Tech Trends

UFS Opens a New Chapter in External Memory Cards

on Sep 13, 2016

Universal Flash Storage is Leading high performance flash memory standard in memory card technology.

Leading high performance flash memory standard
We live in a world where new technology solutions are introduced almost faster than we can adapt. While the consumer electronics and IT industries have a well-earned reputation for swift commercialization and ability to launch new products into the market just as fast as those tech solutions are introduced, this isn’t always the case.

In some instances, the technology either meets or exceeds the market needs or has technical limitations that stunt and stall the product evolution speed. Interestingly, one of these markets is the SD memory card market. In 2009, the UHS-I standard for memory cards was first introduced. Since then, memory storage capacities have increased and prices have dropped, but there has been no notable development in the card performance in terms of read and write speeds. This is about to change.

Universal Flash Storage, often represented as UFS is a new standard in memory card technology.

We live in a world where new technology solutions are introduced almost faster than we can adapt. While the consumer electronics and IT industries have a well-earned reputation for swift commercialization and ability to launch new products into the market just as fast as those tech solutions are introduced, this isn’t always the case.

In some instances, the technology either meets or exceeds the market needs or has technical limitations that stunt and stall the product evolution speed. Interestingly, one of these markets is the SD memory card market. In 2009, the UHS-I standard for memory cards was first introduced. Since then, memory storage capacities have increased and prices have dropped, but there has been no notable development in the card performance in terms of read and write speeds. This is about to change.

Universal Flash Storage, often represented as UFS is a new standard in memory card technology.

Samsung semiconductor - UFS Opens a New Chapter in External Memory Cards -  01

‘Excellent’ ability to process high-resolution and heavy multimedia content
UFS is a high-performance flash memory standard developed to execute process the growing scale and size of multimedia content and applications. The standard boasts substantially higher performance speeds, but consumes less energy than eMMC which is in essence an internal memory card standard for smartphones.
Last year, the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S6 marked the first commercial use of embedded UFS or “eUFS”, in a smartphone. It was a major milestone that changed the game for how memory is built into smart devices. It’s a striking parallel for the transition that’s been taking place in the PC and server industry where hard disk drives (HDD) are now replaced with faster and more reliable solid state drives(SSD).

Much like the market evolution from HDD to SSD, in part driven by Samsung, the company is now contributing to the external UFS card market growth adoption. As history often repeats itself, Samsung is once again playing a leading role in the memory industry by introducing the external memory card standard ‘UFS Card v1.0’, standardized during the JEDEC (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council) meeting in March, earlier this year.

Maximum power consumption about ‘half’ that of micro SD cards
If you have used both an SSD and an HDD, you know just how much the difference in performance and speed actually is. If you haven’t, try it, you’ll be wondering why you didn’t make the shift earlier. Now, take that same comparison and apply it to the current UHS-I micro SD cards and the new UFS cards. The difference should be quite clear and obvious—a no brainer.

Comparing microSD cards and UFS side by side, you’ll see the numbers don’t lie, starting with the read and write speeds (when reading and copying large files). For example, copying a 25GB Blu-ray file on a microSD card will take about 4 minutes and 30 seconds. With a UFS card, you can go ahead and cut the time in half.

If you repeatedly read and write small files such as image or text files, the difference becomes even more apparent. What matters here are not ‘sequential’ read/write speeds but rather ‘random’ read/write speeds. UFS card’s read speed is 20 times faster and write speed is 350 times faster than those of micro SD card.

When it comes to power efficiency, the difference is again, nothing short of remarkable. microSD card’s power consumption (by internal type standards) varies by user environment but peak at about 2.88 Watts. UFS card, however, is around 1.53 Watt, no matter how large the transferring data might be. In a standby mode, for when the device is not in use, the power consumption hovers at 1 mW or less with the UFS card, which is the lowest levels in the world, making it perfect for power-hungry mobile devices.

Samsung semiconductor - UFS Opens a New Chapter in External Memory Cards - 02

A Samsung-led standard available for use by other companies
Some experts may ask, “What about UHS-II, which is faster than UHS-I?” True, UHS-II is the fastest microSD card standard at present. However, UHS-II microSD cards are only similar to UFS cards when comparing the sequential write speeds; the difference in the sequential read speeds is substantial. Moreover, when it comes to the random read/write speeds, UHS-II microSD cards perform slower than UFS cards, ranging between 10 to 100 times.

It’s not just the power and performance gaps that make UFS cards stand out. The UFS 1.0 standard is royalty free for the entire industry. Thanks to this standard led by Samsung, other companies can use the standard literally for free to develop their next-generation systems.

Samsung semiconductor - UFS Opens a New Chapter in External Memory Cards - 03

Increasing demand for large data … Removes limits on video and photo shooting
Another question: “Do we really need memory cards that are this fast?”
In short, “yes.” Multimedia content is growing in size at an alarming rate with an increase in electronic file size and user generated content. Reflecting back on the rapid adoption of advanced technology integrated into consumer and IT devices, mentioned earlier, full HD (1920 x 1080) video content is now being phased out to 4K UHD resolutions, and we are not far off from 8K devices becoming ubiquitous.

4K files are 4 to 5 times larger in size than those of Full HD. As for audio content, formats such as UHQ, FLAC and MQS that hold more information than. MP3 files are also on the rise. In mobile devices, large high-res screens and more advanced GPUs foster richer and heavier types of content such as games and a myriad of advanced mobile applications. This shift toward high quality content consumption and creation is setting the stage for the introduction of a more advanced and power sensitive storage solution.

More than often, rich content creation faces limitations which often come from lack of speed in the storage device, especially when shooting videos or taking pictures in a burst mode.
This is why professional-grade cameras have two or more memory card slots or use ultra-high speed memory card. Now with a UFS card, such limitations are a thing of the past even with consumer-grade devices. High-capacity UFS cards are especially fitting for 3D VR devices or 4K action cams, drones or DSLR cameras, thanks to the boost in the write speed up to 5 times faster than the existing card technology. DSLR camera users would also welcome the introduction of UFS cards. Shooting 24 photos (1120 MB, JPEG mode) in a burst mode with a microSD card would take around 32 seconds to record the images (at 35 MB/s), but with a UFS, it takes just 6 seconds.
Moreover, time-consuming tasks such as searching image files or downloading images on a high-performance smartphones can be executed faster thanks to fast random read/write speeds.

In today’s ever-increasing volume of multimedia content consumption, Samsung’s UFS cards just might be the most optimized storage partner in the mobile multimedia era.

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