Intel, Micron's first-ever QLC NAND flash: Cheaper, denser SSD storage is coming

Intel and Micron's first Quad-Level Cell NAND flash memory should bring higher-density SSD storage.

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Intel and Micron have delivered the first-ever Quad-Level Cell (QLC) NAND flash memory, which offers 33 percent higher density than today's technology.

QLC stores four bits of data per cell compared with the previous technology, Triple-Level Cell (TLC), which stores three bits per cell. Hence, the technology offers a third more capacity to SSD and changes the economics of SSD usage.

Intel and Micron, which are jointly developing the technology, boast that the new four bits per cell NAND achieves one terabit density per die.

Micron says it has shipped the first QLC Cell NAND SSD, the new 5210 ION SSD with a SATA interface. It's for read-intensive enterprise workloads, such as AI, machine learning, and real-time analytics.

Micron is pitching it as a replacement to HDD arrays, arguing the increased density of QLC makes SSD more compelling cost-wise and can cut down on rack space.

See: Special report: The cloud v. data center decision (free PDF)

The 5210 ION SSD has a 2.5-inch form factor and is available in capacities between 1.92 terabytes and 7.68 terabytes. It's shipping to select strategic customers today and will be generally available in the fall of 2018.

Intel didn't announce any products but confirmed it has made progress with Micron developing the third-generation 96-layer 3D NAND cell structure. The companies now have 64-layer QLC and 96-layer TLC technologies.

"With the introduction of 64-layer 4bits/cell NAND technology, we are achieving 33 percent higher array density compared to TLC, which enables us to produce the first commercially available one-terabit die in the history of semiconductors," said Micron executive vice president Scott DeBoer.

"We're continuing flash technology innovation with our 96-layer structure, condensing even more data into smaller spaces, unlocking the possibilities of workload capability and application construction."

Intel vice president RV Giridhar said the commercialization of QLC is a big milestone.

"Commercialization of 1TB 4bits/cell is a big milestone in [non-volatile memory] history and is made possible by numerous innovations in technology and design that further extend the capability of our Floating Gate 3D NAND technology," said Giridhar.

"The move to 4bits/cell enables compelling new operating points for density and cost in datacenter and client storage."

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The 5210 ION SSD has a 2.5-inch form factor and capacities between 1.92TB and 7.68TB.

Image: Micron

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