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The future of flash is bright – a short guide to flash memory

9th December 2016 Flash memory

Flash memory is ever-present in small computing devices as well as in larger business storage systems. The size and complexity of flash-based storage varies in devices ranging from USB drives, cameras and smartphones to embedded applications and enterprise class all-flash arrays.  Flash is non-volatile meaning it does not require power to preserve stored data with integrity, so a system can be turned off or lose power without data loss. There are no moving mechanical parts involved, which also reduces power consumption.

Flash storage offers the added advantage over HDD of being more resistant to bumps and drops. The rugged nature of flash memory allows the drives to maintain function through these events, which protects data.

Flash memory is a form of electrically erasable erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM), although flash differs from conventional EEPROM in the way that it erases data. Flash erases whole blocks of data at a time, rather than on a bit-by-bit level, as conventional EEPROM does. A block stored on a flash memory chip must be erased before new data can be written to the microchip – this is more commercially known as an erase/write cycle.

Flash memory

Most flash storage systems are composed of memory chips and a flash controller.  The memory chips store data, while the controller manages access to the storage space on the memory unit. The controller is a key component in a storage device as it manages the interface and runs firmware which determines performance and reliability. The flash controller is often multi channel, working with a RAM cache which buffers the data going to and from a number of chips.

Flash storage adoption has continued to grow in enterprise storage systems with businesses attempting to take advantage of its performance and low-latency benefits.

The history of flash storage

Dr. Fujio Masuoka is credited with inventing  NOR and NAND flash, the two main types of flash memory, while he worked for Toshiba in the 1980s. In comparison to the slow process used by EEPROM, the new format’s ability to be programmed and erased in large blocks reminded a colleague of Dr. Masuoka of a camera flash. NOR and NAND are named for the way the floating gates of the memory cells that hold data are interconnected in configurations that somewhat resemble a NOR or a NAND logic gate.

History of Flash memory

Flash storage formats

NOR offers memory addressing on a byte scale, enabling true, random access and good read speeds.  NOR is more expensive per gigabyte than NAND because of its larger, individual cell size. NOR has slower write and erase times than NAND, as well. NOR flash is erasable, which makes it a great replacement for EEPROM.

NAND on the other hand offers greater write speeds than NOR flash along with a lower cost per GB. The lower cost is a result of the NAND memory cell’s string design, saving die space and reducing the overall size of a chip per GB. NAND can come in single-level cell (SLC) and multi-level cell (MLC) forms, which include enterprise MLC (eMLC) and triple-level cell (TLC). SLC stores a single bit of information per cell. SLC generally offers greater speeds, especially when it comes to writes, greater longevity and fewer bit errors. MLC provides storage capacity for more data, as its cell is capable of more levels of charge (or states), which allow it to store multiple bits of data per cell. MLC can double capacity over SLC; TLC provides a third bit.

NOR and NAND memory


The future – 3D NAND

Modern day life is immersed with changing data, which is why it is increasingly triggering the need for higher capacity storage, and subsequently, new technological innovations. 3D NAND is one such advancement. Designed to define the future of storage, it is expected to meet the growing memory demands with bigger, faster, and cheaper flash drives.  As the name implies it involves cutting multiple layers into the silicon, stacking memory cells to increase storage density. By stacking cells in 32 layers, it can reach much higher storage density in each die, as well as allowing the cells to space out more on each plane, helping reduce interference issues between the cells.


Today, current 3D NAND technology allows for production of dies with three times the capacity of any 2D NAND, however, it’s still very early days for the technology. The disadvantage of 3D NAND is that it requires an incredible level of precision to produce,  each column needs to be perfectly aligned so that the memory blocks are still in a continuous series, hence yields are not great the present time.

The good news is that while 3D NAND was first announced over a year ago, the first purchasable consumer SSDs are out now but only currently in the familiar smaller sizes so no 10TB laptops just yet. The new 3D NAND drives do claim to offer higher speeds and reliability than a comparable NAND SSD.

These early advances in production of 3D NAND could hopefully mean even cheaper, more reliable, and higher-capacity storage for all our devices in the future.

If you are looking to use flash, Cardwave can assist in recommending the right product that will be most suitable for your requirements. Cardwave is independent but has direct accounts and strategic partnerships in place with many of the world’s top manufacturers.

Multi-award-winning company Cardwave, which has offices in Devizes, Wiltshire and Dallas, Texas works with customers of all sizes across the world, providing specialist expertise to organisations who need to secure and distribute their data on removable and embedded media. The business provides value-add services, end-to-end project management, and consultancy solutions, and has positioned itself as one of the market leaders. It also offers business solutions for data security, in the form of SafeToGo – a hardware encrypted USB and a data recovery service, Data Resus. / / +44 (0) 1380 738395

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Raspberry Pi

Cardwave are delighted to be recognised by the Raspberry Pi Foundation for being a valued partner and supplier. We have enjoyed a close business relationship with the foundation since the massively successful launch of the Raspberry Pi in early 2012. Cardwave works with memory distributor, Xel Electronics, who supply Samsung SD cards to Premier Farnell and RS Components, two of the companies authorised by the charity to supply the Raspberry Pi. We are pleased to work with the foundation again on this superb SD card offering. Visit website

"Partnering on another great offering from Raspberry Pi"

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