I wasn’t supposed to be able to tell you about this until Monday, but it looks like the news leaked early so IMFT gave us the green light.

Intel and Micron jointly formed IMFT (Intel-Micron Flash Technologies), LLC back in 2006. The two companies share production from the venture. Intel gets 49% of IMFT’s flash production and Micron gets 51%.

In the usual Intel tradition, IMFT aggressively scales process technology to be competitive. The company started manufacturing at 72nm, spent 2008 at 50nm and just last year scaled down to 34nm. The latter is what found its way into Intel’s X25-M G2 as well as Micron’s soon-to-be released RealSSD C300.

Today IMFT is announcing that it has begun sampling 2-bits-per-cell MLC NAND flash manufactured using 25nm transistors. The company believed it had a 6 month head start over the competition in 34nm, and now believes that with 25nm NAND it’s roughly a year ahead of anyone else.

Volume production will happen sometime in Q2, with products shipping before the end of the year. In my last SSD article I mentioned that Intel’s 3rd generation X25-M would be shipping in Q4 at 160GB, 320GB and 600GB. These drives will use IMFT’s new 25nm flash.

The first 25nm product is an 8GB (64Gbit) 2-bits-per-cell MLC NAND flash. A single 8GB die built on IMFT’s 25nm process has a die size of 167mm2. Immersion lithography is apparently necessary to produce these 25nm NAND devices, but the extent is unclear. This is technically Intel’s first device that requires immersion lithography to manufacture.

25nm IMFT 2-bit MLC NAND Flash, 8GB, 167mm2

The 34nm flagship was a 4GB (32Gbit) 2-bits-per-cell MLC NAND device with a die size of 172mm2. At 25nm you basically get twice the capacity at the same die size, which should translate into twice the SSD capacity at the same price as a 34nm drive today.

34nm IMFT2-bit MLC NAND Flash, 4GB, 172mm2

Obviously supply and demand economics play their roles here. We may not see the sort of aggressive pricing we want to on 25nm X25-M drives if demand remains as high as it has been for the 34nm G2s.

Last year IMFT announced plans to deliver a 3-bit-per-cell 34nm MLC NAND flash. Today's announcement pretty much negates the need to bring those devices to market. Although at some point we'll probably see 3-bit-per-cell at 25nm. At this point 3-bit-per-cell MLC flash is only suitable for cheaper or low cycle devices like USB sticks. In a SSD the performance and reliability tradeoffs just aren't worth it.

34nm IMFT 3-bit MLC NAND Flash, 4GB, 126mm2

The 25nm IMFT NAND devices support ONFi 2.2, meaning the interface speed can reach a maximum of 200MB/s.

The other major change to the 25nm NAND is an increase in the page size. At 50nm and 34nm, IMFT’s page size was 4KB. At 25nm on the 8GB device the page size is now 8KB. Block size has also gone up from 128 pages to 256 pages. This will obviously have performance implications and require some firmware reorganization, but given that Intel has known this was coming for some time now I would expect that its 3rd generation drives will be optimized for 25nm.

IMFT believes there’s still hope for scaling flash devices even further. It's ridiculous to think about how small these transistors are getting. As we approach single-digit-nm dimensions we can start counting atoms when we look at these transistors:

Right now IMFT is on a 12 - 15 month cycle, so we can expect the next process shrink to begin sampling in mid-2011, shipping in 2012.

If IMFT can ramp up production of 25nm NAND flash, 2012 may be the year of the first truly affordable mainstream SSDs.



View All Comments

  • ajhix36 - Saturday, January 30, 2010 - link

    Since I can get an X-25M G2 80GB for $150, and 160GB for $300, should I just take the leap and get one of those, or should I wait for something better? I really wish
    raid had trim support.
  • ajhix36 - Saturday, January 30, 2010 - link

    No its 100% true! I know someone who works for Intel, its through their employee pricing program! I can also get an i7 920 for $142... Reply
  • hyvonen - Sunday, January 31, 2010 - link

    Intel's Employee Purchase Program is for employees only, and not for resale. If your friend gets caught selling the SSDs bought through EPP, he can get fired.

    Also, SSDs are out-of-stock at EPP right now, due to high channel demand.
  • Hector1 - Sunday, January 31, 2010 - link

    Change that "can get fired" to "will be fired". For each purchase, employees acknowledge its for their own personal use only. Companies are pretty strict about this. Not smart to risk your job over saving a few bucks for a "friend".

    Friends don't let friends risk their jobs.
  • mrd0 - Saturday, January 30, 2010 - link

    Where do you see those prices? Reply
  • kunedog - Monday, February 1, 2010 - link

    "Where do you see those prices?"

    Good question. Even Anand's initial predictions were higher than that:

    And even most of *those* prices were never seen again.
  • notty22 - Saturday, January 30, 2010 - link

    I think maybe he was being sarcastic?
    The logic vexed in the article mentioned twice the capacity at the same production cost. This would be 'wonderful' if this formula funneled down to the consumer. Kingston announced the 40gv now for 85.00 back in October ,09. that never was really available. Now its 30g for 90.00, supposedly coming ? Could the consumer get a 30g drive for 45.00 when this new tech is in full operation ? And with 230/170 r/w speeds with the new controllers. I doubt it, when the WD velociraptor 150g is still a 160.00. Maybe industry wide competition could make it happen.
  • RU482 - Saturday, January 30, 2010 - link

    well, they didn't "announce" the 40GB at $85....that's where it wound up with rebates + promo pricing. You always have to keep in mind that there is overhead for the controller IC, casing, marketing, manufacturing, ect. So prices will not scale 2:1..

    All that said, I'd fricken love to find a 32GB SSD for $45...hell, even $75. 1.8" would be even better!
  • RU482 - Saturday, January 30, 2010 - link

    I call shens. I'm in the process of quoting 5k pcs of the 80gb drive, and have not yet broke the $200 barrier Reply
  • vol7ron - Saturday, January 30, 2010 - link

    I agree.

    I think he might see a 40GB for $150 and an 80GB for $300. Market prices are just under those.

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