With the announcement from Intel that they would be focusing on 3D NAND chips, a lot of attention was suddenly paid to Micron. Micron and Intel work through a joint IMFT business so whatever Intel is doing, Micron is doing it too. Stacked die technology seems to be the next big thing as scaling problems have finally forced a dimensional shift in chip tech. The benefits are clear, but there are risks as well.
Can’t Get Smaller
The move into 3D was forced essentially because chips just can’t get any smaller. 15nm is the current planar NAND cell size and that’s down from 34nm, then 25nm, then 20nm, then 16nm. Micron’s NAND marketing head Kevin Kilbuck said in an interview with The Registerthat going smaller than 15nm is just not going to be “competitive commercially”. With that constraint, the architecture turned to moving outward and upward instead of continuing with planar NAND cells. By stacking arrays of cells, each die increases capacity without increasing the footprint of required chips.
A Market with a Taste for Flash
Flash has a tremendous hold on consumers and as a result chip makers are creating their technologies in order to support the requirements of flash using software and apps. Manufacturers are using increased performance and endurance to ensure that their products stack up to the competition, as the race for the most popular and important devices continues. Micron hopes that their move towards 3D NAND chips will actually open up new potential markets and technologies due to the increased capacity and cost efficiency of the 3D NAND design.
3D NAND chips aren’t being used just yet, but they should start to appear in devices fairly soon. At Micron, the expectation is that over time, all high-volume flash markets will adopt the 3D NAND technology as manufacturing adjustments are made and new devices are developed. Micron and Intel aren’t the only companies working on 3D NAND. In fact, it’s rumored that Toshiba, who develops for SanDisk’s flash needs, is also working on a 3D NAND line and will bring their own stacked die options to the market as soon as they can.
There are some concerns about stacked die and 3D NAND technology, primarily that without security baked in from the start, there could be opportunities for breaches. But knowing that security is a priority, the hope is that any opportunity to reinforce security will be used.