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Engineers at Macronix, one of the world's largest flash memory makers, have reportedly developed a new technology that can extend the life of NAND cells by more than a thousand times by simply applying heat.
Most of today's flash modules fail after cells have been programmed and erased about 10,000 times -- or even less, in the case of many budget-minded storage products such as the 3,000 p/e Kingston HyperX 3K.
Although that type of longevity is sufficient for consumer devices that are replaced regularly anyway, it's hardly ideal for enterprise situations where solid-state drives may see heavy usage around the clock for many years.
While companies have used various software schemes such as wear-leveling to help improve the rate of a flash cell's deterioration, Macronix's engineers have produced a compelling hardware-based solution.
When a cell dies, it's generally due to the degradation of oxide layers around its floating gate (see the image below). Years ago, engineers found that they could restore this oxide layer by applying heat -- specifically, by baking flash chips in an oven at 250C (482F). Obviously, this wouldn't be practical for end users, so researchers had to create some form of internal mechanism, and that's just what Macronix has done.
The company has produced chips with integrated heat plates that "heal" worn cells by zapping them at 800C (1,472F) for a few milliseconds. With that occasional jolt of heat, researchers say that flash cells can handle more than 100 million write/erase cycles -- and by more than 100 million, they haven't seen any signs of death at that point, noting that a billion cycles could be possible, but it'll take several months to test.
In addition to boosting the longevity of flash cells, the heat also enables faster erasing, which Macronix believes may bring "thermally assisted" drives that tout better performance. It's worth noting that although the heat results in greater power consumption, it shouldn't reduce battery life because it can be configured to run when a device is plugged in. There's no word on when the technology may hit consumer electronics.
The OCZ Vertex 4 Series 64GB model packs read and write speeds of 460MB/s and 220MB/s. The 128GB version is much faster with 550MB/s reads and 420MB/s writes. The 256GB and 512GB models feature the same 550MB/s reads, but writes are boosted to 465MB/s and 475MB/s, respectively.
The RealSSD C400 represents a mild performance gain over last year's C300 during light workloads, it's handily dispatched by competing drives from OCZ and Intel when it comes to heavy multitasking, but that's okay if the C400's price reflects its inferior performance and it does -- there's nothing wrong with delivering an entry-level product.
The Kingston HyperX SSD has a slim 2.5" design, measuring 10.1 x 6.9 x 9.3mm and weighing 94 grams. It consumes 2.0 watts of power when in use and just 0.455 watts in standby. The HyperX touts read and write speeds of 550MB/s and 520MB/s using SATA 6Gb/s.
The Intel SSD 520 Series is aimed at performance buffs with initial SF-2281-based models offering capacities of 60GB, 120GB, 180GB, 240GB and 480GB. It also has a slim design, measuring 100 x 69.85 x 9.5mm and weighing up to 78 grams. The 60GB model packs read and write speeds of 550MB/s - 475MB/s, while the larger 120GB version provides 550MB/s reads and 500MB/s writes. The 180GB, 240GB and 480GB models are slightly faster again as the write performance is boosted to 520MB/s. Naturally, using the SATA 6Gb/s interface is essential to achieving those speeds.
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