What Micron's Upcoming 3D NAND Means for SSD Capacity, Performance, and Cost

Subject: Storage | February 14, 2016 - 02:51 PM |
Tagged: vnand, ssd, Samsung, nand, micron, Intel, imft, 768Gb, 512GB, 3d nand, 384Gb, 32 Layer, 256GB

You may have seen a wave of Micron 3D NAND news posts these past few days, and while many are repeating the 11-month old news with talks of 10TB/3.5TB on a 2.5"/M.2 form factor SSDs, I'm here to dive into the bigger implications of what the upcoming (and future) generation of Intel / Micron flash will mean for SSD performance and pricing.

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Remember that with the way these capacity increases are going, the only way to get a high performance and high capacity SSD on-the-cheap in the future will be to actually get those higher capacity models. With such a large per-die capacity, smaller SSDs (like 128GB / 256GB) will suffer significantly slower write speeds. Taking this upcoming Micron flash as an example, a 128GB SSD will contain only four flash memory dies, and as I wrote about back in 2014, such an SSD would likely see HDD-level sequential write speeds of 160MB/sec. Other SSD manufacturers already recognize this issue and are taking steps to correct it. At Storage Visions 2016, Samsung briefed me on the upcoming SSD 750 Series that will use planar 16nm NAND to produce 120GB and 250GB capacities. The smaller die capacities of these models will enable respectable write performance and will also enable them to discontinue their 120GB 850 EVO as they transition that line to higher capacity 48-layer VNAND. Getting back to this Micron announcement, we have some new info that bears analysis, and that pertains to the now announced page and block size:

  • 256Gb MLC: 16KB Page / 16MB Block / 1024 Pages per Block

  • 384Gb TLC: 16KB Page / 24MB Block / 1536 Pages per Block

To understand what these numbers mean, using the MLC line above, imagine a 16MB CD-RW (Block) that can write 1024 individual 16KB 'sessions' (Page). Each 16KB can be added individually over time, and just like how files on a CD-RW could be modified by writing a new copy in the remaining space, flash can do so by writing a new Page and ignoring the out of date copy. Where the rub comes in is when that CD-RW (Block) is completely full. The process at this point is very similar actually, in that the Block must be completely emptied before the erase command (which wipes the entire Block) is issued. The data has to go somewhere, which typically means writing to empty blocks elsewhere on the SSD (and in worst case scenarios, those too may need clearing before that is possible), and this moving and erasing takes time for the die to accomplish. Just like how wiping a CD-RW took a much longer than writing a single file to it, erasing a Block takes typically 3-4x as much time as it does to program a page.

With that explained, of significance here are the growing page and block sizes in this higher capacity flash. Modern OS file systems have a minimum bulk access size of 4KB, and Windows versions since Vista align their partitions by rounding up to the next 2MB increment from the start of the disk. These changes are what enabled HDDs to transition to Advanced Format, which made data storage more efficient by bringing the increment up from the 512 Byte sector up to 4KB. While most storage devices still use 512B addressing, it is assumed that 4KB should be the minimum random access seen most of the time. Wrapping this all together, the Page size (minimum read or write) is 16KB for this new flash, and that is 4x the accepted 4KB minimum OS transfer size. This means that power users heavy on their page file, or running VMs, or any other random-write-heavy operations being performed over time will have a more amplified effect of wear of this flash. That additional shuffling of data that must take place for each 4KB write translates to lower host random write speeds when compared to lower capacity flash that has smaller Page sizes closer to that 4KB figure.

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A rendition of 3D IMFT Floating Gate flash, with inset pulling back some of the tunnel oxide layer to show the location of the floating gate. Pic courtesy Schiltron.

Fortunately for Micron, their choice to carry Floating Gate technology into their 3D flash has netted them some impressive endurance benefits over competing Charge Trap Flash. One such benefit is a claimed 30,000 P/E (Program / Erase) cycle endurance rating. Planar NAND had dropped to the 3,000 range at its lowest shrinks, mainly because there was such a small channel which could only store so few electrons, amplifying the (negative) effects of electron leakage. Even back in the 50nm days, MLC ran at ~10,000 cycle endurance, so 30,000 is no small feat here. The key is that by using that same Floating Gate tech so good at controlling leakage for planar NAND on a new 3D channel that can store way more electrons enables excellent endurance that may actually exceed Samsung's Charge Trap Flash equipped 3D VNAND. This should effectively negate the endurance hit on the larger Page sizes discussed above, but the potential small random write performance hit still stands, with a possible remedy being to crank up the Over-Provisioning of SSDs (AKA throwing flash at the problem). Higher OP means less active pages per block and a reduction in the data shuffling forced by smaller writes.

