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The Previous and Present Life of Nand Flash after 35 years

NAND flash memory has undergone many technological changes, & the giants of NAND flash memory have also made great achievements again.
After 35 years of NAND, Where is the future going

Table of Contents

The memory was named “Flash” because its erasure process was reminiscent of a camera flash.

In 1975 the world’s first digital camera was born, its manufacturer was called – – Kodak. when he’s about to fall to the ground. The story is sometimes like this. Industry leaders strive for dominance, basking in the glory of existing technologies and turning a blind eye to new ones by trying to nip them in the bud, and technological innovation never stops.

In the long history of several decades, NAND flash memory has undergone many technological changes, and the giants of NAND flash memory have also made great achievements again and again.

① Beginning of NAND Flash memory

On January 24, 1984, Apple released the Macintosh, the world’s first personal computer with a graphical user interface. That same year, across the pond in Japan, Toshiba Corporation (Toshiba Memory Group was spun off from Toshiba Corporation in April 2017 and officially renamed KIOXIA in October 2019) developed the concept of “flash memory” over the years “. For personal computers and flash memory, a new era has dawned.

Three years later, Toshiba created the world’s first NAND flash memory chip based on the concept of flash memory, which laid the technical foundation for many new applications in computers, smartphones, data centers, and more.

As with Kodak, the invention gave Toshiba a high-speed ticket to the NAND flash throne, but Toshiba chose the green NAND flash train because its core business was DRAM.

After the 1970s, Japan’s semiconductor industry is developing rapidly thanks to vigorous support from Japan. In 1976, the Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry brought together many leading research institutes and launched the VLSI (Large Scale Integrated Circuit) project together with Hitachi. , Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, Toshiba, and NEC, with an investment of 72 billion yen to achieve a revolutionary advance in microelectronic technology.

In the 1980s, Japan gradually took the leading position in the DRAM market and entered the era of technological explosion.

Toshiba’s decision to choose DRAM, with a 34 billion yen R&D team of 1,500 people under favorable external conditions, has also catapulted the company to the forefront of the DRAM market. In 1985, Toshiba pioneered the development of 1MB DRAM, the largest DRAM memory chip in the world at the time. Compared to DRAM, which has been around for years, Toshiba has suddenly eclipsed the recently released NAND flash memory.

In the mid to late 1990s, the twin political and economic crises repeatedly hit the Japanese DRAM industry, throwing it into an uncertain outlook and affecting local DRAM companies as well. Even Fujitsu fought back and announced its exit from the DRAM business in 1999.

Caught in the dot-com bubble and in the US, Toshiba lost 254 billion yen in fiscal 2001. At the moment, Toshiba faces a decision on where to go with DRAM. Advancing would increase casualties, while surrender would remove the burden of casualties. and make money. He had no choice but to shut down DRAM entirely, sell the DRAM business to Micron, and then decide to return to the NAND flash business, which he had neglected.

Andy Grove, then Chairman and CEO of Intel, said: If we don’t first focus on high-value-added chip production and have the courage to invest decisively, and the speed and strategic vision to recoup the early investment, semiconductors will not become a profitable business. This is perhaps the best footnote to Toshiba’s exit from the DRAM market.

Although it had previously ruled out NAND flash memory, Toshiba has not abandoned it entirely, instead hiring a small number of R&D staff to keep up. As a pioneer in the industry, Toshiba had the leading technology, and more importantly, the only players in the market at the time were Intel from the US and Samsung from South Korea.

Toshiba released the world’s first 4MB NAND flash memory in 1991, Intel released 12MB NAND a year later, and Samsung released its first NAND chip two years later. Around the turn of the millennium, Samsung developed the first 1GB NAND flash memory in 1999. In 2001, Toshiba launched the 1GB MLC NAND flash memory together with Sandisk. At that time, competition in the flash memory market was beginning to intensify, with Intel, Samsung, and Toshiba chasing the dominant heights of NAND flash memory against each other.

