Crooke said that the real breakthrough was with the materials used, enabling the cells to fit together more easily in ways where they affect each other less.
"We've always beaten Moore's Law, really, when it comes to memory scaling," said Ghodsi, noting that innovation would not simply dry up after passing the 20-nm watermark.
"This partnership that Intel and Micron have brings together arrays of technical expertise; design, technology, material science. The partnership is unequaled in the industry today. And that's what allows us to continue and even surpass Moore's Law," Ghodsi said.
Being first is not without its challenges, however, though Hawk said these weren't a major factor.
"Whenever you move to the next generation you do have to deploy some new things and the industry is doing that right now," he said. It's kind of nice because we're the first to discover some of those things and I think that gives us a leg up when we use these products in systems," he added.
While the Intel/Micron partnership has been able to extend the life of floating gate design for NAND on the 20-nm node, the team is not yet certain when it might start move away from floating gate to a new design, or what that new design would look like.
"When you look out into the future you see problems that look like barriers but when you get closer they turn out to just be hurdles," said Crooke, noting that when people predicted the end of NAND, because of issues around wrapped floating gate, science had pushed through.
Ghodsi explained that one of the reasons people believed floating gate couldn't scale was because as the devices got smaller, the number of electrons able to be stored on that smaller area was lower.
"But what people don't realize is that the number of electrons is proportionate to the capacitive coupling and Micron's move to a planar cell increases the capacitance," he said, noting that this was exactly the reason high-k material was used.
"Increased capacitance increases the number of electrons on that floating gate. As a result it gives us that ability to take this further," he said adding, "there are always innovations that allow you to use the same basic structure."
The team is already working with a very small number of electrons.
"On 20-nm the difference between states between one of our cells is far less than 100 electrons," said Hawk, claiming there were only about 20.
"They're not that well behaved in small numbers, either," he added with a smile.
Well behaved or not, Micron and Intel seem to have managed to harness their technology better than any current competitors, and the team says to expect a lot more in the near future.