Solid-State Drives Go 3D

Solid-State Drives Go 3D - samsung ssd 850
Samsung was first to the 3D
punch with its 850-series SSDs.
Intel, Micron, and Toshiba are hot on its heels.
Is 2015 the year of 3D ssDs? It will certainly see the SSD war hotting up, as Intel and Micron have teamed up against Samsung in the battle of 3D NAND memory and mighty tech empires. The most immediate impact of 3D memory will be a dramatic increase in drive capacities and in turn a major tumble in the bucks-pergigabyte metric. Solid-state drives should get both bigger and cheaper. Great.

Much like the stacked RAM coming to graphics memory, slabs of the NAND silicon that goes into SSDs is being built up in layers and linked with billions of pillars or connections.

Samsung was first to the punch in late 2014 with its Samsung 850 Pro and 850 EVO, which are just hitting store shelves as we go to press. Its 32-layer NAND comes in MLC densities of 86Gb and TLC densities of 128Gb per chip. The partnership between Intel and Micron, meanwhile, is set to produce far bigger MLC and TLC densities of 256Gb and 384Gb, respectively. That makes for dies with 32GB and 48GB capacities. The South Korean tech giant isn’t going to just let that fly, however. A new generation of Samsung’s V-NAND tech is expected in the second half of 2015. We anticipate some seriously highcapacity goodies at its SSD Summit later this year.

Having such high-density NAND modules means companies will be able to produce much higher capacity SSDs at affordable prices. Intel even expects 10TB SSDs within the next couple of years. When that happens, the current enthusiast paradigm of an SSD as boot and application drive paired with magnetic drives for mass storage may fade away rapidly. We’ll be going pure solid state.

The big SSD guys aren’t the only ones making the switch, either. Toshiba has started work on moving its 2D NAND fab in Mie, Japan, to 3D NAND production and is expecting to be shipping products in 2016.

All of which means the next 12 months or so is looking a lot more exciting than last year for SSD tech in general. Sure, we had the first stirrings of the new M.2 and SATA Express interfaces in 2014. But the latter is looking increasingly stillborn. As for the former, it feels very much like the interface of choice for the future. However, we’re still waiting for it to deliver on its full promise.

That’s because so far we’ve only seen half of the technical package promised by M.2—the high-bandwidth PCI Express part. What we’re still waiting for is the new NVMe control protocol. NVMe is a whole new control interface that’s designed from the ground up for SSDs. It replaces the magnetic driveoptimized AHCI protocol and should boost random access performance dramatically.

Put it all together, then, and this year promises to become a perfect storm of SSD technology. Cheaper and yet much more capacious drives will be enabled by 3D memory. Then PCI Express and NVMe will supercharge performance in terms of both peak throughput and random access. So that’s better, cheaper, faster. It’s the PC doing what it does best, all over again.