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A 25nm flash memory die. Note the support logic (CMOS) along the upper left edge.

One final thing helping out Micron here is that their Floating Gate design also enables a shift of 75% of the CMOS circuitry to a layer *underneath* the flash storage array. This logic is typically part of what you see 'off to the side' of a flash memory die. Layering CMOS logic in such a way is likely thanks to Intel's partnership and CPU development knowledge. Moving this support circuitry to the bottom layer of the die makes for less area per die dedicated to non-storage, more dies per wafer, and ultimately lower cost per chip/GB.

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Samsung's Charge Trap Flash, shown in both planar and 3D VNAND forms.

One final thing before we go. If we know anything about how the Intel / Micron duo function, it is that once they get that freight train rolling, it leads to relatively rapid advances. In this case, the changeover to 3D has taken them a while to perfect, but once production gains steam, we can expect to see some *big* advances. Since Samsung launched their 3D VNAND their gains have been mostly iterative in nature (24, 32, and most recently 48). I'm not yet at liberty to say how the second generation of IMFT 3D NAND will achieve it, but I can say that it appears the next iteration after this 32-layer 256Gb (MLC) /384Gb (TLC) per die will *double* to 512Gb/768Gb (you are free to do the math on what that means for layer count). Remember back in the day where Intel launched new SSDs at a fraction of the cost/GB of the previous generation? That might just be happening again within the next year or two.

CES 2016: Silicon Motion Updates SM2246EN for 3D NAND, Teases TLC and PCIe

Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | January 6, 2016 - 06:00 AM |
Tagged: tlc, SM2260, SM2258, SM2256, SM2246EN, slc, SK Hynix, silicon motion, mlc, micron, Intel, imft, CES 2016, CES, 3d nand

Silicon Motion has updated their popular SM2246EN controller to support MLC 3D NAND from IMFT and SK Hynix:

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The SM2246EN acts as a gateway for third parties to make their own SSDs. Adding support for 3D NAND is good news, as it means we will be able to see third party SSDs launch with 3D flash sourced from Intel, Micron, or SK Hynix. Another cool tidbit is the fact that those demo units in the above photo were equipped and operating with actual 3D NAND from Intel, Micron, and SK Hynix. Yes, this is the first time seeing packaged MLC 3D NAND from a company other than Samsung. Here are some close-ups for those who want to read part numbers:

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Another question on non-Samsung 3D NAND is how does its performance stack up against planar (2D) NAND? Silicon Motion had a bit of an answer to that question for us:

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Keep in mind those are results from pre-production firmware, but I was happy to see that my prediction of IMFT 3D NAND speeds being effectively equal to their previous 2D flash was correct.

To knock out some other info overheard at our briefing, Silicon Motion will also be making an SM2258, which will be a TLC 3D NAND variant of the SM2256. In addition, we saw the unreleased SM2260:

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...which is Silicon Motion's PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD controller. This one is expected to surface towards the middle of 2016, and it is currently in the OEM testing stage.

Lots more storage goodies coming later today, so stay tuned! Full press blast for the updates SM2246EN after the break.

Coverage of CES 2016 is brought to you by Logitech!

PC Perspective's CES 2016 coverage is sponsored by Logitech.

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

Breaking: Intel and Micron announce 3D XPoint Technology - 1000x Faster Than NAND

Subject: Storage | July 28, 2015 - 12:41 PM |
Tagged: XPoint, non-volatile RAM, micron, memory, Intel

Everyone that reads SSD reviews knows that NAND Flash memory comes with advantages and disadvantages. The cost is relatively good as compared to RAM, and the data remains even with power removed (non-volatile), but there are penalties in the relatively slow programming (write) speeds. To help solve this, today Intel and Micron jointly launched a new type of memory technology.

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XPoint (spoken 'cross point') is a new class of memory technology with some amazing characteristics. 10x the density (vs. DRAM), 1000x the speed, and most importantly, 1000x the endurance as compared to current NAND Flash technology.

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128Gb XPoint memory dies, currently being made by Intel / Micron, are of a similar capacity to current generation NAND dies. This is impressive for a first generation part, especially since it is physically smaller than a current gen NAND die of the same capacity.

