What's better than 2-bits per cell? 3 bits of course. IM Flash Technologies, a joint venture between Intel and Micron, has announced that they have developed a 3-bit-per-cell NAND device that Micron will begin producing for commercial consumption this fall. The technology, dubbed 3bpc (tricky acronym for 3-bits-per-cell), stores more bits per cell than current technology and allows the development of higher density flash memory so it can store more data in less space.
The 3bpc technology will allow chip manufacturers to create USB thumb drives and solid state drives with a greater storage capacity. 3 bits per cell is a 50% increase from the standard 2 bits per cell, meaning that an 8Gb USB thumb drive could be built to store 12Gb of data without increasing the size of the device. The process of manufacturing storage with more bits per cell also decreases the cost per flash bit so that the 12Gb USB drive would be roughly equivalent in cost to the 2 bits per cell 8Gb flash drive.
The higher bits per cell technology can also be implemented in solid state drives (SSD) to achieve the same sort of increase in storage capacity and manufacturing cost savings. SSD's are common in smaller netbooks and offer speed and reliability benefits over traditional hard drive storage. Intel has the X18-M and X25-M SSD's which are both available in 80Gb and 160Gb capacities. The 3 bit per cell manufacturing process will theoretically enable them to boost those capacities to 120Gb and 240Gb respectively without increasing the size of the drives or the cost to manufacture them.
The 3bpc technology is not all sunshine and roses though. Aside from adding capacity to store more data, the additional bit also increases the potential for error. Intel and Micron need to continue working to ensure that the 3bpc devices are reliable enough for customers to trust them with critical or sensitive data.
Packing more data into smaller devices also brings attention to information leakage and security concerns that organizations face. It wasn't an urgent priority to address the data compromise concerns when USB thumb drives only held 16Mb. When a user can walk out with 32Gb of data on a drive the size of their thumb attached to their key ring though it is a whole different story. Security administrators need to have policies established regarding the use of removable media and data confidentiality, and controls in place to protect sensitive information.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.