January 27, 2016
Most trends in technology seem to go in one direction: smaller. Just take a look at cell phones, as one example. When they were first introduced, cell phones were massive bricks with a long antenna sticking out of one end. The size got smaller and smaller as the years went on. Eventually, flip phones made cell phones truly mobile, fitting in the user’s pocket with ease. Then along came the smartphone, which not only continued this trend but gave users more capabilities at their fingertips than ever before. Even as the technology grew more complex, the devices harnessing that technology reduced in size. The same can be said for flash storage technology. Over the years, flash storage has gotten smaller even as its storage capacity grew. That trend looks unlikely to stop any time soon, particularly as new technological breakthroughs are made with increasing frequency.
This thought comes on the heels of a recent announcement made by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Scientists there have made advances in a technology that could make flash storage even smaller than it is now. The advancement is called nanographene-based charge trapping memory, and its overall effect on flash could be revolutionary. The whole goal behind the research was to find a way to make flash cells smaller and more densely packed, effectively enabling manufacturers to place more cells in less space. From the results of the research, it appears scientists have been able to do just that.
The nanographene-based charge trapping memory technique can be seen as an alternative to the more traditional floating gate memory. While floating gate has worked fine for flash for a long time, researchers had already run up against the limits inherent within that technique. As memory cells got closer together, the chances of short circuiting only grew as electrons flowed more easily between them. The charge trapping memory method, on the other hand, creates a layer of insulation, effectively reducing instances of short circuiting. With the use of nanographene, this can be accomplished on a more microscopic scale. Researchers were able to create nanographene islands where electrons and other charge carriers are stored. The number of these “islands” reaches into the trillions per square centimeter. That makes for a lot of memory that can be stored in a smaller physical space.
The advances made with nanographene-based charge trapping memory technology are only the latest in a long list of movement towards smaller flash storage devices. Even this past summer, SanDisk came out with a new flash drive that is 128GB and roughly the size of a dime. This was only a year after the company released a similar flash drive that had only half the storage space. Flash drives have been getting smaller all throughout the past decade. Remember, external flash drives used to be called thumb drives because they were about the size of the typical person’s thumb. Now many flash drives are only the size of a thumbnail, or sometimes smaller.
The advantages to making flash storage smaller are many. As sizes gets smaller, performance generally gets faster. Looking at the new SanDisk flash drive again, the drive has a transfer speed of 120 megabytes per second. With faster processing speeds comes better productivity and faster analysis of data. Smaller flash storage also consumes less power, making it a more financially viable option for many businesses. These technological advances also lead to lower prices. It wasn’t long ago that a full gigabyte of flash storage was prohibitively expensive to many smaller organizations. Now it’s very affordable for pretty much anyone to use. When it reaches the market, the nanographene-based technique mentioned above will likely be expensive, but it won’t stay that way.
Flash storage is steadily becoming the dominant storage option for people and businesses alike. Whether they’re a financial institution or one of many Big Data vendors, flash storage carries many advantages in performance and durability over alternative methods. The smaller sizes are just another benefit that will only serve to maximize flash storage’s potential as more advances are made.
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