3D NAND flash memory promises revolutionary growth for storage technology, but enhanced performance and immense capacity also come at a higher financial cost and limited endurance.

With the arrival of 3D NAND Flash Memory, huge strides have been made in the realm of data processing.

This technology is a type of flash storage that uses a layered design to increase its maximum chip capacity. It’s similar to how multi-story buildings are able to hold more people in one limited area by stacking rooms vertically.

The result is a denser and speedier method of memory management than conventional SSD (Solid State Drives) and their 2-dimensional floating gate architecture. This means improvements to a PC’s general performance, latency, power consumption, and of course, increased storage space.

But as with any growing technology, before judgments are made it’s important to understand how and why 3D NAND flash memory came about, and the pros and cons of implementing it.

What is NAND?

NAND flash memory was first presented by Toshiba in 1987, and is a 2-dimensional form of nonvolatile storage technology. Or in other words, it’s a flat type of memory device that remembers its stored data even when powered off.

Nonvolatile SSD are often used as smaller, secondary memory banks (supporting a computer’s RAM) due to their high costs and lower memory capacity. Though when compared to hard drives and other magnetic storage devices, SSD take less space, perform faster, and make less sound. Plus, long-term memory capabilities make SSD critical to the operations of many electronic devices.

But the planar layout of 2D NAND flash storage meant that the maximum chip capacity was significantly limited by size. With computing power constantly increasing, it became apparent that for SSD to keep up, the physical constraints of 2D flash storage devices needed to be overcome.

The Arrival of 3D NAND Flash Memory

The expansion of 2D SSD was becoming stunted, which was especially problematic considering the current emphasis shift toward big data. More than ever, we’ve been gathering tons of detailed business analytics, and a desire for greater flash storage naturally followed.

Then, in 2013, things started looking brighter when Samsung unveiled vertical 3D NAND flash memory with their 850 pro SSD. Since that launch other manufacturers, such as Micron Technology and Intel, have also begun developing and improving upon 3D NAND flash memory.

3D NAND: Pros and Cons

Benefits:

Massive Storage Capabilities

3D NAND flash memory reduces the SSD cost-per-gigabyte. This means we should soon expect to see smartphones and mobile devices with the storage capacity of modern desktops. Terabytes of data easily fit into compact devices through the microscopically layered design of 3D flash storage.

The days of needing to erase old messages and photos from your phone will be a thing of the past.

Power Consumption & Life Span

When pitted against planar 2D NAND, a 3D NAND flash storage actually consumes up to 50% less power when operating. On top of that, the structure of 3D NAND cuts down the interference between data cells.

This means that a 3D device will not only perform more reliably than 2D SSD, but also deteriorate more slowly.

Enhanced Performance

3D NAND devices have clocked in at performance speeds that double their planar counterparts. However, that should come as no surprise considering the potential for a higher operating capacity that’s supplied by the denser structure of this flash storage.

Overall, this means that on top of increasing the maximum chip capacity, 3D NAND also provides much stronger data read and write performances.

Problems:

Endurance Limitations

Though longer lasting than 2D SSD, the lifespan of a 3D NAND device shortens with every level the device stacks. Basically, multi-level devices will have a higher maximum chip capacity, but will wear apart notably faster. So while a triple-level cell may perform better than a single-level cell, depending on the situation, a shortened lifespan may not make it worthwhile.

However, manufacturers are currently working to improve the longevity and reliability of multi-level SSD.

Increased Cost

Because of the added steps in the layering process, 3D NAND flash memory devices have a notably higher manufacturing cost. Not to mention, many factories that already produce 2D NAND devices would need to upgrade to accommodate their production.

Because of this, planar SSD are often still more cost effective and will remain that way for some time yet. But in the long run, as 3D NAND becomes standardized, it will lead to widespread distribution of large and low-cost memory drives.

3D NAND to the Future

As mentioned before, Intel and Micron have both stepped up to the plate with 3D NAND. Both companies are busy exploring methods to expand upon vertical flash storage, with projects such as impressive 64-tier and 96-tier 3D NAND flash memory drives.

With industry titans like these tackling the issues, we can expect promising things for flash storage in the near future. Tech enthusiasts worldwide are monitoring the evolution of nonvolatile storage technology, and with innovations like 3D NAND, the possibilities seem endless.

What are your thoughts about 3D NAND implementation? Do you believe it’s the next big leap in storage technology, or will it be eclipsed by another rising star yet to make headlines? Let us know in the comments below!