The innovative technology has taken another step towards becoming a reality.
When we consider how SSDs have evolved over the last decade or so, it’s difficult not to be impressed by how quick and economical they’ve gotten. However, that process is still underway, and with a new technology known as “X-NAND,” solid state storage may become faster than ever before.
A decade or so ago, a 32GB SSD could be found for approximately $500, and a 64GB drive could be found for around $1,100, but today, fast 1TB or even larger drives can be found for less than $150. Years of R&D have gone into this progression, with flash storage makers packing more bits of data into each memory cell and fitting as many of these cells as possible onto a NAND chip.
The initial consumer SSDs were single-level cell (SLC) drives, which could only store one bit of data per cell, but modern consumer drives have triple-level cells (TLC) and quad-level cells (QLC), which can store three and four bits per cell, respectively. There’s even 5-bit PLC NAND in the works, but that won’t be here for a while — 2025 at the earliest.
Most of our readers are probably aware that SLC NAND offers quicker write rates and more endurance, but it may be fairly expensive, whereas TLC and QLC NAND are less expensive ways to construct high-capacity drives. TLC and QLC NAND, on the other hand, are slower, which is why manufacturers have had to utilise various gimmicks (DRAM and SLC caches) to achieve adequate read and write performance, as well as acceptable endurance levels for regular use in a personal, educational, or commercial context.
There is a company that claims to have a solution to this problem in the form of X-NAND. The technology was first announced at last year’s Flash Memory Summit, but it flew under the radar until this month, when two patents for it were officially approved.
X-NAND is a different approach to NAND memory design and the work of Neo Semiconductor, a company founded in 2012 by Andy Hsu and Ray Tsay. Simply put, the aim of X-NAND is to offer the performance benefits of SLC NAND and the storage density of multi-level cell (MLC) NAND in a single package.
X-NAND reduces the flash die’s buffer size by 94 percent when compared to conventional multi-level cell designs, allowing manufacturers to raise plane count from 2-4 to anywhere between 16 and 64 planes per die. This enables for better parallelization of reads and writes on a NAND die, which may result in improved performance even for SLC NAND.
In comparison to QLC, X-NAND would allow for 27 times faster sequential reads, 15 times faster sequential writes, and 3 times the random read/write speed of the older technology. Simultaneously, the new technology results in a smaller NAND chip with lower power requirements, allowing production prices to remain the same as with QLC. Endurance is a more challenging issue, however the business believes TLC and QLC will improve.
It’s important to note that these are only estimations, so we’re only looking at prospective improvements to traditional NAND designs. Nonetheless, with TLC and QLC SSDs poised to become the most widely used flash storage technology in enterprise, desktop, and mobile sectors, it’s encouraging to see companies developing answers to TLC and QLC’s major difficulties, namely write performance and endurance.
Neo Semiconductor is presently seeking partnerships with NAND makers such as Samsung, Intel, Micron, Kioxia, Western Digital, and SK Hynix to incorporate its intellectual property (IP), which now consists of 22 patents, into their designs.
If you’re interested in a deep-dive into X-NAND, you can find one here.