SK hynix begins sampling 128-layer 3D NAND SSD

SK hynix announced this week that they have begun to build on their 128-layer 3D NAND flash sampling products, which will soon appear in end-user devices. A year ago, they introduced 96-layer 5th generation 3D NAND, but the low price prompted them to cut production, while the 4th generation 72L 3D NAND remained its main flash memory product.

SK Hynix announced in June that its 128L 3D NAND has moved from development to mass production and is now integrated into SSD and UFS modules and has been sampling to major customers.

SK Hynix's 128L promises to increase the speed from 1.2GT / s to 1.4GT / s (although the first round may not be realized due to backward controller support), and the industry-leading 1Tb debut (128GB) capacity TLC chip. In the short term, SK hynix plans to introduce a new generation of 3D NAND into the segment with the highest profit margin, while its more mature 72- and 96-layer processes will continue to focus on cost-sensitive products.

Figure 1: 1TB UFS 3.1 for smartphones

SK Hynix developed a 1TB USF 3.1 module with a thickness of only 1mm using eight of these 128L 1Tb TLC molds. They expect that smartphones using this storage will begin mass production in the second half of 2020.

Figure 2: 2TB Client NVMe SSD

In the customer SSD market, OEMs have now enabled SK Hynix's latest generation M.2 NVMe SSDs to have up to 2TB of capacity and approximately 3W of power consumption, compared to 6W for the previous generation of SSDs using 96L TLC. SK Hynix expects these SSDs to start appearing in laptops in the first half of 2020.

SK Hynix's NVMe SSD controllers still use PCIe 3.0 instead of PCIe 4.0, which is not surprising as they focus on mainstream market segments and energy efficiency. This SSD is described as running the flash at 1.2V with a 1.2GT / s interface, so SK Hynix chips are not actually running at 1.4GT / s as planned, or they are somewhat retracted to save power. .

Figure 3: 16TB Enterprise EDSFF E1.L SSD

128L 3D NAND will take longer to enter the enterprise storage market. SK Hynix plans to deliver up to 16TB in EDSFF E1.L size; these drives are planned to be mass produced in the second half of 2020. Like the client NVMe SSD, SK Hynix is still using PCIe 3.0 instead of PCIe 4.0, but they plan to offer support for the latest NVMe 1.4 protocol.

The enterprise SSD market is a key area of focus for SK Hynix. The arrival and cost-effectiveness of their 72-tier enterprise-class SSDs helped them increase their market share to 10.3% in the second quarter of this year, compared to 1.8% in the same period last year, and they hope to maintain this momentum.

All of the above products use SK Hynix controllers except SK Hynix memory (NAND and DRAM). They are one of only three companies with this vertical integration capability, and Samsung has been demonstrating the power of this strategy for many years. SK Hynix's previous generations of 3D NAND were blocked due to poor execution, but recently they seem to be catching up.