Intel and Micron start sampling 25-nano TLC flash memory

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.

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    • juampa_valve_rde
    • 9 years ago

    half the endurance for 20% of die surface? what about value? damn…

      • MadManOriginal
      • 9 years ago

      Yeah I can see the tide of dead and dying cheap SSDs building already. I just hope we are still easily able to figure out what type of flash SSD makers, or even thumb drive and CE devices, are equipped with. I’ll take a 20% increase in the flash portion of prices especially after die shrink cost reductions over stuff that doesn’t last. Then again, lots of stuff just dies anyway not long after warranty expiration and portable devices with easily replacable batteries are few and far between aside from phones these days.

    • axeman
    • 9 years ago

    Is this going to come with a bunch of dumb reality shows already written to it?

    • Wirko
    • 9 years ago

    Three bits per cell, three cells (probably) per byte … does it sound like ECC memory?

      • shess
      • 9 years ago

      Typically block sizes are already 16k or 128k or whatever, and the ECC is done at the block level, so I doubt three bit cells would be handled any differently from two-bit or one-bit cells.

      • willmore
      • 9 years ago


      This will be a block/sector based memory. You don’t write individual bytes at a time, instead you write whole blocks–or sectors within a block. Block usually refers to the erase granulatiry while sector refers to the write granularity. Sometimes they are the same size–hence the confusion/complexity.

      Given that, they need so many data types (per sector) and so many ECC bytes–as you mention. The whole thing is calculated in one big equation. The ratio between the two isn’t something they usually like to talk about.

      Back when they started to do this, they made the ECC portion explicit–as the host had to calculate it, the chips weren’t complex enough to do it themselves. Nowdays, it’s a propriatary thing they don’t want to mention as it’s their competetive advantage. All I know is that some of my college friends who were in to ECC are getting nice jobs with FLASH makers. 🙂

    • willmore
    • 9 years ago

    Looks like we’re going to need to find some better names here.

    MLC already means multi-level cell. That would seem to describe TLC and BLC (newly coined Bi-level cell) memories.

    I see two sequences: SLC vs MLC(all kinds) which would be a differentiator used to contrast between the high and low speed and endurance characteristics of the respective technologies, whereas SLC/BLC/TLC would point to a specific type when it is necessary to point out developments specific to a technology.

      • timon37
      • 9 years ago

      Yeah also slc actually recognizes 2 levels of the floating gate, with 2bit cells you have 4 levels and with 3bit cells have 8 levels, so it all doesn’t make any sense either way, though SLC/BLC/TLC is way better than full/high/super speed usb;p

        • sweatshopking
        • 9 years ago

        I also noticed that jibberish plus other jibberish still equals 2 TWO MASSIVE BALLS!!!

          • Trymor
          • 9 years ago

          lol. I guess the end point should be that the industry needs to morph the abbreviation MLC into BLC, and not use the MLC description anymore, heh.


        • willmore
        • 9 years ago

        timon37: Good points. I think we can fix it if we don’t include the uncharged state. Then again, those of us who know how it works are the only ones who are gonna care and we already know this, so… 🙂

        The choice of good terminology is generally a compromise between what the jargon speaking person in the field wants and what the lay public need.

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