Intel and Micron are going to kill the hard disk drive

Massive advances in NAND flash storage could eventually render the old spinning drive obsolete.

For too long, it looked like SSD capacity would always lag well behind hard disk drives, which were pushing into the 6TB and 8TB territory while SSDs were primarily 256GB to 512GB.

That seems to be ending. Not long after Samsung announced a 3.2TB SSD drive, Intel announced its alliance with Micron Technology will yield enormous capacity SSD drives.

During an investor webcast last week, Intel announced it will begin offering 3D NAND drives in the second half of next year as part of its joint flash venture with Micron. It stacks 32 planar layers of NAND memory with 3 bits per cell for 32GB of storage in a single MLC die. Pack a bunch of those chips onto an SSD drive or PCI Express card and capacities will easily break the multiple terabyte barrier.

Rob Crooke, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's non-volatile memory group, said this will allow for 10TB SSDs within the next couple of years, or high capacity storage in tiny form factors. He said the 3D stacking would allow for 1TB of storage on a form factor two millimeters thick. In other words, thumb drives 1TB in capacity.

Intel hasn't decided which market segment will get this "breakthrough" technology first. SSD started out on the consumer side and worked its way into the data center slowly, because it had to prove its reliability and stability for the data center market, which has very little patience or tolerance for data loss.

Then again, Intel hasn't specified the price, either, and even the most die-hard enthusiasts might choke at the cost of a 10TB NAND flash drive at today's prices. Crooke did not disclose the price that this new 3D technology would come at, so it's all wait and see for now.

Still, it's looking more and more like flash will actually become a viable method of mass storage even for home PC owners. Hard drive technology has hit the wall in many ways. They can't really spin the drives faster than 7,200 RPM without increasing heat and the rate of failure. Capacity was stuck at 2.1TB for a long time because the 32-bit definitions used for partition sizes and logical block addresses (LBAs). It was only recently that motherboards increased the ability to read larger drives.

Seagate and Western Digital are in their own arms race, announcing but not necessarily shipping drives of 6TB, 8TB and 10TB. All hard drives have now is the capacity argument; speed is all gone. Even the Western Digital Velociraptor, a 10,000 RPM drive, has had its time come and go as 1TB SSD drives dropped in price.

It will all come down to the price for the Intel/Micron products.

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