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Intel SSDs may get speed, capacity boost with new Micron chips

Intel SSDs may get speed, capacity boost with new Micron chips

SSDs for PCs could reach capacities over 10TB with Micron's 3D NAND chips

Intel's solid-state drives could be poised for a big jump in capacity and speed with new 3D flash chips coming from Micron.

Micron, which makes the flash in Intel's SSDs, has started volume shipments of its 3D NAND flash chips. The chips could lead to SSDs the size of a pack of gum with more than 3.5TB of storage and standard 2.5-inch SSDs with capacities greater than 10TB.

SSDs have been advancing in capacity and durability. Fixstars last month shipped a 13TB SSD, which is priced at about US$1 per gigabyte, or US$13,000. This year, SanDisk plans to ship 6TB and 8TB SSDs, while Samsung is aiming to release a 4TB SSD.

Intel sells consumer SSDs with a maximum capacity of 4TB, and Micron's 3D NAND chips will could up to triple that capacity. Some of Intel's enterprise SSD products are old and due for an upgrade.

Intel did not comment on when it would release new SSDs. Micron, which sells SSDs, will release new drives in the spring and summer seasons.

3D NAND flash achieveshigher density by placing storage chips on top of each other. That is an advance from a planar structure, in which the chips are placed next to each other. The new structure has also improved the speed of SSDs, because the storage cells are closer to each other.

But Micron is behind rivals Samsung and Toshiba, which moved to the 3D NAND flash structure many years ago to improve storage capacity and reduce production costs. Micron's implementation is different and relies on floating-gate cells to improve the reliability and capacity of drives. Micron's rivals use charge-trap technology, which analysts say might provide longer battery life.

Micron claims its 3D NAND chips have three times the density of competitors' products. This should mean three times the capacity in the same size SSD, so the storage will take up less space in an expensive data center or a small, slim device.

It isn't yet clear whether Micron will use these 3D NAND chips for Xpoint, a significantly faster storage and memory technology that it's developing with Intel. They claim Xpoint will be 10 times more dense than DRAM and produce SSDs that are 1,000 times faster and more durable than flash storage. Intel plans to release Xpoint-based memory DIMMs and SSDs under the Optane brand.

Micron said Xpoint products will come later this year but didn't comment further on the technology.

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