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Analysts, execs tackle NAND, SSD issues

Posted: 21 Aug 2009  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:flash memory  NAND  SSD  solid-state drive 

The Flash Memory Summit brought a range of opinions on the state of the NAND industry, scaling, 3-bit-per-cell and solid-state drives (SSDs). Here are some of the comments from the experts in the field:

NAND market
"The NAND market continues to be a tough battlefield, and the clear advantage falls to those with the most cost-effective technology. Manufacturers who have the lowest cost structure are in a position to profit at prices that would cause losses to their competition," said Jim Handy, an analyst at Objective Analysis.

According to VLSI Research president G. Dan Hutcheson, "Solid-state drives were supposed to drive NAND demand, "but it hasn't happened. The cost-per-bit for flash is higher than disc drives. So, consumers aren't that dumb. People are not going to buy SSDs because it's flash."

WebFeet Research CEO of Alan Niebel, countered, "Demand (for NAND) is better, but at what level? Overall consumer spending is not as buoyant as it was last year."

Meanwhile, Joseph Unsworth commented that NAND supply constraints continue to plague the market and despite expectations that it would soften, prices are poised to remain firm in the coming months. "Nearly all device types, including the high-volume MLC parts, witnessed higher prices. Recent channel checks support the claims that NAND suppliers will continue to manage their business for profitability. With lean inventories among the NAND vendors and healthy inventories with major NAND customers, pricing will likely remain relatively stable well into the fourth quarter. Consumer demand during the holiday season continues to be the unknown variable, and while the 'sell-in' of chips to products for retail is encouraging, the question remains, 'Will consumers be buying?'" he said.

3x NAND, scaling
Handy said that Intel and Micron are not alone in the 3-bit-per-cell NAND technology, citing SanDisk and Toshiba announced a similar product in January with shipments slated in Q3. SanDisk, however, indicated in its most recent teleconference that the JV's 32nm 3bit chip is expected to begin to ship at the end of the year. He added that by the first part of 2010, manufacturers with 3-bit 3xnm devices will be more profitable than their competition.

"The (3-bit-per-cell) chip is not for all markets. Just as SLC NAND was once thought to be poorly suited to SSDs, then poorly suited to enterprise SSDs, this chip, with a very low endurance level, is currently being promoted by the (Intel-Micron duo) as a device well suited to USB flash drives and flash cards for cameras and cell phones, but the (Intel-Micron duo) explained that they need more experience in production volumes before they will be confident to position it as a chip suitable for the high-write environment of the SSD," Handy said.

Commenting on the NAND scaling issue, Eli Harari, founder, chairman and CEO of SanDisk Corp. said the industry will see a slow down.

Brian Shirley, VP of Micron Technology Inc.'s memory group said, "We also continue to move forward on further shrinks in NAND that will provide our customers with a world-leading portfolio of products for many years to come. Micron and Intel have made great strides in 34nm NAND, and we look forward to introducing our 2xnm technology later this year."

SSD boom or bust?
"The ASPs are too high. SSDs cost more than the systems they go into," according to Michael Cornwell, lead technologist for flash memory at Sun Microsystems.

Hutcheson, however, said that disc drives still hold cost-per-bit advantage. "The cost-per-bit for flash is higher than disc drives. (The NAND crowd) fooled themselves thinking they could scale faster than hard drives." He commented that SSDs have been a systematic case of bad marketing and that vendors brought the wrong product to market. The device was designed to look like a hard drive but the problem is that SSDs have not taken advantage of their low-power capabilities of flash. "Eventually, (SSD vendors) will figure it out. But they will first have to go back to the drawing board," Hutcheson said.

According to Niebel, "SSDs are a little expensive (due to high NAND prices). The problem is that NAND vendors have to maintain their prices."

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times





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