3D NAND Chips Are Going to Make High-Capacity SSDs a Reality

By Jamie Condliffe on at

SSDs are wonderful things that massively speed up your computer and they're getting cheaper too. But currently they don't offer the capacity that some users demand. Fortunately, that could all be about to change.

Extreme Tech reports that a company called Applied Materials has announced that a new etching system will allow it to take 3D transistors from scientific dream to reality. You see, currently most flash memory is made up from a bunch of transistors grouped together to form things called NAND gates, which can be used to store data. String enough of them together, and you get a flash memory chip.

The problem is, though, that currently they have to be made in 2D layers. That means the only way to increase memory density for a given area is make the transistors smaller — but scientists are reaching a plateau, where they can't reduce things in size any longer.

The solution it to build up — a bit like building skyscrapers in Manhattan. One way is just to stack layers on top of each other — and that's already done — but to really get high-density memory, you need to build a proper 3D NAND structure in the first place.

One snag: according to Applied Materials, trying to build 3D NAND structures in real life is like trying to dig a one-kilometre-deep, three-kilometre-long trench with walls exactly three metres apart, through interleaved rock strata. Scaled down, obviously. Its new system, however, uses some neat tricks to make that possible — though it's not letting on exactly how it works.

It does, however, admit that the 2D proportions of the resulting chips are akin to older NAND memory — but that the extra third dimension allows them to cram in storage space which massively offsets the difference.

The downside, as usual, is the fact that there's bound to be a long wait before it makes a commercial appearance. Don't go expecting an affordable 1TB SSD just yet. [Extreme Tech]

Image by Intel