In August, Samsung revealed that it had conjured up a way to make its bleeding-edge 3D V-NAND flash memory even more data-dense than before. Today, the company announced that mass production of 3-bit 3D V-NAND has begun, and it might be able to quell the biggest complaint about SSDs packing prior generation V-NAND tech: price.
Samsung launched its 850 Pro SSDs—the first-ever V-NAND-based solid state drives, using 2-bit-per-cell technology—in July, and it earned rave reviews across the board. The 850 Pro SSD equaled and often trumped competitors in speed, endurance, and power efficiency, then Samsung rubbed salt in the wound by offering best-in-class software and a 10-year warranty with the drives. Put simply, the 850 Pro series rocked.
But wow, they were expensive, with most models selling around $1 per gigabyte of storage—a clear premium over rival SSDs.
That may soon change however. Flash memory is from giant silicon wafers; the more flash memory you can successfully extract from a single wafer, the better. And Samsung says 3-bit V-NAND wafers yield more than twice as much end product compared to wafers of its traditional 10nm 3-bit flash memory. That makes sense; V-NAND’s big trick is vertically stacking layers of flash cells, while traditional flash memory arranges the cells side-by-side on the horizontal plane.
More efficient manufacturing processes are cheaper manufacturing processes, and those savings usually trickle down to end users in the cut-throat world of consumer electronics.
While Samsung has yet to announce a new SSD built around the 3-bit V-NAND, don’t expect that eventual revelation to smoke the first-gen 850 Pro SSDs on the performance front. Traditionally, 2-bit-per-cell “MLC” NAND offers better read and write speeds and a longer life span than 3-bit-per-cell “TLC” NAND; the big advantages of 3-bit NAND lie in lower prices and increased storage capacities.
Indeed, Bob Brennan, vice president of Samsung Semiconductor’s memory solutions lab, told PCWorld earlier this year that SSDs built with 3-bit V-NAND are more likely to be used for bulk storage needs than ultimate performance. If I was a betting man, I’d expect Samsung to keep the 850 Pro SSD line around for enthusiasts, while the eventual 3-bit V-NAND SSDs will squarely target “the rest of us.”
We’ll know soon enough: Samsung expects the first 3-bit V-NAND SSD to ship by the end of the year.
Why this matters: Samsung’s V-NAND is a major technological achievement, but its true impact won’t be felt until SSDs with vertically stacked flash cells trickle down to the mainstream. TLC V-NAND starts us down that path. It’ll be interesting to see how the first 3-bit V-NAND SSD’s performance and endurance specifications stack up to the TLC SSD competition.