To the Point

By Andrew Mierau - 2015-08-07

Is More Always Better?

As consumers, we are bombarded by ads showing us that more is always better.  Smartphones are an excellent example.  Over the past 5 years, smartphone screens have grown in size from 3.5” to 4.3” to 5” to even 6”.  Steve Jobs famously compared a 4.3” phone (which is now considered small) as “Hummers.”  But none of that mattered as consumers happily bought their “Hummers” by the millions.  More, in this case, was better, at least as far as consumers were concerned.

The storage industry is no different.  We are constantly pushing the boundaries of size and speed.  New technologies are pushing the “more is better” theme to extremes.  Micron’s 3D NAND technology, announced earlier this year, was all about the “more.”  With die densities of 256Gb for MLC and 384Gb for TLC, Micron doubled the density of currently shipping 3D NAND.  

Recently, Toshiba and SanDisk announced their latest 3D NAND technology.  As part of the release, they showed TLC NAND dies of 256Gb, which is higher in density than currently released 3D NAND, but comes up short when compared to Micron’s offering.  Their take: More is better.  

Indeed, when talking about storage, more is always better.  Except when it’s not.

In order to reach 256Gb for TLC, Toshiba and SanDisk needed 48 layers.  This is a 50% increase in layers when compared to Micron.  Though 48 layers is new for 3D NAND, this is the case where more is certainly not better.

Adding layers to 3D NAND is not a trivial task.  At Micron, each additional layer added typically complicates the manufacturing process.  Consumers aren’t necessarily concerned about production complexities, but they are concerned about price.  By adding layers, the cost per die increases.  If you are able to add layers and increase die density, the cost trade-offs are worth it.  This is why, at Micron, we are confident that our 32-layer 3D NAND is the most cost effective path for this generation.

So, the next time you see a smartphone, or an SSD, touting big numbers, ask yourself, “Is more always better?

Andrew Mierau