Tag Archives: Manufacturers

NAND flash manufacturers showcase new technologies

NAND flash manufacturers laid out their roadmaps for next-generation products and architectures at the 2018 Flash Memory Summit this month.

As expected, Intel, Micron, SK Hynix and Toshiba talked up 3D NAND flash chips that can store four bits of data per cell, known as quadruple-level cell (QLC). They also spotlighted their 96-layer 3D NAND and outlined roadmaps that extend to 128 layers and beyond to further boost density.

NAND flash manufacturers introduced new efforts to speed performance, raise density and lower costs. Toshiba launched a low-latency option called XL-Flash. Chinese startup Yangtze Memory Technologies Co. (YMTC) hopes to catch up to the flash chip incumbents with its “Xtacking” architecture that can potentially increase performance and bit density. And South Korea-based chipmaker SK Hynix harbors similar aspirations with its so-called “4D NAND” flash that industry experts say is a misnomer.

Key NAND flash manufacturer Samsung was notably absent from the Flash Memory Summit keynotes, a year after discussing its Z-NAND technology at the conference. Z-NAND is another attempt to reduce costs by shifting periphery logic to a place that doesn’t take up space on the flash chip, said Jim Handy, general director and semiconductor analyst at Objective Analysis.

Here are some of the new technologies that NAND flash manufacturers showcased at last week’s Flash Memory Summit:

Toshiba’s XL-Flash

Toshiba’s XL-Flash is based on the company’s single-level cell (SLC) 3D NAND bit column stacked (BiCS) technology and enables optimization for multi-level cell (MLC) flash. The XL stands for excellent latency, according to Shigeo (Jeff) Ohshima, a technology executive in SSD application engineering at Toshiba Memory Corporation.

Ohshima said XL-Flash requires no additional process and is fully compatible with conventional flash in terms of the command protocol and interface. The read latency of XL-Flash could be 10 times faster than conventional TLC flash devices, according to Ohshima.

He said the company has “a lot of room” to do more with its current 3D NAND BiCS flash technology before new nonvolatile memories such as resistive RAM (ReRAM), magnetoresistive RAM (MRAM), and phase change memory ramp up in volume and become dominant.

“So it ain’t over ’til it’s over,” Ohshima said.

Ohshima said a combination of XL-Flash and denser QLC flash could handle a broad range of application workloads and improve overall system performance over the classic storage architecture of DRAM and HDDs. He noted the performance gap between XL-Flash and QLC flash is considerably smaller than the differential between DRAM and HDDs. And, although XL-Flash is slower than DRAM, it costs less and offers higher capacity.

Industry analysts view Toshiba’s XL-Flash and Samsung’s Z-NAND as a low-latency, flash-based response to 3D XPoint memory technology that Intel and Micron co-developed. Intel last year began shipping 3D XPoint-based SSDs under the brand name Optane, and this year started sampling persistent memory modules that use the 3D XPoint technology. Micron has yet to release products based on 3D XPoint.

David Floyer, CTO and co-founder of Wikibon, said Toshiba’s XL-Flash and Samsung’s Z-NAND will never quite reach the performance of Optane SSDs, but they’ll get “pretty close” and won’t cost anywhere near as much.

Handy expects XL-Flash and Z-NAND to read data at a similar speed to Optane, but he said they “will still be plagued by the extraordinarily slow write cycle that NAND flash is stuck with because of quantum mechanics.”

Startup takes on incumbent NAND flash manufacturers

YMTC hopes to challenge established NAND flash manufacturers with Xtacking. YMTC claims the new architecture can improve efficiency and I/O speed, reduce die size and increase bit density, and shorten development time.

“It really takes courage to go down that path because we know that it’s not easy to make that technology work,” YMTC CEO Simon Yang said.

Unlike conventional NAND, Xtacking separates the processing between the flash cell array and the periphery circuitry, or logic, onto different wafers. The startup claimed the high-voltage transistors that conventional NAND typically uses for the periphery circuit limit NAND I/O speed. YMTC claims Xtacking permits the use of lower voltage transistors that can enable higher I/O and more advanced functions, according to YMTC.

“We really can match the DDR4 I/O speed without any limitation,” Yang said.

Yang said results have been encouraging. He said the flash chip yield is increasing, and the reliability of the memory bits through cycling looks positive. YMTC plans to introduce samples of the new Xtacking-based flash technology into the market early next year, Yang said.

“Hopefully, we can catch up with our friends and contribute to this industry,” Yang said.

YMTC started 3D NAND development in 2014 with a nine-layer test chip and later co-developed a 32-layer test chip with Spansion, which merged with Cypress Semiconductor. YMTC moved the chip into production late last year, but Yang said the company held back on volume ramp-up because the first-generation product was not cost competitive.

“We are very much profit-driven,” Yang said. He later added, “We only want to ramp into volume when it’s cost competitive.”

Handy expressed skepticism that YMTC will be able to meet its cost target, but he said YMTC’s Xtacking efforts might help the company to get to market faster.

