SAN JOSE, Calif. – As expected, Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Inc. will take the process technology lead in the NAND flash market.
The companies have introduced a new 20-nm process technology for manufacturing NAND flash memory. Manufactured by IM Flash Technologies LLC (IMFT), Intel and Micron’s NAND flash joint venture, the new 20-nm process produces an 8-gigabyte (GB) multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash device. The device had been expected.
Until now, the duo of Toshiba Corp. and SanDisk Corp. were the process technology leaders in the market. The two companies, which have a joint manufacturing venture, are ramping up a 24-nm NAND line. Hynix Semiconductor Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. are also separately ramping up 2x-nm-class devices.
''This release of the 20-nm node clearly places IMFT at the leading edge of all the NAND manufacturers,'' said Alan Niebel, CEO of Web-Feet Research. ''Toshiba announced their 24-nm NAND last week in production along with their SmartNAND. Where is Samsung in the NAND technology race? They claim to be at the 20-nm node range, but in reality they are at 27-nm and possibly shipping in volume. Their next node is either 22-nm or 20-nm but when will they ship in volume late 2012 or sooner? IMFT does have the technology leadership but will they ever have the production volume leadership rivaling Toshiba or Samsung?''
''It's inspiring to see this partnership continue to stay so far ahead of the pack. Not only have they maintained the lead for four generations, but they are also four generations past the projection that Intel made in 2003 that flash would not scale past the 60-nm node,'' added Jim Handy, an analyst with Objective-Analysis.
The new 20-nm 8-GB device from the Intel-Micron duo measures just 118mm2 and enables a 30 to 40 percent reduction in board space (depending on package type), compared to the companies’ existing 25-nm 8-GB NAND device. The new 20-nm process maintains similar performance and endurance as the previous generation 25-nm NAND technology.
This provides a high-capacity, small form factor storage option for saving music, video, books and other data on smartphones, tablets and computing solutions such as solid-state drives (SSDs). The growth in data storage combined with feature enhancements for tablets and smartphones is creating new demands for NAND flash technology, especially greater capacity in smaller designs.
The 20-nm, 8-GB device is sampling now and expected to enter mass production in the second half of 2011. At that time, Intel and Micron also expect to unveil samples of a 16-GB device, creating up to 128-GBs of capacity in a single solid-state storage solution that is smaller than a U.S. postage stamp.
Flash memory has a limited number of program-erase (P/E) cycles. Older NAND products are said to withstand around 100,000 P/E cycles. Then, wear begins to deteriorate the reliability of the device. To drive down costs, many OEMs have migrated to 50-nm-class devices, based on multi-level-cell (MLC) technology. These types of devices, equipped with 4-bit error correction, have 10,000 endurance cycles.
Now, OEMs are looking at 30-nm-class NAND and below, based on MLC. These types of devices, equipped with 8-bit error correction, have only 5,000 endurance cycles.
Intel and Micron said that the 20-nm device will enable 5,000 endurance cycles. That could still be suitable for USB drives, SSDs and most other applications. Right now, 5,000 endurance cycles ''is good,'' Handy said. ''Plus, the sooner IMFT reaches 5K the harder it will be on competitors who ship anything less.''
''That’s impressive,'' added Gregory Wong, an analyst with Forward Insights, but ''the ECC requirements are likely higher.''