Manufacturers over time have been able to shrink the geometric size of the circuitry that makes up NAND flash technology from 90 nanometers a few years ago to 25nm to 34nm today. The process of laying out the circuitry is known as lithography. Most manufacturers are using lithography processes in the 30nm-to-40nm range. Micron, Intel and Samsung are using 34nm, and Toshiba is using 32nm. Intel recently announced it has begun using a 25nm process.
The smaller the lithography process is, the more data can be fit on a single NAND flash chip. At 25nm, the cells in silicon are 3,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair. But as geometry shrinks, so too does the thickness of the walls that make up the cells that store bits of data. As the walls become thinner, more electrical interference, or "noise," can pass between them, becoming a tougher obstacle to tackle as it creates more data errors. The amount of noise compared to the data that can be read by a NAND flash controller is known as the signal-to-noise ratio.
In order to fix data errors, manufacturers include error-correction code in their NAND flash. The higher bit-error rates, the more ECC is required. Simply put, Anobit's processor is able to continue to read data for a longer period of time compared with typical NAND flash with hard-coded ECC, which takes up flash capacity.
Wong said Anobit is the first company to commercialize its signal-processing technology, which uses software in the controller to increase the signal-to-noise ratio, making it possible to continue reading data even as electrical interference increases.
"We believe that signal-processing technology such as Anobit's will be required for future generations of NAND flash memories, not just SSDs," Wong said.
Jim Handy, an analyst at Objective Analysis, said it makes sense that Anobit's proprietary technology would be able to offer dramatically lower prices than other SSD makers, because 70 percent of an SSDs manufacturing cost is in the creation of the NAND flash chips. Because MLC NAND can hold two to three times the capacity of SLC NAND in the same space, higher-capacity drives can be produced at a lower cost, Handy said.
"SLC NAND flash is becoming more and more of a niche product, so fewer and fewer companies are bothering to manufacture it because of the cost," Handy said.
Without naming which ones, Engel said some of the world's largest NAND manufacturers, consumer electronics vendors and storage array providers use Anobit's first-generation MSP technology in their products.
"Anobit is fielding orders from other well-known array vendors. All names you know well," said an Anobit spokesman, adding that "thousands of Genesis drives are already out for qualifications," and more will ship in the next couple of months.
MLC NAND flash has typically been used for consumer-class products, such as MP3 players and PC tablets, because it costs about four times less than SLC NAND flash, Handy said. The difference between the two nonvolatile memories is that SLC stores 1 bit of data per memory cell, while MLC stores 2 or 3 bits per cell, depending on the manufacturer. While MLC has greater storage densities, it also wears out faster.
Another way SSD manufacturers have dealt with MLC wear issues is through the use of wear-leveling software, which spreads writes out more evenly so that no one block of cells is worn out before another. But wear-leveling software is common to all SSD manufacturers.
Handy said he can see Anobit's MSP technology enabling manufacturers to use MLC more for higher-performance SSDs and thereby paving the way for lower-cost products in data centers.
Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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