Samsung 20nm flash memory could spark price war

Samsung leapfrog of IMFT with 20nm flash memory could trigger lower prices.

Samsung has developed a 20nm process for manufacturing NAND flash memory chips--leapfrogging the 25nm process unveiled less than three months ago by IMFT, the joint venture between Intel and Micron. Intel and Micron may be forced to engage in a flash memory price war after all.

The new Samsung flash process enables the South Korean chip manufacturer to develop 34 gigabit, or four gigabyte, MLC (multi-level cell) NAND flash memory chips. New SD cards built with the 20nm process are expected by the end of this year in capacities ranging from 4Gb to 64Gb.

Similar to the 25nm technology unveiled by IMFT, Samsung's 20nm flash chips allow Samsung to double the storage capacity, increase speed, and lower production costs all at the same time. The 20nm flash memory will allow device manufacturers to develop even smaller smartphones and other portable gadgets, or double the storage capacity of the existing form factors.

Along with the increased storage capacity, Samsung's 20nm flash chips provide up to a 30 percent boost in performance. The resulting read and write speeds are not overwhelmingly fast, but any speed increase is always welcome. The write speed is especially critical for uses like digital cameras, where the camera can't really take the next photo until the first one is done being written to memory.

While 20nm is smaller than 25nm, most of what Samsung is delivering is relatively similar to what IMFT revealed earlier this year. The bottom line is that we will see smaller, faster, higher capacity flash storage embedded in our devices and hitting the store shelves sometime this year. Smaller 8Gb and 16Gb models will probably start to fade away, and 32Gb and 64Gb smartphones and other devices will become mainstream, rather than high-end luxuries.

The real advantage to the Samsung 20nm flash memory is that it puts competition back into the equation. When Intel and Micron introduced the 25nm flash technology, it could have resulted in lower cost flash memory, but without any market conditions driving prices down, IMFT would be much more likely to keep retail prices the same and retain the lowered production costs in the form of increased profit margin.

Now that Samsung and IMFT both offer similar storage capacity and performance--with Toshiba probably not too far behind--the flash manufacturers are going to be forced to take the gloves off and start offering customers and OEM manufacturers a more compelling argument for choosing one over the other -- price.

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Tony Bradley

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