In 2007, 2D NAND was phased out, and this time Toshiba took the lead by releasing 3D NAND based on BiCS technology. The same year that NAND flash entered the 3D era, Jobs released the iPhone that would change the world out of pocket at the Maerskone Convention Center in San Francisco.

② Unrestrained Gambling of NAND Flash Memory

In August 2001, just before Toshiba announced its exit from the DRAM market, a large group of Samsung executives gathered at the Zakuro, a restaurant in Tokyo. The informal meeting was all about one topic: whether Samsung should work with Toshiba. Develop or independently develop NAND flash memory.

“A cat that gets fat from eating oily food isn’t going to catch mice,” Lee said in an impassioned speech to staff. In the end, Samsung decided to go its own way.

Whether you bet on panels, DRAM, or smartphones, Samsung’s ability to stay at the forefront of the industry and make big, desperate bets has helped keep it moving further and further down the road.

For NAND flash memory, Samsung has been doing this since 1984. In the same year that the concept of flash memory was introduced, Samsung successfully developed 16 KB Electrically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory (EEPROM), known as Precursor applies to flash memory. In 1989, Samsung successfully developed its own Mask ROM technology and brought in $400 million in operating revenue for Samsung. But with demand for MROMs being limited to certain markets, Samsung soon hit a wall.

Samsung is one step closer to getting into NAND flash, and it’s Intel. After Toshiba developed NAND Flash, Intel followed with NOR Flash and soon overtook Toshiba in production.

To fill the capacity gap, Toshiba licensed the NAND flash design to Samsung in late 1992, and two years later Samsung released the 16MB NAND flash memory, which was the starting point for Samsung NAND flash memory. Samsung introduced 28Mb NAND flash memory in 1998 and 1Gb NAND flash memory in 1999. In 2002, Samsung was the first company in the world to mass-produce 1Gb NAND flash memory, and since then Samsung has officially overtaken Toshiba to become number one in the flash memory market.

In the new century, Samsung has increased the capacity of NAND flash memory from 1GB to 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. In terms of fine processing, Samsung has successfully developed 90nm, 70nm, 50nm, 40nm, and 30nm.

③ Alliance of NAND Flash Memory

In 1985, with Japanese semiconductors on the rise, Andy Grove, then Chairman and CEO of Intel, made the momentous decision to exit the memory market and shift his focus from memory chips to CPU computer chips. The memory company that pioneered DRAM has officially bid farewell to its start-up business. Years later, Intel became the dominant processor in the microprocessor market, transforming itself from a memory maker to a chip powerhouse. Andy Grove remembers his decision to make the switch and smiles.

Despite its exit from the DRAM market, Intel is not giving up on flash memory. To compete with Toshiba in this new area, Intel introduced the first NOR flash in 1988. It successfully replaced EPROM products and was used to store computer software. , but the NAND flash market grew rapidly as consumer products like the iPod increased storage needs. Therefore, in 1992, Intel belatedly introduced its first NAND flash memory product with a capacity of 12MB.

As companies strive for market share and volume, new technologies emerge. Originally, NAND flash technology was based on SLC architecture, which has the advantages of fast read and writes speed and high stability. In 1997 Intel developed the MLC architecture used in NOR Flash. The advantage of this architecture is that it can store twice as much data as SLC in the same memory cell, but the disadvantage is that the number of reads and write operations is limited and the stability is somewhat poor. Toshiba later adapted the architecture for NAND flash memory and released the 1GB MLC NAND flash memory with flash in 2001.

In this never-ending technological race, going it alone is not the order of the day. Toshiba has partnered with Sandisk and Intel has chosen Micron.

In 1984, a magical year, Micron successfully developed the world’s smallest 256,000 DRAM and was successfully listed on NASDAQ. Instead of a new morning, MEGUIar faces an existential crisis. This is because DRAM companies like NEC, Toshiba, and Mitsubishi are taking the technology and cost advantage over DRAM companies like Micron and Intel. A year after the IPO, Micron targeted some of the then-leading foreign DRAM companies.

In 1985, Micron filed a dumping lawsuit with the International Trade Commission against Toshiba and other companies, accusing them of trying to undercut their competitors, including Toshiba, Fujitsu, Hitachi, and three others, one by one to push the business.

