Intel has announced that it and Micron have become the first to sample 25-nm flash memory that packs three bits per cell. Otherwise known as triple-level-cell or TLC flash, this lower-grade memory is destined for USB thumb drives, SD cards, and consumer electronics devices. Initial samples have been sent to customers, and mass production is expected to begin before year’s end.
The chips in question squeeze 64 gigabits (8GB) onto a die area that measures just 131 mm². According to the official press release, that’s a 20% reduction in die size when compared to Intel’s 8GB, 25-nano MLC flash chips.
So, why not put this TLC memory into solid-state disks? Because flash cells with more bits tend to be slower and less resilient than those with fewer. Most MLC flash has a write-erase endurance of 10,000 cycles, but TLC memory typically burns out after 2,000-5,000 cycles. Interestingly, SandForce says that the low write-amplification factor of its SF-1000 series SSD controllers will allow drive makers to start using TLC flash. We’ve already seen Intel flash deployed in a couple of SandForce-based SSDs, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see budget models roll out with these new TLC chips inside.