Anyone choosing to purchase a new laptop or desktop PC in 2017 will want an SSD instead of a hard drive as their main storage device. SSDs are incredibly fast compared to a spinning hard drive, and use only a fraction of the power consumption therefore helping to extend battery life. The only problem is, they are still quite expensive and limited in storage size.
Those problems are slowly disappearing, though, and this week Western Digital, working with its technology and manufacturing partner Toshiba, announced a breakthrough in storage capacity. In July last year the company announced production of a 256Gb 3D NAND memory chip, but just six months on it has doubled the density. 512Gb 3D NAND chips are now being produced in Yokkaichi, Japan.
What this means is Western Digital can now offer double the storage in the same space, or the same storage using one chip instead of two. Today's SSDs typically range from 128GB right through to 4TB in size using a 2.5-inch drive form factor. There's also the smaller mSATA and M.2 PCI-e drives which slot directly into a motherboard. All of these drives can benefit from using 512Gb memory chips, as will smartphones and tablets.
Initially, Western Digital is carrying out a pilot production run. Each chip stores three-bits-per-cell and consists of 64 layers. They are called 3D NAND because as well as storing data horizontally across the memory chip, layers are built vertically (like a skyscraper) which drastically increases the amount of storage space available without increasing the overall size of the chip.
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There's no word yet on when these new chips will make it into actual products, but you can be sure laptop manufacturers will be lining up to use them in new models launching later this year. SSD manufacturers may have to wait a little longer to get their hands on them.
For consumers, the good news won't be so much the increase in SSD storage capacity, but the potential for cheaper SSDs. Using 512Gb memory chips means fewer chips will be required to produce the most common 256GB and 512GB drives. That should lead to cheaper storage once Western Digital achieves mass production.
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