3D NAND, how high can it go?

450_x_492_3d_nand_32_layer_stackI was at the Flash Memory Summit a couple of weeks ago and a presenter (from Hynix, I think) got up and talked about how 3D NAND was going to be the way forward for all NAND technology. I always thought we were talking about a handful of layers. But on the slide he had what looked to be a skyscraper block with 20-40 layers of NAND.

Currently shipping 3D NAND

It seems all the major NAND fabs are shipping 30+ layer 3D NAND. Samsung last year said they were shipping 32-layer 3D (V-)NANDToshiba announced earlier this year that they had 48-layer 3D NANDHynix is shipping 36-layer 3D NAND.  Micron-Intel is also shipping 32-layer 3D NAND. Am I missing anyone?

Samsung also said that they will be shipping a 32GB, 48-layer V-NAND chip later this year. Apparently, Samsung is also working on 64-layer V-NAND in their labs and are getting good results.  In an article on Samsung’s website they mentioned the possibility of 100 layers of NAND in a 3D stack.

The other NAND fabs are also probably looking at adding layers to their 3D NAND but aren’t talking as much about it. i5QVjaOmlEZHmjM34GrH3NFORjU9A-xAk_JUvkzS8Os

Earlier this year on a GreyBeards on Storage Podcast we talked with Jim Handy, Director at Objective Analysis on what was going on in NAND fabrication. Talking with Jim was fascinating but one thing he said was that with 3D NAND, building a hole with the right depth, width and straight enough was a key challenge. At the time I was thinking a couple of layers deep. Boy was I wrong.

How high/deep can 3D NAND go?

On the podcast, Jim said he thought that 3D NAND would run out of gas around 2023. Given current press releases, it seems NAND fabs are adding ~16 layers a year to their 3D-NAND.

So if 32 to 48 layers is todays 3D-NAND and we can keep adding 16 layers/year through 2023 that’s 8 years *16 layers or an additional 128 layers  to the 32  to 48 layers currently shipping. With that rate we should get to 160 to 176 layer 3D NAND chips. And if 48 layers is 32GB then we maybe we could see  ~+100GB  3D NAND chips.

This of course means that there is no loss in capacity as we increase layers. Also that the industry can continue to add 16 layers/year to 3D-NAND chips.

I suppose there’s one other proviso, that nothing else comes along that is less expensive to fabricate while still providing ever increasing capacity of lightening fast, non-volatile storage (see a recent post on 3D XPoint NVM technology).

Photo Credit(s):

  1. Micron’s press release on 3D NAND, (c) 2015 Micron
  2. Toshiba’s press release as reported by AnandTech, (c) 2015 Toshiba

11 Replies to “3D NAND, how high can it go?”

  1. Thanks Ray – good to meet you at FMS. Two comments: the +16 layers/year will definitely slow down. We are in the early days of 3D NAND, and the makers are figuring out the easier gains on the learning curve. Those easier gains will be wrung out by the 2nd or 3rd generation, plus the return on adding 16 layers/year diminishes (as a % of capacity). Also, the number of layers is tightly coupled to the number of cells in the NAND string – which is not easily extensible. So look for NAND makers to also push from TLC to QLC (and maybe more) bits per cell as well as figure out how to break up the NAND string (think of it as a NAND string of 32-64 layers inside a XPoint array! Boom! Mind blown,). Thanks again, Dave

    1. Dave,
      I figured that there would be some slowdown as the physics gets more difficult. TLC and QLC bring there own problems with write endurance and other lifetime characteristics. But I guess it’s just a matter of time. We went from SLC to MLC after some effort. How hard can TLC be to make enterprise capable?
      Ray

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