3D NAND, which stacks layer upon layer of flash cells atop one another like a microscopic skyscraper, will become the prominent technology for all flash memory this year, according to a new report.
According to DRAMeXchange's latest forecast, NAND flash manufacturers have focused their efforts on converting fabrication plants to 3D NAND, which is denser, faster and less expensive to produce than traditional 2D (planar) NAND.
Following the footsteps of the leading 3D NAND producers Samsung and Micron, most NAND flash suppliers will begin mass production of 64-layer 3D NAND chips in the second half of 2017, according to DRAMeXchange's report.
Earlier this year, Western Digital (WD) and partner Toshiba, kicked off production of a 64-layer NAND flash product, the industry's densest with three bits of data stored in each flash cell.
The 3D NAND flash chips are based on a vertical stacking or 3D technology that WD and Toshiba call BiCS (Bit Cost Scaling). WD has launched pilot production of its first 512 gigabit (Gb) 3D NAND chip based on the 64-layer NAND flash technology.
Samplings of WD's 64-layer products will begin by the end of May, and mass production will follow in the second half of the year at the earliest, according to the report.
For enterprises, the rise in production of 3D NAND should mean cheaper non-volatile memory for use in data centers and workstations.
Even with the increase in 3D NAND production, however, the overall NAND flash supply is expected to remain tight through the year due to Apple's stocking up on components for the next iPhone release and steady demand from SSD vendors, DRAMeXchange stated.
3D NAND now makes up more than half of Samsung's and Micron's respective NAND Flash bit outputs. SK Hynix is also preparing to launch 72-layer NAND chips. Hoping to catch up to the industry's leaders, SK Hynix will begin mass production of 72-layer chips in the second half of this year, the report stated.
Samsung is still ahead of its competitors in the 3D NAND technology race, DRAMeXchange stated. The company's 48-layer chips are widely used in enterprise- and client-grade SSDs as well as in mobile NAND products.
Samsung, through its newly built fabrication plant at Pyeontaek in South Korea, has completed equipment installation and is expected to start producing 64-layer flash chips as early as this July.
Micron is the second largest 3D-NAND supplier after Samsung and also has the technology accounting for more than 50% of its total NAND flash bit output. Micron currently benefits from major memory module makers using its 32-layer chips as well as from strong shipments of its own branded SSDs.