A new report says high density NAND flash will become to dominate the market, providing increased density and cheaper high-capacity storage for all devices, not just the very high end. New memory products from Samsung are bearing this out.
The report from DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, says that triple-level cell (TLC) NAND flash will account for nearly half of the total NAND flash output by the fourth quarter of this year. Because of this, TLC NAND is shifting from memory cards and USB drive to OEM storage devices like eMMC/eMCP and SSD, expanding the TLC market.
There are three types of flash: SLC, or single-level cell, where one bit of data was stored in a single flash memory cell; MLC, or multi-level cell, which held two bits of data per cell, and TLC, which holds three bits per cell. The flash market began with SLC and for a long time, it was the format of choice for the enterprise SSD market because SLC was thought to wear out the slowest.
A TLC cell, with three bytes in the cell, would have three times the read and write activity, and thus, was thought to wear out faster. After so many writes, NAND cells wear out and die and become unusable. As flash technology has advanced, the lifespans have increased, to the point you have to make an effort to wear one of these drives out.
DRAMeXchange also attributed the increasing role of TLC NAND flash in cell phones, tablets, and other consumer electronics due to the maturation of controller chip technology along with a drop in the price of TLC. It cited the use of TLC NAND flash in the iPhone6/6 Plus as the tipping point to the acceptance of TLC NAND.
And Samsung Electronics is making it more palatable for the mass market. In announcing its TLC NAND-based Embedded MultiMediaCard (eMMC) 5.0 storage, Samsung claims it is the highest-density architecture of its kind and will allow phone manufacturers to put 128GB storage capacity in low- and mid-range smartphones and tablets.
However Samsung has not divulged the pricing details of 128GB eMMC 5.0 so the actual impact of the implementation is not known.
There are plenty of smartphones and tablets with 128GB of flash storage, but they come at a cost. The 128GB version of the iPhone 6 is $200 more than the 16GB version, for example, although that's double what you would pay to buy a microSD card, so you are paying the Apple premium.
If Samsung and other NAND flash makers like Hynix and Micron do move to mass production of TLC, it might be possible to get 128GB of storage down to $50, which would make 16GB and 32GB phones rather pointless. Or at least a whole lot cheaper.