CES 2017 has been a great place for device manufacturers to showcase their latest creations, but the event also accommodated new technologies having the potential to drastically change the consumer electronics market in the foreseeable future. One of these technologies was 3D NAND flash memory, and the reason why there's been a lot of excitement surrounding 3D NAND is because the technology has the potential to make solid-state storage solutions much more viable compared to conventional HDDs. Let's take a quick look at 3D NAND flash memory technology and how it might change the market before the end of 2017.
As the name suggests, conventional Hard Disk Drives (HDD) store data on magnetic discs, and the main reasons why Solid State Drives (SDD) haven't replaced HDDs just yet is because SSD solutions don't offer as much capacity as HDDs, and due to the fact that SSDs push per-gigabyte prices much higher than HDDs. However, with the introduction of 3D NAND flash technology, Solid State solutions are very likely to increase in popularity and close the gap between SSDs and HDDs before the end of 2017. 2D/planar Single-Level Cell NAND solutions able to hold one bit of information per cell have been introduced several years ago, followed by MLC (Multi-Level Cell) with two bits of information per cell. In the year 2012, NAND-based storage made another leap with the introduction of TLC (Triple-Level Cell) holding three bits of information per cell, but as it stands, 2D/planar NAND flash memory technology is reaching its limit. Fortunately, more manufacturers are now adopting 3D NAND flash memory which – unlike 2D/planar solutions – can stack cells vertically. This leads to larger cells for increased performance and endurance, but more importantly, Solid State Drive solutions using 3D NAND flash technology have the potential to overcome the key disadvantages compared to conventional HDDs: specifically the price-per-gigabyte gap and the overall storage capacity.
At CES 2017, a handful of storage device manufacturers revealed that their upcoming products in 2017 will make use of 3D NAND flash memory technology. Samsung, as well as SanDisk together with its partner Toshiba, have recently manufactured 48-layer 3D NAND able to store 32 GB of data on a single chip, and Intel along with Micron can stack 32 layers and achieve 256 GB multilevel cells and 384 GB triple-level cell dies. In addition, SK Hynix is said to be developing 72-layer 3D NAND chips for late-2017. On paper, this technology can allow manufacturers to create small SSDs with over 3.5 TB of storage, and regularly-sized 2.5-inch SSD drives with capacities of more than 10 TB. Hopefully, this will also mean that smartphone manufacturers will be able to treat their future flagship phones in 2017 with considerably more on-board storage than before.