SK Hynix 4D NAND flash

SK Hynix came up with a new name to describe its latest NAND flash technology. The company said its “4D NAND” puts the periphery circuitry under the charge-trap-flash-based 3D NAND cell array to reduce chip size, cut the number of process steps and lower overall cost over conventional NAND, in which the periphery circuitry is generally alongside the NAND cell.

But, industry analysts say 4D NAND is merely a catchy marketing term and the approach not unique.

“YMTC is stacking a chip on top of the other, whereas Hynix is putting the logic on the same bit but just building it underneath,” Handy said. “The cost of the chip is a function of how big the die is, and if you tuck things underneath other things, you make the die smaller. What Hynix is doing is a good thing, but I wouldn’t call it an innovation because of the fact that it’s the mainstream product for Intel and Micron.”

Intel and Micron have touted their CMOS under the array (CuA) technology in both their 64-layer QLC and 96-layer TLC flash technologies that they claim reduces die sizes and improves performance over competitive approaches. Handy said Samsung has also discussed putting the logic under the flash chip.

Hyun Ahn, senior vice president of NAND development and business strategy at SK Hynix, said his company’s charge-trap-based 4D NAND roadmap starts at 96 layers with a roadmap that extends to 128 layers and beyond using the same platform.

The first SK Hynix 4D NAND technology will begin sampling in the fourth quarter with 96 stacks of NAND cell, I/O speed of 1.2 Gbps per pin, and a mobile package of 11.5 by 12 mm. The chip size is 30% smaller, and 4D NAND can replace two 256 Gb chips with similar performance, according to SK Hynix.

The new SK Hynix 512 Gb triple-level cell (TLC) 4D NAND improves write performance by 30% and read performance by 25% over the company’s prior 72-stack TLC 3D NAND, with 150% greater power efficiency.

Upcoming 1 terabit (Tb) TLC 4D NAND that SK Hynix will sample in the first half of next year fits into a 16 mm by 20 mm ball grid array (BGA) package with a maximum 2 TB for BGA. An enterprise U.2 SSD using the technology will offer up to 64 TB of capacity, according to SK Hynix.

SK Hynix plans to begin sampling 96-stack QLC 4D NAND, with 1 Tb density in a mono die, in the second half of next year. The company said the QLC 4D NAND would provide more than 20% higher wafer capacity than the TLC NAND that it has been producing since the second half of last year. The 72-stack, enterprise-class 3D NAND will represent more than 50% of SK Hynix NAND production this year, the company said.

No need to rush network patching for Spectre and Meltdown

The recently discovered security threat in CPUs from nearly a dozen manufacturers poses a low risk to corporate networking gear, so operators have time to test vendors’ patches thoroughly.

That’s the take of security experts contacted by SearchNetworking following the discovery last week of the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities that affect Intel, AMD and ARM chips. In response, Cisco and Juniper Networks have released patches rated medium and low risk, respectively, for a variety of products.

The low risk of Spectre and Meltdown to switches and routers means network managers have the time to thoroughly test the patches to minimize their impact on hardware performance, experts said.

“If you’re getting a firmware update, you need to patch,” said Rob Westervelt, analyst at IDC. “[But] the issue is whether you just deploy the patch or test it thoroughly and make sure you don’t break any applications or anything else.”

Roughly 20 CSOs and IT security professionals interviewed by IDC were taking a methodical approach to applying Spectre and Meltdown fixes across all systems.

“While it is top of mind, it’s not something that they’re immediately jumping on to patch,” Westervelt said. “They are using established best practices and testing those patches first.”

Network performance at risk

Westervelt warned there is the possibility network performance will suffer. “In some cases, it could be very costly.”

If you’re getting a firmware update, you need to patch.
Rob Westerveltanalyst at IDC

Indeed, Microsoft reported in a blog post patches for the PC and server versions of Windows would range from minor to significant, depending on the age of the operating system and the CPU. “I think we can expect a similar variety of performance impacts across other [vendors’] products,” said Jake Miller, a senior security analyst at IT consulting firm Bishop Fox, based in Tempe, Ariz.

Security pros expect hackers sophisticated enough to exploit the hard-to-reach vulnerabilities to target mostly servers in large data centers that host cloud computing environments. Because of the level of expertise needed to take advantage of the flaws, hackers working for nation states are the most likely attackers, experts said.

Exploiting the CPU holes would involve crafting code that takes advantage of how some processors anticipate features computer users will request next. In preparation for those requests, processors will load into memory valuable data and instructions that hackers can steal.

“The threat is significant, but currently is limited to highly sophisticated attackers and hacking groups with the means to carry out multi-staged targeted attacks,” IDC said in a research note. “Financially motivated cybercriminals are more likely to continue to use more accessible, time-tested methods to retrieve passwords and sensitive data.”

Nevertheless, even a low risk to networking gear is worth the time needed for fixing. “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Jonathan Valamehr, COO and co-founder of cybersecurity company Tortuga Logic Inc.

