40 MB/sec/die x 18 dies = 720 MB/sec
    • 18x32GB (die capacity) = 576GB total capacity

​​Overprovisioning decisions aside, the above would be the lowest capacity product that could fully utilize the Intel PCIe controller. While the write performance is on the low side by PCIe SSD standards, the cost of such a product could easily be in the $0.50/GB range, or even less.

DSC06167_DxO-.jpg

In summary, while we don't have any solid performance data, it appears that Intel's new 3D NAND is not likely to lead to a performance breakthrough in SSD speeds, but their choice on a more cost-effective per-die capacity for their new 3D NAND is likely to give them significant margins and the wiggle room to offer SSDs at a far lower cost/GB than we've seen in recent years. This may be the step that was needed to push SSD costs into a range that can truly compete with HDD technology.

CES 2014: Corsair Flash Voyager GO - closer look

Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2014 - 02:20 AM |
Tagged: usb, On-The-Go, Flash Voyager GO, flash, corsair, CES 2014, CES

Earlier today, Corsair announced the Flash Voyager GO combination micro USB (OTG spec) / USB 3.0 (standard connector) drive. Being the storage nut that I am, I got a closer look while the rest of the PCPer gang were checking out the new cases, keyboards, and power supplies. Here are some more detailed pics for your viewing pleasure:

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Connected to an Android smart phone:

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Connected to a laptop:

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Yes, you're seeing things correctly. The 'back' end opposite the micro-USB port is actually another USB port supporting USB 3.0 speeds.

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

CES 2014: SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive at Storage Visions

Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | January 5, 2014 - 10:04 PM |
Tagged: wireless, sandisk, flash, CES 2014, CES

While at Storage Visions I checked out the new SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive. This is a flash drive capable as also doubling as a wireless network storage device - and it can do so under it's own power for 3-4 hours.

I really like the idea of such a device. Need several people to access the stuff on your drive? Click one button and you can! It charges off of the same USB connection used to connect it locally (i.e. the 'old school' way). Here's a closer view:

2014-01-05 17-03-42.JPG

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

How to ruin your company in (Blackberry) 10 steps

Subject: General Tech | September 12, 2013 - 03:09 PM |
Tagged: blackberry, flash, blackberry q10, blackberry z10, playbook, security

Oh RIM, is this what happens when you change your name, celebrity spokesperson and infrastructure?  First you gave up on what we thought was an incredibly secure way to communicate and moved to the same ActiveSync environment of Android and iOS and then we find out that we were fooling ourselves and even the old BES encryption was broken.  Then we find out that our data plans might or might not work if we roam outside of our home carriers network, regardless of what travel plan we might have requested.  A patch Tuesday cycle could be the last straw for many; announcing two ancient Adobe vulnerabilities on the new BB10 OS which will need to be patched might assure some that you still have a passing acquaintance with security but for most it is just one too many flaws.  The Inquirer links to the BB security threads in this article.

kickme.jpg

"The Z10, Q10 and PlayBook all need patching for Adobe Flash vulnerabilities. If a user were led to a page containing crafted Flash content, an attacker could execute arbitrary code on an affected device. BSRT-2013-007 notes that an alternative attack would be to trick users into downloading an Adobe AIR application."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

Micron Is Now Sampling 16nm NAND Flash, And Drives Using the Smaller Chips Are Expected in 2014

Subject: General Tech, Storage | July 18, 2013 - 02:29 AM |
Tagged: nand, micron, flash, 16nm

Micron recently announced that is has begun sampling 16nm NAND flash to select partners. Micron expects to begin full production of the NAND chips using the smaller flash manufacturing process in the fourth quarter of this year (Q4 2013). Drives based on its new 16nm MLC NAND flash are expected to arrive as early as next year. (PC Perspective's own storage expert is currently overseas, but I managed to reach out over email to get some clarification, and his thoughts, on the Micron annuoncement.)

The announcement relates to new NAND flash that is smaller, but not necessarily faster, than the existing 20nm and 25nm flash chips used in current solid state drives. In the end, Micron is still delivering 128Gb (Gigabit) per die, but using a 16nm process. The 16nm flash is a pure shrink of 20nm which is, in turn, a shrink of 25nm flash. In fact, Micron is able to get just under 6 Terabytes of storage out of a single 300mm wafer. These wafers are then broken down into dies in individual flash chips that are used in all manner of solid state storage devices from smartphone embedded storage to desktop SSDs. This 16nm flash still delivers 128Gb --which is 16GB-- per die allowing for a 128GB SSD using as few as eight chips.

high_res_micron_16nm_nand_die_ssd.jpg

A single 16nm NAND flash die with a SSD in the background

Micron expects the 16nm MLC (multi-level cell) flash to be used in consumer SSDs, USB thumb drives, mobile devices, and cloud storage.

