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3-D NAND processing looks to increase SSD capacity significantly while lowering cost

Solid-state memory is quickly replacing hard drives in personal computers, yet their storage capacity and affordability still doesn’t equal the ubiquitous low-cost spinning disc drives.

Now, a company in Hopewell Junction, N.Y. called Applied Materials, has announced a new 3-D etching system that will allow it to dramatically increase SSD capacity and lower costs, according to a report on the website Extreme Tech.

Conventional flash memory is made up of transistors grouped together to form NAND gates, which are used to store data. Group these gates together and one can create a flash memory chip. However, the current technology consists of two layers.

Applied Materials now can turn vertically stacked, three-dimensional transistors into high capacity flash memory with Centura Avator technology, Extreme Tech reported.

3-D chip stacking, the report said, is expected to be a critical component of NAND manufacturing in the next decade. The Avatar system is designed to etch both mask and dielectric simultaneously, in order to keep additional equipment costs from ballooning and overall throughput high.

The technology can also be used to extend the lifespan of older process geometries by allowing manufacturers to build 3-D NAND on 40-50nm processes. While such structures would still be larger than the equivalent chips built on 30-20nm technology, the tremendous efficiency gain from going vertical will more than offset the difference.

As for when 3-D chips will be available for commercial purchase, Applied Materials was vague on that point. Extreme Tech doesn’t expect to see them in the near future.

The new Avatar equipment is expensive and can’t be swapped immediately. But it provides a way to cut cost/GB and boost die density without relying solely on new process nodes or on squeezing more bits into each NAND cell, Extreme Tech said.