Future of NAND Flash Memory: Triple Level Cell

By · Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Future of NAND Flash MemoryFlash has become an ubiquitous word in anything concerned with memory storage nowadays. The storage format’s reign over the market is evidenced by the increasing number of tablets, smartphones, netbooks, and even solid-state drives (SSDs) equipped with it. NAND Flash memory’s ability to store so much in so little space is, perhaps, the one major advantage that places it at the forefront of computer storage devices.

And if you were to observe the market’s current trend, you would notice that as flash storage devices continually shrink in size their storage capacity grows. You only have to look at the array of USB flash drives out today that have hard drive-like capacities to verify that point. So here’s the questions – what does this current trend mean for the future of flash memory, particularly in the Triple Level Cell (TLC)?

It means, for now, a continued decline in cost of production and, therefore, in consumer prices. Why? It’s because smaller flash, which is what TLC is, uses less material. More flash memory can be put on a single chip, which in turn ensures efficiency and less power usage. Pairing SSDs, for example, with TLC flash memory can result in a smaller unit with a higher storage capacity and less power consumption.

In theory, there is a downside to TLC flash that’s currently giving engineers and developers a whole lot of trouble. TLC flash cells have extremely short lifespans compared to their single- (SLC) and multi-level cell (MLC) predecessors because of the same capability that allows three bits to be stored in a cell. Flash memory, in general, degrades as the number of writes into a cell increases; the density of the TLC makes this problem worse.

In the long run, TLC flash may become more expensive, not because of material cost, but because the technology needed to develop controller silicons that can handle its complexity is extremely hard to develop. Couple this with the projection that extremely high storage capacities in TLC flash yield low read and write speeds for the price the consumer has to pay, and things look bleak. Though we won’t be seeing the demise of flash anytime soon, its disadvantages might have companies looking for alternatives in the far-off future.

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