September 12, 2005 6:09 AM PDT

Flash memory closing in on hard drives?

Samsung has developed a new computer flash technology with so much capacity it could replace mini hard drives in some PCs, the company said Monday.

South Korean-based Samsung said its latest NAND memory device has 16-gigabit density. That's twice the density of the 8-gigabit NAND memory developed last year by Samsung, Toshiba, Hitachi and others.

NAND flash memory is widely used in consumer devices like digital cameras, cell phones, USB flash drives and portable music players such as Apple Computer's new iPod Nano.

But Samsung's top brass are touting the new small-size, large-capacity device as an alternative to mini hard drives and even the hard drives used in laptops.

"This year, it appears clear that NAND will surpass NOR as the most popular flash memory," a representative with Samsung said. (NOR flash is highly reliable and used to store software code, but it's less dense than NAND.)

Analysts are predicting there will be $1.7 billion in revenues for NAND memory this year, while global NAND flash memory revenues are expected to reach $9.4 billion this year.

Samsung also said that, with multiple 16-gigabit flash memory chips, mobile and portable application designers could make memory cards with densities of up to 32 gigabytes.

That would be enough to store about 8,000 MP3 music files on a mobile device (about 680 hours worth of songs) or 20 movies (measuring 32 hours of high-resolution video footage), the company said.

In addition to the 16-gigabit NAND flash, Samsung unveiled a new 7.2-megapixel CMOS image sensor for high-end digital pictures and fusion semiconductors for next-generation smartphones and PDAs.

The company also introduced fusion semiconductors for making subscriber-identity module card applications.

Samsung plans to begin mass producing its 16-gigabit NAND flash in the second half of 2006. The 16-gigabit flash chips were made using the 50-nanometer manufacturing process.


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Flash is unreliable over time.
I've lost track of how many flash chips have failed. They cant be trusted to handle data in the high bandwidth symetrical randowm read and writes of hard drives.

If they could they would have replace hard drives a long time ago.

Flash devices will open up a new era of file contamination and data loss.
Posted by grey_eminence (153 comments )
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True, and...
What's important to note is that current flash mediums have a limited number of writes permitted before they begin to fail. This is just part of how the technology works, and was engineered to work.

Personally, I'd love to see 5.25" form factor hard disks make a comeback. PC cases still sport 3-6 5.25" bays (which leaves, on average, over half of them sitting there doing nothing). We've increased the amount of storage, but haven't increased the physical size of the medium. Hard disk heads have to be placed so precisely and are practically rubbing against the platter (don't shake the drive! ;) ). I'd rather buy a 5.25" drive, knowing I'd be increasing drive reliability by a humongous factor...
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
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Flash will be more reliable than hard disks
Flash manufactures have made huge strides in overcoming the limited number a writes the medium can handle. They have increased average number of writes before failure from thousands to millions. Also, when the flash fails, it fails gracefully. Algorithms monitor and predict failure, so when a part of the storage is no longer useful, it is no longer used. Basically, what happens is the disk will have less and less available storage space over time. But, again with current and future advances in the technology, this will take years. Surely, longer then an average pc is used. Overall, I believe that this technology will be much more stable and safer to use, then common spinning hard disks. Failure rates should be dramatically lower, and there should be little to no disk crashes where data recovery software, or agencies, are need to restore lost data.
Posted by colonna (24 comments )
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Reliable enough
If they are as unreliable over time as you say they are, the military would not be using them to the extent that they are, in life or death situations. They are used in many classified applications where HDD is not a practical or portable option. They are used in applications that the civilian world hasn't even thought of yet, and have been for years.
Posted by Des Alba (68 comments )
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