Micron eventually thrived in the DRAM race and became the spark of the DRAM industry, but Micron was late in the game when it came to NAND flash memory.

In 2005, Intel and Micron formed IM Flash, a joint venture in which Micron owned 51 percent and Intel 49 percent. After the formation of the new company, Micron sold its existing NAND flash technology and chip designs to Intel for $270 million and acquired a perpetual license to use and modify those designs. Micron and Intel are well prepared to defend themselves against Samsung and Toshiba, but also to bet on the future and bet on 3D NAND.

④ New Beginning of NAND Flash Memory

1984 was the beginning of 2D NAND, and 2007 was the beginning of 3D NAND.

It was the first year of the smartphone, the dawn of the smartphone era, the golden age of NAND flash memory, and more intense competition between companies for new technologies.

Global smartphone production peaked in 2017 at 1.458 billion units, according to research firm TrendForce. Smartphones have sustained a decade of rapid growth. Meanwhile, demand for NAND flash memory in smartphones is increasing. The original iPhone started with 4G and now the latest iPhone 14 starts with 128GB. And with the development of applications such as short videos, the demand for NAND flash will continue to increase in the future.

Global-smartphone-production-2011-2020
Image from DRAMeXchange

In 2007, Toshiba first proposed the 3D NAND structure, but instead of borrowing the structure from Toshiba, Samsung adopted it from its own unique 3D NAND path. In 2013, Samsung pushed the boundaries of semiconductor fine processing technology and launched and produced the first generation of 128Gb 24-layer V NAND flash memory, which amazed the world. It uses the world’s first 3D cell structure “V-NAND” technology.

In 2011, Toshiba and Sandisk’s 300nm Fab5 flash memory factory officially started production in Japan. A year later, Toshiba increased the number of layers to 24. It took Samsung another year to reach that level in 2013, and Intel’s first 3D NAND came out in 2015 due to a late start. In the years that followed, Intel continued its relentless pursuit of higher density and higher counts along with Micron, Toshiba, SK Hynix, and Samsung.

In 2014, Samsung built 32 floors, followed by SK Hynix with 36 floors the following year, Toshiba with 48 floors, and Samsung with 48 floors. Samsung increased the number of floors to 64 in 2017, and SK Hynix increased it to 72 in the same year. In 2019, Micron, SK Hynix, and Toshiba released 128 layers at the same time, and in 2020 Samsung, Micron, and SK Hynix conquered 176 layers at the same time. By 2022, only Micron and SK Hynix have surpassed 200 floors at 232 floors and 238 floors, respectively, of which 238 floors are the tallest in the industry.

Vendor
Name
TimeLatest Layer Progress
Samsung201324 Layers 128Gb 1-Gen V-NAND Flash
Samsung201432 Layers 128Gb 2-Gen V-NAND Flash
Samsung201548 Layers 256Gb 3-Gen V-NAND Flash
Samsung201764 Layers 256Gb 4-Gen V-NAND Flash
Samsung201896 Layers 256Gb 5-Gen V-NAND Flash
Samsung2019128 Layers 6-Gen V-NAND Flash
Samsung2020176 Layers 7-Gen V-NAND Flash
Samsung2022.10512Gb 8-Gen V-NAND Flash,
The layer number of undetermined
Micron201632 Layers 1-Gen 3D NAND Flash
Micron201764 Layers 2-Gen 3D NAND Flash
Micron201896 Layers 3-Gen 3D NAND Flash
Micron2019128 Layers 4-Gen 3D NAND Flash
Micron2020176 Layers 3D NAND Flash (World Premiere)
Micron2022.01176 Layers 3D NAND Flash (Bulk Shipment)
Micron2022.07232 Layers 3D NAND Flash
(Bulk Shipment in Singapore)
SK Hynix20143D NAND Flash
SK Hynix201536 Layers 3D NAND Flash
SK Hynix201648 Layers 3D NAND Flash
SK Hynix201772 Layers 3D NAND Flash
SK Hynix201896 Layers 3D NAND Flash
SK Hynix2019128 Layers 3D NAND Flash
SK Hynix2020176 Layers 3D NAND Flash
SK Hynix2022.08238 Layers 4D NAND Flash
(Put into mass production next year)
Kioxia
(Toshiba)
1987Toshiba developed NAND Flash first in the world
Kioxia
(Toshiba)
20073D stacked flash memory products were released
Kioxia
(Toshiba)
201224 Layers BiCS1 FlashTM 3D NAND Flash
Kioxia
(Toshiba)
201548 Layers BiCS2 FlashTM 3D NAND Flash
Kioxia
(Toshiba)
201764 Layers BiCS3 FlashTM 3D NAND Flash
Kioxia
(Toshiba)
201896 Layers BiCS4 FlashTM 3D NAND Flash
Kioxia
(Toshiba)
2019128 Layers BiCS5 FlashTM 3D NAND Flash
Kioxia
(Toshiba)
2020112 Layers 5-Gen BiCS1 FlashTM 3D NAND Flash
Kioxia
(Toshiba)
2021162 Layers BiCS6 FlashTM 3D NAND Flash
(Kioxia and Western Digital)
NAND vendor layer technical route summary

