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Flash drives semiconductor technologies

Demand for NAND flash is said to be growing at 45% per year, driven mainly by the consumer market and by tablets in particular.

This is pushing memory manufacturers to keep pace with - and, in some cases, stay ahead of - the demands of Moore's Law. Micron, for example, is in production at 16nm with a 128Gbit part.

However, flash is one of the technologies which is expected to have problems scaling much further. Multilevel flash is particularly challenged; at the leading edge, the state of the memory cell is now being defined by a handful of electrons.

Work has been underway to find ways around the potential roadblocks. One solution is to rein back on the linear scaling and to start building upwards and Samsung has just launched a 3d part integrating 24 layers. Another is to develop radically different technologies and this is the approach of Crossbar with its eponymous memory. Its resistive ram design is believed to be capable of storing 1Tbyte of data and to be scalable to the 5nm node.

The progress in developing these technologies and processes continues to amaze; particularly when you look back to the 1990s, when some companies were wondering whether it would be possible to go sub micron.

Graham Pitcher

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