Samsung upgrades could lower SSD prices, execs say

Samsung Electronics is upgrading its memory technology and manufacturing processes, which could lead to price drops for solid-state drives (SSDs) that are becoming more widely used in laptops.

Many SSDs used in consumer laptops contain multilevel-cell (MLC) flash memory chips, which store bits of data at multiple levels in each cell. Samsung is trying to put three bits at multiple levels in a cell, an upgrade over two bits per cell, the company said Monday.

Samsung will introduce 64G-bit, three-bit chips in the first half of 2009, manufactured using a new process technology, said Tae-Sung Jung, senior vice president of product planning and application engineering team, during a presentation at the Samsung Tech Forum in San Francisco. The chips may be used in future SSDs, though Samsung did not immediately provide a release date.

The SSD will be manufactured using the 30-nanometer process rather than the company's current 42-nm process. The different manufacturing process could make flash memory chips like SSDs more cost effective to make.

There could initially be issues surrounding performance degradation and reliability surrounding three-bit SSDs, Jung said. Three-bit SSDs are slower and less reliable than two-bit SSDs for now, but the company hopes to overcome that challenge as it develops the technology, Jung said.

Samsung last month announced it had started mass production of 256G-byte SSDs, which have two-bit cells and will be used in laptops in the next few months.

Samsung's main aim is to try and reduce NAND flash manufacturing costs and that could ultimately lead to SSD price drops, said Jim Handy, director of Objective Analysis, a semiconductor research company. For example, a three-bit 1G-byte SSD requires fewer cells to put together, which could drop manufacturing costs and those savings could ultimately be passed on to buyers.

That could lead to wider adoption of SSDs, Handy said. Adoption has been hindered partly due to higher prices and lower storage capacities compared to hard drives.

However, Samsung previously has said that its 256G-byte SSD is faster and consumes lesser power than hard drives.

SSDs will eventually replace hard drives, said Woosik Chu, executive vice president at Samsung. Driven by mini-notebooks, which are also known as netbooks, a larger number of notebooks will switch to SSDs over the next few years.

Samsung will also continue to increase the density of SSDs as it improves its process technology to drive down manufacturing costs, company officials said.

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