Intel 32Gb flash sets stage for solid-state drives

The new 32-gigabit NAND flash chip marks a big step up from the 16-gigabit technology Intel introduced about a year ago.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read

On Thursday, Intel introduced a flash chip that stores more data, paving the way for its rollout of upcoming high-capacity solid-state drives.

Intel 32 gigabit NAND flash chip
Intel 32 gigabit NAND flash chip Intel

The chipmaker, along with Micron Technology, announced a 32-gigabit (Gb) NAND memory device built on a 34-nanometer manufacturing process.

The smaller 34-nanometer process bests Toshiba, which recently said it has begun using a 43-nanometer process that will enable solid-state drives with capacities as large as 256GB.

And Samsung said last week that it is slated to bring out a 256GB solid-state drive later this year.

Intel's 32Gb chip will enable more cost-effective solid-state drives, "instantly doubling the current storage volume of these devices and driving capacities to beyond 256GB in today's standard, smaller 1.8-inch form factor," Intel said in a statement.

Intel solid-state drives will be "introduced and ramped" in the second half of this year, said Pete Hazen, director of marketing for Intel's NAND Products Group

The 32Gb chip marks a big step up from the 16Gb technology Intel introduced about a year ago. At that time, Intel announced a 50-nanometer process. "This product is essentially the same die (chip) size as our 50-nanometer product but double the density," said Hazen.

Intel appears to be targeting 80GB as the sweet spot for its initial foray into high-capacity solid-state drives. "It will enable one to build a solid-state drive--say, for example, 80 gigabytes--at a lower cost than we could on the previous generation," Hazen said.

But Intel will bring out larger capacities too. "We see 256 gigabytes easily fitting into a 1.8-inch (hard-disk drive) form factor," he said. Apple, for example, uses a 1.8-inch form factor in its Air notebook.

Notebook PCs should be a big market for solid-state drives, Hazen said. "There's a great opportunity in notebooks. Great performance. (A solid-state drive) delivers ruggedness, reliability. And also lowers the power. That translates into extended battery life."

Servers are also a big target market. Solid-state drives are on the order of 10 to 50 times greater than hard-disk drives in a benchmark referred to generally as IOPS, or input-output operations per second, a critical yardstick in certain server applications. "That's because hard-disk drives are limited by the mechanical latency," according to Hazen. IOPS per watt is also a strong suit for solid-state drives because the technology draws much less power than hard-disk drives and power consumption is a high priority in data centers.

Solid-state drives have no moving parts. Hard-disk drives, in contrast, use read-write heads that hover over spinning platters to access and record data. With no moving parts, solid-state drives avoid both the risk of mechanical failure and the mechanical delays of hard drives. Therefore, solid-state drives are generally faster and in some respects more reliable.

Hazen also said that solid-state drives will be a part of future Intel processor platforms. "We work very closely with our platform teams to make sure that we're aligned with the platform roadmap and also to make sure that solution is completely validated on the latest platforms. So, I think you can expect to see that from Intel on our future (solid-state drive) products."

Hazen hesitated to address price because of the large unpredictable price swings in the flash market. But this is a big issue for consumers since solid-state drives currently command premiums of up to $1,000 compared to hard-disk drives. "I just know that cost has improved. But when we talk about price, we start to talk about market dynamics, including supply and demand, and that's a whole different ball game."