Microsoft and University of California San Diego researchers have said flash has a bleak future because smaller and more densely packed circuits on the chips silicon will make it too slow and unreliable. Enterprise flash cost/bit will stagnate and the cutting edge that is flash will become a blunted blade.
via Flash DOOMED to drive itself off a cliff – boffins • The Register. As reported by Chris Mellor for The Register (http://www.theregister.co.uk/)
More information regarding semiconductor manufacturers rumors and speculation of a wall being hit in the shrinking down of Flash memory chips. (see this link to the previous Carpetbomber article from Dec. 15). This report has a more definitive ring to it as actual data has been collected and projections based on models of that data. The trend according to these researchers is lower performance due to increasingly bad error rates and signaling on the chip itself. Higher Density chips = Lower Performance per memory cell.
To hedge against this dark future for NAND flash memory companies are attempting to develop novel and in cases exotic technology. IBM has “racetrack memory“, Hewlett-Packard and Hynix have MemRistor and the list goes on. Nobody in the industry has any idea what comes next so bets are being placed all over the map. My advice to anyone reading this article is do not choose a winner until it has won. I say this as someone who has watched a number of technologies fight for supremacy in the market. Sony Betamax versus JVC VHS, HD-DVD versus Blu-ray, LCD versus Plasma Display Panel, etc. I will admit at times the time span for these battles can be waged over a longer period of time, and so it can be harder to tell who has won. But it seems to be shorter time spans over the life of these products as more recent battles have been waged. And who is to say, Blu-ray hasn’t really been adopted widely enough to say it is the be all and end all as DVD and CD disks both are used widely as recordable media. Just know that to go any further in improving the cost vs. performance ratio NAND will need to be forsaken to get to the next technological benchmark in high speed, random access, long term, durable storage media.
Things to look out for as the NAND bandwagon slows down are Triple Level Memory cells, or worse yet Quadruple Level cells. These are not going to be the big saviors the average consumer hopes they will be. Performance of Flash memory that gangs up the memory cells also has higher error rates at the beginning and even higher over time. The amount of cells assigned for being ‘over-provisioned’ will be so high as to negate the cost benefit of choosing the higher density memory cells. Also being touted as a way forward to stave off the end of the road are error correcting circuits and digital signal processors onboard the chips and controllers. As the age of the chip begins to affect its reliability, more statistical quality control techniques are applied to offset the losses of signal quality in the chip. This is a technique used today by at least one manufacturer (Intel), but how widely it can be adopted and how successfully is another question altogether. It would seem each memory manufacturer has its own culture and as a result, a technique for fixing the problem. Who ever has the best marketing and sales campaigns will as past history has shown will be the winner.
- AnandTech – Intel and Micron IMFT Announce Worlds First 128Gb 20nm MLC NAND (carpetbomberz.com-Dec. 15, 2011)
- Flash Memory (dmohankumar.wordpress.com)
- The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Paper predicts the bleak future of SSDs and NAND Flash memory (denalimemoryreport.wordpress.com)