Purchasing an SSD that best fits your needs can be tricky. There are considerations for storage capacity, brand, and NAND flash types. In discussing how NAND flash technology affects solid-state storage performance, you will learn the acronyms involved, and gain an understanding about the pros and cons for each type.
There are several types of NAND flash architectures commonly found in solid-state drives.
- Single-level cell (SLC) flash
- Multi-level cell (MLC) flash
- Enterprise multi-level cell (eMLC) flash
- Triple-level cell (TLC) flash
- 3D NAND flash
- Quadruple-level cell (QLC) flash
Infographic design by Dana Choi
3D NAND vs 2D Planar NAND
Recently, 3D NAND flash technology has become more accessible and available, which explains the dramatic price decrease of SSDs in the latter half of 2017. 3D NAND added another dimension (literally) to the original 2D NAND flash structure. The 2D planar structure can be compared to a suburb with many one-story houses. 3D NAND technology, however, opens the doors to high-rise apartments to create higher densities. With higher capacities, less power consumption, lower cost, and better performance, 3D NAND SSDs have become mainstream for SSD used by consumers.
SLC NAND flash and eMLC flash in data centers
Other NAND flash type has its uses – for example, SLC and eMLC are fantastic for enterprises as they need reliable, long-lasting memory for servers and workstations. While this comes at a high price, most enterprises would be fine with the return on investment with high-performance flash for their businesses. Related article: Is SLC NAND extinct?
Mainstream adoption of MLC and TLC NAND flash
Most consumers use MLC or TLC 3D NAND flash SSDs. They use SSDs for booting operating systems or performance intensive programs, in which case a lower number of write cycles does not have much impact. Since MLC and TLC packs on a lot of memory at a lower price, they have become the go-to SSDs for normal users. QLC has been slowly inching into the mainstream market for SSDs since last year, and it won’t be surprising when it eventually becomes the norm for consumers. At launch, QLC NAND chips were geared towards enterprises to process big data. More and more consumer-level QLC SSDs have since launched are becoming a possible choice because of the high density and low price.
Next steps in NAND flash technology
NAND flash technology has made significant strides in the past few years and it’ll be exciting to see what new developments can be made on this frontier. As for now, we’ll have to keep an eye on the developments of QLC NAND as more and more manufactures will try to improve QLC’s structure to create cheaper SSDs.
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