When I was in college, going on a road trip meant hauling along three
briefcases of cassette tapes—after all, I never knew what I was going to
want to listen to 800 or 900 miles from home. At the time, I had no
idea that Fujio Masuoka and the rest of his team at Toshiba were busy
developing a data storage technology that would allow me to one day tuck
my entire music library in my pocket. In 1987, the first commercial
NAND flash memory product was released, and the computing and
electronics markets have never been the same.
Toshiba, in the early 1980s, Masuoka was looking for an alternative to
magnetic storage, focusing on the fact that cost tends to be a primary
driver for the memory market. The byte-EEPROM of the time featured two
transistors per cell. The Toshiba team developed an EEPROM with one
transistor per cell. It was a more economical approach but required a
simultaneous erase scheme. In 1980, Masuoka began the patent process for
simultaneously erasable EEPROMs. Device development began in 1983, with
first announcement of results delivered in 1984 at the International
Electron Devices Meeting . In 1987, Seeq announced a 128k-bit flash
EEPROM, and the rest, as they say, is history.
NAND flash has come a long way
in the intervening years. Thumb drives went from being precious
investments (my first 1 Gb memory stick cost $100) to being given away
like popcorn at trade shows. The technology has moved beyond portable
devices to becoming a viable option for enterprise data storage.
the portable electronics sector constitutes a significant and important
revenue driver. Analysts at TechNavio expect the Global NAND flash
market to grow at a CAGR of 7% percent over the period 2011 to 2015,
fueled by smartphones. Market research firm HSI supply gives an even
more granular accounting. According their recent report, the total NAND
flash market is slated to reach roughly 95.9 billion GB by 2015, up from
around 17.8 billion GB in 2011. Of that total, media tablets, driven by the Apple iPad, are expected to constitute 17%.
I still go on road trips, and I still take along all of my music. The
three cases of cassette tapes are history, though—my entire music
library fits on my iPhone, along with my address book, my calendar, my
pictures, my videos, and a slew of apps, thanks to NAND flash. The
technology is omnipresent. Indeed, I can look around my office and count
a dozen devices that I use daily that all leverage NAND flash. Sure, I
could still do my job without it, but the process would be far more
time-consuming and unwieldy. NAND flash has changed my life for the
better. Happy birthday, NAND flash—glad you were born.
Masuoka, M. Asano, et al., “A new Flash EEPROM cell using triple
polysilicon technology,” in IEEE Tech. Dig. IEDM 1984, pp. 464-467.
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