SSDs are primed to get bigger and faster with Micron's new NAND memory tech

Micron's TLC NAND will offer 33 percent faster read transfer speeds. Also expect SSD drive capacities to increase, while pricing drops.

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Micron has announced it’s shipping 176-layer TLC NAND flash memory to customers, a move that portends larger, faster and even cheaper SSD drives for all.

The company said its 5th-gen 3D NAND memory should put its density about 40 percent higher than its nearest competitors, which are using 128-layer NAND. Micron said read and write latencies are reduced by 35 percent compared to its 96-layer NAND, and by 25 percent compared its 128-layer NAND.  Micron isn’t the only NAND memory manufacturer that has 176 layers, but it is the first to start volume shipments.

The Micron NAND is TLC, or three-bits per cell, and is said to have 33 percent faster transfer rates, as well as a 35 percent improvement in read and write latencies. And because it’s TLC NAND instead of QLC, the new memory should offer better drive endurance, too.

The 176-layer design comes from stacking two 88-layer stacks together, which isn’t a new thing for Micron. You might think that’s a trick, but the end result is still the same: far better density for larger drives.

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Micron said the new 176-layer NAND is about as thick as one-fifth of a sheet of printer paper, and works out to be as thick its previous 64-layer NAND despite having more than twice as many layers.

In the end, this will lead to larger SSDs and potentially cheaper ones, too. We say “potentially cheaper” because SSD prices haven’t been easy to predict. Some factories were largely idle during the initial days of the pandemic, which cut down on supply, driving up prices. Demand also fluctuated as people had less money to spend. At the same time, many people also had to buy new PCs to work from home. New games consoles and 5G phones also consume a lot of NAND memory, so this demand won’t bode well for SSD prices.

The outlook is still rosy though, and Micron’s 176-layer NAND puts the company in a good spot as SSDs continue to eat into hard drive market share.

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In the the chart above, you can see the trajectories of both storage mediums, according to the Gartner research firm.

So, when can you buy a 176-layer SSD drive?

Micron said its 176-layer NAND memory should soon appear in drives branded under its Crucial brand, but didn’t announce any particular drive capacities or prices. One thing that should be different about the 176-layer drives versus 128-layer drives is availability.

Micron’s Derek Dicker said its 128-layer NAND was mostly a short transition product. He said 176-layer was always the NAND memory it wanted to put forward, and it’s expected that consumers will likely see drives based on this technology in more models, and at lower prices, too.

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