⑤ Quit of NAND Flash Memory

The fierce competition of the 3D era has created gaps between manufacturers, and some players have gradually dropped out of the race, while new players have followed with unexpected speed, becoming a force to be reckoned with in the market and have shaken the market structure that has been cultivated for decades.

Intel and Micron thrived in the 2D era. After the establishment of the joint venture, its production technology was upgraded from 72nm, 50nm, 34nm and 25nm to 20nm NAND flash memory, becoming the first flash memory factory to adopt a 20nm 128Gb core launched IM flash speed is relatively slow compared to Samsung and Toshiba. The era of 3D NAND had already arrived, but Intel and Micron continued to work on 2D NAND until 2015 when they jointly released 384 GB of 3D NAND flash memory, which is said to be the densest 3D NAND flash memory ever, and the 3D XPoint technology was also introduced this year.

Since then, Intel and Micron, those two ranks of brothers in arms, seemed to have drifted apart. Intel began introducing 3D NAND products to the enterprise market and created the Optane product line based on 3D XPoint technology, which was successful in the enterprise market with high speed, high durability, and ultra-low latency. Micron turns to the consumer market with SSDS. Technical differences may have played a role in Micron’s move away from floating gate technology in favor of charge-trap technology, similar to Samsung’s. Intel didn’t move.

In 2019, Intel and Micron officially ended their 14-year partnership in NAND flash technology. Micron eventually bought IM Flash and Intel formed its own NAND Flash and 3D XPoint memory development teams, but Intel soon abandoned NAND Flash having abandoned DRAM. The decision to say goodbye to NAND flash memory and to stop supplying Optane, a perennially loss-making company, seems to have spelled the end for a sad ending.

After Intel left the field, Intel left some of its assets to Micron, a former ally, and the other division to SK Hynix, an upstart. In late December 2021, SK Hynix acquired Intel’s NAND flash and SSD business for $9 billion and later founded Solidigm, a NAND flash solution provider in the United States.

In September, Intel announced that Optane would be a thing of the past. Those involved stressed that the end of Intel’s Optane series had not been publicly announced. The current strategy is to kill the time, sell, and then call it quits. The Optane deal is Intel’s latest deal in storage, and its end will also end Intel’s storage path overall.

Intel has done everything it can over the years, but it’s been a bumpy road. Later readers of memory history will be able to read between the lines and see Intel’s legacy in memory, but they won’t necessarily mourn Intel’s departure. from another circle where he still rules the world.

SK Hynix started late compared to its predecessors such as Intel, Toshiba, and Samsung, but has grown rapidly and has now surpassed the industry top with 238 layers.