The 16nm process will allow Micron to get more storage out of the same sized wafer (300mm) used for current processes, which in theory should mean flash memory that is not only smaller, but (in theory) cheaper.

high_res_micron_16nm_nand_wafer.jpg

A single wafer of 16nm NAND flash (just under 6TBs)

As Allyn further notes, the downside to the new 16nm NAND flash is a reduction in the number of supported PE cycles. Micron has not released specific information on this, but the new 16nm MLC flash is expected to have fewer than 1,000 P/E cycles. For comparison, 25nm and 20nm flash has P/E cycles of 3,000 and 1,000 respectively.

In simple terms, P/E (program-erase) cycles relate to the number of times that a specific portion of flash memory can be written to before wearing out. SSD manufacturers were able to work around this with the transition from 25nm to 20nm and still deliver acceptable endurance on consumer drives, and I expect that similar techniques will be used to do the same for 16nm flash. For example, manufactuers could enable compression that is used prior to writing out the data to the physical flash or over-provisioning the actual hardware versus the reported software capacity (ie a drive sold as a 100GB model that actually has 128GB of physical flash).

I don't think it will be a big enough jump that typical consumers wil have to worry too much about this, considering the vast majority of operations will be read operations and not writes. Despite the reduction in P/E cycles, SSDs with 16nm NAND MLC flash will still likely out-last a typical mechanical hard drive.

What do you think about the Micron announcement?

The full press release can be found below:

Source: Micron

IBM gets serious about flash storage

Subject: General Tech | April 16, 2013 - 01:26 PM |
Tagged: TMS RamSan, IBM, FlashSystem, flash, 1 billion

IBM has invested $1 billion in SSD research and development, creating a project called IBM FlashSystem.  They will create a dozen 'competency centres' across the globe this year to help customers understand scenarios in which flash storage will help their business.  To show off their prowess they created a 500TB system based on their FlashSystem 820; you can see a video of the system at The Register.  IBM has already signed a deal with Sprint to build 9 storage systems and there will be more customers soon.  IBM is also redesigning their system software to take advantage of the speed of flash which will make the transition even more attractive to companies.

ibm-flashsystem-820.jpg

"Say goodbye to TMS RamSan and hello to IBM FlashSystem. Back in 2001, IBM CEO Lou Gerstner said IBM would spend a billion dollars to boost its Linux business and that billion paid itself off within two years. In 2002, the firm splurged the same amount on Java tools, and in 2006, pumped $1bn into information management. Fast-forward seven years and Ginny Rometty's IBM is going to spend a billion dollars to boost its flash solid state storage business."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

Is there a Flash flood coming?

Subject: General Tech | March 25, 2013 - 12:50 PM |
Tagged: spintronics, racetrack, pram, molybdenum, micron, memristor, IBM, hp, graphene, flash

Over the past several years we have seen actual production of phase change memory from Micron, though no benchmarks yet, transistors whose resistance can be altered to be used as non-volatile storage which HP has dubbed Memristors and IBM's Spintronic Racetrack Memory; all of which claim to be the replacement for NAND.  There is no question we need a new type of flash, preferably non-volatile, as it is likely that there will be a limit on effective speed and density reached with traditional NAND.  It is also true that the path to our current flash technology is littered with the carcasses of failed technology standards, whether RAMBUS is willing to admit it or not. 

Now there is more details available on yet another possible contender based on molybdenum disulfide which sports a charge-trapping layer to make it non-volatile.  The Register was told that by layering MoS2 between layers of graphene they get a NAND cell smaller than traditional cells but unfortunately there was no report of the speed of these cells.  We may soon be living in interesting times, with process shrunk traditional flash and these four technologies competing for market share.  You can bet that they will not be compatible and that each will likely spawn their own breeds of controllers and make purchasing SSDs and other flash storage devices much more complicated, at least until one standard can claim victory over the others.

elreg_mos2_graphene_nvm_cell.jpg

"A Swiss government research lab has reinvented flash memory using graphene and molybdenite in a way that should be faster, scale smaller, use less energy and yet more flexible than boring old NAND.

Molybdenite is MoS2, molybdenum disulfide, which is similar to graphite and also has a lubricating effect. Atomically it is a layer of molybdenum atoms between top and bottom layers of sulfide atoms. It is a semiconductor and can be used to create transistor."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

Flashing tablets for fun and frustration at the same time

Subject: Mobile | December 3, 2012 - 03:28 PM |
Tagged: jelly bean, flash, galaxy nexus, CyanogenMod, mod, Android

If you were an early adopter and now have an aging Android tablet which is not being supported by the manufacturer, or at least they are very slow at releasing updates, you can always try flashing it with a custom ROM.  The Tech Report tried this out on a Galaxy Nexus using a ROM from CyanogenMod, a fairly well known provider of such things.  While it certainly improved the performance of the OS, there were several issues including the failure of GPS which prompted them to try out other ROMs.  Head on over to read up on the most current images you can flash to, their providers and the difference between the two types of ROMs currently available.