Adoption of IIOT applications rising but full value yet to come

Manufacturers are adopting industrial IOT technology at high rates and the vast majority are satisfied with the results, yet it appears that most are not yet taking advantage of benefits like advanced analytics.

These were some of the results gleaned from a new survey from Bsquare, a Bellevue, Wash., firm that provides IIOT services and products. The 2017 Annual IIOT Maturity Study examines the adoption attitudes and progress of IIoT technology across three industry segments — manufacturing, transportation, and oil and gas — according to Dave McCarthy, Bsquare senior director of products.

The main impetus for conducting the survey was to determine how companies are adopting IIOT applications and the overall satisfaction with the results, McCarthy said.

Bsquare conducted the 2017 Annual IIOT Maturity Study in August 2017 with more than 300 respondents from companies with annual revenues of at least $250 million, according to McCarthy. The respondents were evenly divided among the three industry groups and all were senior-level personnel with direct operational responsibilities. The survey made no mention of Bsquare or its products and services.

The survey indicates that enthusiasm for IIOT applications is very high, but the majority of projects are still at a relatively low level.

According to the survey, 86% of the respondents are currently adopting IIOT applications and 84% of the adopters believe that the applications are very or extremely effective. Further, 95% responded that the IIOT applications are having a significant or tremendous impact on their industry.

However, the higher-level benefits that IIOT promises may not yet be realized. The survey shows that 78% of IIOT projects are focused on connecting devices and machines, while 83% involve data visualization. Projects that involve higher-level functionality are in the minority, with only 48% of respondents doing advanced analytics on the data collected by IIOT devices, and just 28% are automating the application of insights derived from analytics.

People feel that they have to collect this [IIOT] data even if they don’t know what they want to do with it.
Dave McCarthysenior director of products, Bsquare

McCarthy believes that satisfaction from IIOT applications may be high because more than half of the 84% who believe the applications have been effective are less than one year into the IIOT implementation.

“This could mean that they’re in the honeymoon period because they’re doing some things that they’ve never done before and even if they are very simple things it seems like they’re a huge step forward and they’re happy about it, or they’re doing things in a POC or pilot environment where it’s always easier to do things in a lab than at scale,” he said. “But there’s a huge drop in people who are collecting data and people who are using it in some way with a dashboard or monitored activity. People feel that they have to collect this data even if they don’t know what they want to do with it.”

Other key findings from the survey:

  • Of the 86% of organizations that are adopting IIOT applications, most are in construction and transportation (93%), followed by oil and gas (89%) and manufacturing (77%).
  • The organizations are using IIOT applications primarily for connecting devices and forwarding data (78%), real-time data monitoring (56%) and advanced data analytics (48%).
  • The majority of the respondents (73%) plan to increase their investments in IIOT over the next year, while at the same time almost all acknowledge the complexity of IIOT deployments.

Don’t start the 4th Industrial Revolution without me

The 4th Industrial Revolution is happening right now, driven by leading manufacturing organizations and largely enabled by cloud technology, according to a new report from Plex Systems, a provider of cloud ERP systems based in Troy, Mich.

The third annual “State of Manufacturing Technology (SoMT) Report” surveyed more than 150 manufacturers on their attitudes about and how they are actually using next-generation technologies in their manufacturing processes, according to Andrew McCarthy, Plex Systems vice president of communications. The survey participants represented manufacturing companies in a variety of industries, including automotive equipment, industrial parts and systems, aerospace, high technology, plastics, and food and beverages.

“What we found from the survey is that as a result of the cloud, this promise of ubiquity or universal connectivity that’s often talked about as out in the future is stuff that these organizations are doing today,” McCarthy said. “There are simple examples like the deployment of consumer mobile devices on the shop floor, all the way to things like wearable technology in the shop floor environment, and using location-based services to get contextual information from a piece of equipment.”

Some of the reasons for this increased adoption include lowered barriers to connectivity and the rapidly decreasing costs of next-generation technology and equipment, McCarthy said.

“We find that customers are experimenting with those capabilities to figure out how to stand up a new stack because they don’t have to make a material investment in them,” he said.

Overall, the survey indicates that next-generation technologies are very important to manufacturers today, primarily enabled by the cloud; however there are also significant challenges to be overcome, including a widening skills gap for manufacturing workers.

Some of the specific findings from the survey:

  • Eighty percent of respondents said the technology was either important or very important to their ability to innovate.
  • Ninety percent said that they are using cloud-based applications in some form, which is twice the number as the 2016 survey.
  • Seventy percent said that the cloud has made it easier to manage fluctuating customer demand.
  • Forty-five percent said that the cloud contributes significantly to new product research and introduction.
  • Thirty percent are focusing on implementing a digitally connected supply chain now, and another 30% expect to implement it in the next five years.
  • Thirty-five percent believe that a shortage of skilled workers will be the biggest challenge to organizational growth in the next year, and the most needed skills are lean manufacturing (68%), mechanical engineering (48%) and data analysis (48%).