Intel stated that the method used to store the bits is vastly different from what is being used in NAND flash memory today. Intel stated that the 'whole cell' properties change as a bit is being programmed, and that the fundamental physics involved is different, and that it is writable in small amounts (NAND flash must be erased in large blocks). While they did not specifically state it, it looks to be phase change memory (*edit* at the Q&A Intel stated this is not Phase Change). The cost of this technology should end up falling somewhere between the cost of DRAM and NAND Flash.

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3D XPoint memory is already being produced at the Intel / Micron Flash Technology plant at Lehi, Utah. We toured this facility a few years ago.

Intel and Micron stated that this technology is coming very soon. 2016 was stated as a launch year, and there was a wafer shown to us on stage:

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You know I'm a sucker for good wafer / die photos. As soon as this session breaks I'll get a better shot!

There will be more analysis to follow on this exciting new technology, but for now I need to run to a Q&A meeting with the engineers who worked on it. Feel free to throw some questions in the comments and I'll answer what I can!

*edit* - here's a die shot:

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Added note - this wafer was manufactured on a 20nm process, and consists of a 2-layer matrix. Future versions should scale with additional layers to achieve higher capacities.

Press blast after the break.

Source: Intel

Something is cooking in San Francisco

Subject: Storage | July 28, 2015 - 11:26 AM |
Tagged: Intel, micron, flash

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...stay tuned!

SATA SSD Roundup

Subject: Storage | July 9, 2015 - 04:37 PM |
Tagged: Samsung, 850 EVO, 850 PRO, M600, micron, Sandisk Extreme Pro, ssd, roundup, sata

[H]ard|OCP has just posted a roundup of four affordable SATA SSDs to show which would be the best one to pick up as the majority of users are not able to afford an NVME PCIe SSD.  The drives are all within $50 above or below $200, with the 850 PRO having the highest cost per gigabyte and the EVO the least.  They test content creation and moving large files as well as synthetic benchmarks to come out with a ranking of the four drives which you can refer to if you will be shopping for storage in the near future.  In comparison they use the G.SKILL Phoenix Blade to show off what the new technology can do, for those that can afford it.

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"Despite the performance benefits, PCIe SSDs remain an expensive niche market. That means that most of us are not going to be loading up a high end system with PCIe SSDs. Most of us mere mortals will be using SATA SSDs. We tested some of the best SATA drives with enthusiast-friendly price tags."

Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:

Storage

 

Source: [H]ard|OCP

Podcast #352 - GTX 980 Ti, News from Computex, AMD Fiji Leaks and more!

Subject: General Tech | June 4, 2015 - 02:22 PM |
Tagged: zotac, video, titan x, thunderbolt 3, SSD 750, podcast, ocz, nvidia, msi, micron, Intel, hbm, g-sync, Fiji, computex, amd, acer, 980 Ti

PC Perspective Podcast #352 - 06/04/2015

Join us this week as we discuss the GTX 980 Ti, News from Computex, AMD Fiji Leaks and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Allyn Malventano

Program length: 2:02:45

  1. Week in Review:
  2. Computex, Dawg
  3. News item of interest:
  4. Closing/outro

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

Computex 2015: Micron Announces 16nm TLC For Consumer SSDs

Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | June 2, 2015 - 11:47 PM |
Tagged: tlc, ssd, micron, flash, computex 2015, computex, 16nm

Chugging right along that TechInsights Flash Roadmap we saw last year, Micron has announced the TLC extension to their 16nm flash memory process node.

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While 16nm TLC was initially promised Q4 of 2014, I believe Micron distracted themselves a little with their dabbles into Dynamic Write Acceleration technology. No doubt wanting to offer ever more cost effective SSDs to their portfolio, the new TLC 16nm flash will take up less die space for the same capacity, meaning more dies per 300mm wafer, ultimately translating to lower cost/GB of consumer SSDs.

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Micron's 16nm (MLC) flash

The Crucial MX200 and BX100 SSDs have already been undercutting the competition in cost/GB, so the possibility of even lower cost SSDs is a more than welcome idea - just so long as they can keep the reliability of these parts high enough. IMFT has a very solid track record in this regard, so I don't suspect any surprises in that regard.

Full press blast appears after the break.

Podcast #343 - DX12 Performance, Dissecting G-SYNC and FreeSync, Intel 3D NAND and more!