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"In his latest blog post, TR's Geoff Gasior recounts his experience trying to revitalize an aging Android tablet with custom Jelly Bean ROMs."

Here are some more Mobile articles from around the web:

Mobile

Internet Explorer 10 Exploitable: Both More & Less Than Hype

Subject: General Tech | September 9, 2012 - 04:19 PM |
Tagged: Malware, IE10, flash

Recent statements from Microsoft show that they are not afraid to wait a little bit before shipping patches with their bundled Flash in Internet Explorer 10. The issue is more contained than is let on by Ars Technica – but also raises a bigger security issue for all of us at all times.

By far the worst enemy for security is complacency.

I often pick on Apple for their security practices. They are perceived as being secure despite their horrendous record of handling security updates – delaying a critical patch for privately disclosed vulnerabilities until after its reveal at Blackhat because Apple could not devote the programmer to the task.

That mentality has been everywhere – from Sony to Microsoft in the Windows XP era to Macromedia & Adobe.

In this case the issue is that Microsoft has been delaying updates to the built in copy of Adobe Flash preinstalled with Internet Explorer 10. Once a patch has been released attackers are able to figure out what the patch fixes and potentially exploit it for those who have yet to update. There are quite a few subtle caveats with this story which need to be discussed before opinions are made.

windowsupdate.png

... Relatively speaking...

First and foremost – Flash support on the Metro-based Internet Explorer 10 is limited to a whitelist. Flash is not exposed to websites which have not been flagged by Microsoft as safe and requiring backwards compatibility with Flash.

Websites become compromised all the time. Should one of the whitelisted websites get attacked it could become forced to serve a Flash applet to its users. The delay between Adobe and Microsoft patching dates gives the attackers a window to exploit all IE10 users until the whitelisted website notices. Attacks like these are very commonplace recently.

As an aside – there is quite a bit of confusion over Internet Explorer 10 on the desktop. According to the RTM evaluation it appears as though the only way to update Flash for Internet Explorer is through Windows Update even when not using the Metro browser. The whitelist is also in effect for Windows on the desktop although it seems like users are able to add their own exemptions. It appears like user-set exemptions is unique to the desktop version of IE.

It is disconcerting to see a platform become complacent to potential security issues intentionally. To be fair it is entirely possible that Google Chrome could have similar issues as they too handle Adobe Flash integration. Unlike IE10, Google Chrome does allow you to disable the built in Flash and manage your updates directly from Adobe although the process is far too complicated for most users.

Source: Ars Technica

Micron goes on a spending spree, picks up Elpida and a big majority of Rexchip shares

Subject: General Tech | July 3, 2012 - 02:07 PM |
Tagged: purchase, billions, micron, Elpida, rexchip, powerchip, DRAM, flash

Micron has been very busy lately, spending $2.5 billion USD to purchase Elpida and another $334 million USD to purchase another 24% of DRAM maker Rexchip from Powerchip.  The latter of those purchases gives Micron a total of 89% of the existing shares of Rexchip which may not give them outright ownership of Rexchip but gives them such a huge majority that they can determine the outcome of any vote which is presented to shareholders.  Rexchip brings a single 300mm Fab working on 30nm process to the table, which gives Micron a bit more manufacturing capability to utilize for what is likely to be a busy season for them.

The Elpida purchase is much bigger for both the industry and Micron, especially as they decided to buy the company outright instead of purchasing a subsidiary or only the IP of Elpida.  Instead the company will remain intact for the near future though there will likely be changes to the executive structure as they are integrated with Micron.  Not only does this purchase give them access to all property, intellectual or physical, that Elpida currently possesses it give Micron an in at Apple as it was Elpida that supplied much of the chips used by Apple.  That would put Micron in the enviable position of supplying both PC and Apple products.  DigiTimes breaks down the deal here.

micron_logo.jpg

"Micron Technology and Elpida Memory's trustees have signed a definitive sponsor agreement for Micron to acquire Elpida, according to the US memory chipmaker. The agreement has been entered into in connection with Elpida's corporate reorganization proceedings conducted under the jurisdiction of the Tokyo District Court.

Micron revealed that under the agreement, JPY200 billion (US$2.5 billion) total consideration and less certain reorganization proceeding expenses will be used to satisfy the reorganization claims of Elpida's secured and unsecured creditors. Micron will acquire 100% of the equity of Elpida for JPY60 billion to be paid in cash at closing."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

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Source: DigiTimes