SK Hynix’s first product was a 64GB 20nm NAND flash memory chip developed in 2010. Back then, SK Hynix didn’t have the letter SK in its name. Two years later, SK Group, the third largest chaebol in South Korea, acquired control of Hynix and established a “Flash Design Solution Center”. With the strong financial strength of SK Group, SK Hynix entered the 3D NAND flash memory field in 2014 and took the lead in developing the world’s first CTF-based 96-layer 4D NAND flash memory in 2019. Compared to 3D architecture, 4D has the advantages of smaller unit areas and higher production efficiency.

⑥ Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) of NAND Flash Memory

To draw a dividing line in the millennium, Toshiba and Samsung are the industry builders, and SK Hynix and Micron are the two dark horses that emerged after the millennium. Looking back on the growth path of these two dark horses, mergers and acquisitions are a factor that cannot be ignored.

In the initial stages of industrial development, each company can find its own ecological niche. As the industry matures, mergers and acquisitions intensify and the ecological niche expands or disappears through the Matthew effect. After 2010, large companies are actively acquiring small companies, on the one hand, to consolidate their advantages, on the other hand, to make up for the shortcomings. Micron and SK Hynix are the two most active companies.

Micron completed the acquisition of flash memory maker Numonyx in 2010, acquired PCle virtualization solutions provider Virtensys in 2012, SSD controller startup Tidal in 2015, and officially IM Flash in 2019. SK Hynix acquired Italian NAND flash developer Ideaflash in 2012 and Intel’s NAND flash business in 2021.

YearInformation Arrangement
1999Hynix acquired LG Semiconductor
2006In June, Micron acquired flash memory card maker Lexar for $850 million
2010In May, Micron completed the acquisition of flash memory chip maker Numonyx in a deal valued at $1.2 billion off
2011In August, Samsung acquired MRAM developer Grandis inc.
2012In January, Micron acquired Virtensys, a provider of PCle virtualization solutions; Jointly built the NAND plant with Intel IM Fash;
Acquired DRAM manufacturer Elpida for approximately $2.5 billion, and in June, SK Hynix acquired Italian NAND flash developer ldeaflash
2014In March, Samsung acquired the server-side caching technology solutions U.S. company Proximal Data
2015In October, Micron acquired SSD controller startup Tidal
2019In October, Micron formally acquired IM Flash, paying $1.25 billion to Intel
2020In July, Toshiba completed the acquisition of Lite-On Technology’s SSD business, Solid State Storage Technologies, Inc., and its subsidiaries
2021In December, SK Hynix completed the first phase of the acquisition of Intel’s NAND flash and SSD business home
2022In June, Kioxia Holdings completed the acquisition of Chubu Toshiba Engineering Co. to further strengthen Kioxia Group’s technological development capabilities.
Public information collation

⑦ Conclusion

The tiny NAND flash memory chip that started as an idea in the minds of Toshiba engineers has progressed through the jungle of natural selection to become the core component of smartphones, PCs, and other electronic products. NAND flash memory structure has been upgraded from 2D to 3D and 4D with 24, 36, 48, 96, 128, 176, and 200+ layers and Samsung’s latest plan 1000 layers. The semiconductor industry is endlessly searching for technology.

During this period there is the outgoing front wave and the incoming back wave. Dominating the market of Toshiba, Samsung, Longmen, Micron and SK Hynix are leaping ahead, leaving the competition of the veteran market Intel, NAND flash has written a wonderful story through time and space, creating its own world.

The NAND flash market is still at war. In terms of revenue, according to TrendForce Group Research, in the Q2 2022 NAND Flash revenue ranking, Samsung generally tops the list, followed by SK Hynix + Solidigm in second, Kioxia in third, and Micron in fifth.

In the second half of 2022, the NAND flash memory market will face renewed downward pressure. In an environment surrounded by fog, how will the giants see the light and rule the future?

DiskMFR Field Sales Manager - Leo

It’s Leo Zhi. He was born on August 1987. Major in Electronic Engineering & Business English, He is an Enthusiastic professional, a responsible person, and computer hardware & software literate. Proficient in NAND flash products for more than 10 years, critical thinking skills, outstanding leadership, excellent Teamwork, and interpersonal skills.  Understanding customer technical queries and issues, providing initial analysis and solutions. If you have any queries, Please feel free to let me know, Thanks

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