From the looks of it, 2010 is looking very promising for storage devices that rely on NAND Flash devices [read: almost all of them] - after five years of development, SanDisk announced that the company begun production shipments of flash memory cards based on evolutionary X4 NAND flash chips
. Unlike the current MLC flash chips [multi-level cell] that pack two or three bits in a single cell, X4 packs four bits in a single cell.
First shipped products are two 8GB and two 16GB flash cards - SDHC and Memory Stick Pro Duo, featuring increased writing and reading speed when compared to previous generation. But the progress doesn't stop here - SanDisk and Toshiba already demonstrated the 3-bit MLC cell manufactured in 32nm process and the next step will be to bring 3-bit and 4-bit MLC NAND Flash in even more denser configuration, courtesy of afore mentioned 32nm process.
What makes SanDisk's NAND Flash memory chips interesting is the fact that the company is really aggressive on the die size and packaging. Even though the chips are only available in SanDisk products [and rebadged low-volume OEM deals], SanDisk is quite bullish on their claims, such as alleged 33% die space advantage over competition that utilize 34nm process [when compared to their 32nm chips]. The X4 NAND chips are really interesting because Toshiba's 43nm process proved much more efficient than 56nm and almost as efficient as the 34nm process from competing sides [sub-10% disadvantage in die-size]. At least those are the claims.
By using simple math, we get a 25% increase in cell capacity "for free". Coupled with Toshiba's proven 43nm process, new chips consume less power and are capable of yielding much higher capacity per memory chip than previously possible. SanDisk is shipping 64Gigabit [8GigaBytes] NAND chips - when these get into Solid State Drives, we could see a 20-30% reduction in price for the same capacity over the competition. 8GB of data in a single chip could effectively double the SSD capacity - most of MLC-based SSDs currently rely on 32Gbit chips in configurations of 32 [128GB] or even 64 chips [256GB ones] in expensive double-stacked configuration. With X4 NAND flash, you can build a 256GB SSD for roughly 20% price premium over the current 128GB models, while 512GB SSD could go for a 30% price premium, instead of current "double the capacity - [almost] double the price".
But the news aren't over yet - X4 chips also bring several new features to NAND flash technology, such as ECC [Error Checking and Correction] and advanced digital signal processing technologies. Both technologies come from Tel Aviv University and are exclusively licensed to SanDisk.
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