Triple-level cell flash set to dominate market

TLC flash is 15% to 20% cheaper to make than MLC flash

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Samsung's SSD 850 EVO drives use triple-level cell NAND.

Credit: Samsung

The latest form of NAND flash, which can store three bits of data per transistor, is quickly becoming the leading memory technology in mobile devices and laptops.

According to a report released today from market research firm DRAMeXchange, triple-level cell (TLC) memory will account for nearly half of the total NAND flash output in the fourth quarter of this year.

By comparison, multi-level cell (MLC) flash, which stores two bits of data per cell, has traditionally been the leading form of memory.

With TLC NAND, which is more dense than MLC, applications are shifting from memory cards and USB drives to mass storage devices in mobile and laptop devices. The most prominent TLC flash comes in Embedded MultiMediaCards (eMMC) and solid-state drives (SSDs). Many flash manufacturers are ramping up TLC eMMC and SSD produciton this year.

"The ratio of TLC NAND flash output will therefore continue to grow," DRAMeXchange said.

DRAMeXchange's Assistant Vice President Sean Yang said in the past that TLC NAND flash was widely used in memory cards, USB drives and external devices because of its cost advantage. But that has changed.

"Samsung has actively introduced TLC into the eMMC/eCMP and Client SSD markets since 2013," Yang said. "And with its recent market share gains in 2014, Samsung managed to push its competitors to develop TLC-based embedded products as well."

Moreover, the shares of TLC NAND flash in applications such as cell phones, tablets, and other consumer electronics have steadily increased due to the maturation of controller chip technology, which makes NAND flash more powerful and lowers the price.

TLC is about 15 to 20% cheaper to manufacture than MLC flash, DRAMeXchange stated.

Last year marked the most crucial point in development of TLC NAND flash, when it was used in Apple's iPhone6/6 Plus smartphones. "From then on, TLC-based products for mobile devices have moved from the mid-level to upscale market," DRAMeXchange stated.

Apple's decision to equip Macbook Pro/Air series with solid-state drives after 2013 also set an important example for PC vendors. The advances in controller chips have resolved TLC's prior problems such as performance issues and slow read/write speeds, making TLC-based SSD products more popular.

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