Subject: General Tech | April 2, 2015 - 01:16 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, dx12, 3dmark, freesync, g-sync, Intel, 3d nand, 20nm, 28nm, micron, nvidia, shield, Tegra X1, raptr, 850 EVO, msata, M.2

PC Perspective Podcast #343 - 04/02/2015

Join us this week as we discuss DX12 Performance, Dissecting G-SYNC and FreeSync, Intel 3D NAND and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts:Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Allyn Malventano

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

Intel / Micron Announce 3D NAND Production with Industry's Highest Density: >10TB on a 2.5" SSD

Subject: Storage | March 26, 2015 - 02:12 PM |
Tagged: storage, ssd, planar, nand, micron, M.2, Intel, imft, floating-gate, 3d nand

Intel and Micron are jointly announcing new 3D NAND technology that will radically increase solid-storage capacity going forward. The companies have indicated that moving to this technology will allow for the type of rapid increases in capacity that are consistent with Moore’s Law.

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The way Intel and Micron are approaching 3D NAND is very different from existing 3D technologies from Samsung and now Toshiba. The implementation of floating-gate technology and “unique design choices” has produced startling densities of 256 Gb MLC, and a whopping 384 Gb with TLC. The choice to base this new 3D NAND on floating-gate technology allows development with a well-known entity, and benefits from the knowledge base that Intel and Micron have working with this technology on planar NAND over their long partnership.

What does this mean for consumers? This new 3D NAND enables greater than 10TB capacity on a standard 2.5” SSD, and 3.5TB on M.2 form-factor drives. These capacities are possible with the industry’s highest density 3D NAND, as the >3.5TB M.2 capacity can be achieved with just 5 packages of 16 stacked dies with 384 Gb TLC.

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A 3D NAND cross section from Allyn's Samsung 850 Pro review

While such high density might suggest reliance on ever-shrinking process technology (and the inherent loss of durability thus associated) Intel is likely using a larger process for this NAND. Though they would not comment on this, Intel could be using something roughly equivalent to 50nm flash with this new 3D NAND. In the past die shrinks have been used to increase capacity per die (and yields) such as IMFT's move to 20nm back in 2011, but with the ability to achieve greater capacity vertically using 3D cell technology a smaller process is not necessary to achieve greater density. Additionally, working with a larger process would allow for better endurance as, for example, 50nm MLC was on the order of 10,000 program/erase cycles. Samsung similarly moved to a larger process with with their initial 3D NAND, moving from their existing 20nm technology back to 30nm with 3D production.

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This announcement is also interesting considering Toshiba has just entered this space as well having announced 48-layer 128 Gb density 3D NAND, and like Samsung, they are moving away from floating-gate and using their own charge-trap implementation they are calling BiCS (Bit Cost Scaling). However with this Intel/Micron announcement the emphasis is on the ability to offer a 3x increase in capacity using the venerable floating-gate technology from planar NAND, which gives Intel / Micron an attractive position in the market - depending on price/performance of course. And while these very large capacity drives seem destined to be expensive at first, the cost structure is likely to be similar to current NAND. All of this remains to be seen, but this is indeed promising news for the future of flash storage as it will now scale up to (and beyond) spinning media capacity - unless 3D tech is implemented in hard drive production, that is.

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So when will Intel and Micron’s new technology enter the consumer market? It could be later this year as Intel and Micron have already begun sampling the new NAND to manufacturers. Manufacturing has started in Singapore, plus ground has also been broken at the IMFT fab in Utah to support production here in the United States.

Source: Intel

Don't forget the 1TB Crucial BX100 costs less than $400

Subject: Storage | February 23, 2015 - 05:25 PM |
Tagged: ssd, SM2246EN, sata, micron, crucial, BX100, 1TB

It has been about a week since Al posted his review of the 256GB and 512GB models of the Crucial BX100 and what better way to remind you than with a review of the 1TB model, currently a mere $380 on Amazon (or only $374 on BHPhoto.com!).  Hardware Canucks cracked open the 1TB budget priced consumer level SSD for your enjoyment right here, as well as running it through a gamut of tests. As expected their results are in line with the 512GB model as they both use a 4 channel controller, which does mean they are slower than some competitors drives.  On the other hand the BX100 also has a significantly lower price making the 1TB model much more accessible for users.  Check out their post here.

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"Crucial's BX100 combines performance, endurance and value into one awesome budget-friendly SSD The best part? The 1TB version costs just $400."

Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:

Storage