Episode #1

Samsung’s journey begins

Today, as the world enters the Fourth Industrial Revolution – an era in which technologies like 5G and Big Data are changing the way we work and live, and generating vast amounts of data in the process – flash memory is becoming increasingly more important.

Since officially attaining the No. 1 position in the flash memory market by mass producing the first 1Gb (gigabit) NAND flash in 2002, Samsung has never looked back. Now, 18 years later, with a string of groundbreaking developments, including introducing and mass producing the world’s first 3D V-NAND technology, the company continues to lead the market with products and solutions that deliver the highest levels of performance and quality.

Turning limitations into opportunities: ushering in the age of 3D memory chips Samsung’s success in the flash memory market was preceded by years of leadership in the DRAM sector. After developing the first 1Gb NAND flash in 1999, the company continuously expanded the memory technology’s capacity with the introduction of 2Gb NAND flash in 2002, 4Gb in 2003, 8Gb in 2004, 16Gb in 2005, 32Gb in 2006, and 64Gb in 2007.

(From left) Samsung’s 1Gb and 2Gb NAND flash

At the same time, Samsung has been gradually strengthening its leadership in fine processing. The company successfully developed a 90-nanometer (nm) process technology designs in 2002, and followed that up with 70nm in 2003, 50nm in 2005, and 40nm in 2006. In 2007, Samsung took its process technology to the 30nm level – an achievement which many saw as the beginning of a new technological frontier.

In 2006, Samsung commercialized the first 40nm 32Gb NAND flash memory, which featured an innovative charge trap flash (CTF)* architecture that overcame the limitations of the ‘floating gate’ architectures that were common at the time.

Charge trap flash (CTF): A NAND flash memory technology that utilizes nitride pierced with holes, or ‘traps,’ as an insulator in which an electric charge is stored. This results in a binary system in which the electricity-storing holes represent 1, and the empty holes represent 0. By replacing the conductive ‘floating gate’ method with non-conductive nitride, CTF effectively eliminates crosstalk, or interference, between adjacent cells.

As efforts to expand memory capacity and enhance fine processing have advanced, they’ve uncovered some of the technical limitations of the CTF method. Since the development of 128Gb NAND flash, which utilizes 10nm-class process technology, inter-cell interference has intensified as cells have become smaller and the distance between adjacent cells has decreased.

The progression of floating gate, charge trap flash (CTF) and 3D vertical NAND (V-NAND) technology

In August of 2013, Samsung developed 3D vertical NAND (3D V-NAND) flash memory technology in an effort to overcome the technical limitations of semiconductor micronization. The company’s successful commercialization of the technology was regarded as a breakthrough moment for the memory chip industry, as previous efforts to overcome those limitations had resulted in little progress.

The V-NAND breakthrough was made possible by proprietary Samsung innovations – in particular, the company’s cylindrical 3D CTF and vertical stacking technology. This advancement also enabled three notable improvements over traditional, planar NAND – namely, faster speeds, less power consumption, and greater cell durability. The result is a secure, high-capacity NAND flash technology that overcomes limitations in chip density, and will lead us into what’s known as the ‘Era of Tera.’

The Road to the flash memory market’s No. 1 spot Today, Samsung boasts a proud history of leading the global flash memory market. But where did it all begin?

In July of 1984, the company successfully developed 16Kb EEPROM – regarded as the precursor to flash memory. However, due to high costs, as well as limitations in large-scale product development, the company decided to shift its focus toward the more profitable Mask ROM (MROM). Mask ROM was a technology that was applied to devices that stored characters, such as electronic dictionaries, as well as gaming devices like Game Boys and Tamagotchi, which were popular at the time. The chip was always short in supply, as only a limited number of Japanese companies were producing it.

Samsung decided to develop its very own Mask ROM technology, and succeeded in doing so in 1989. This move ultimately led to $400 million in revenue. It wasn’t long, however, before the company hit a wall. At the time, demand for MROM was limited to a particular market, as the technology lacked a variety of applications. This led Samsung to reconsider whether it was worth investing in such a technology. However, the company’s management and employees pressed on with their efforts and research, believing in the coming dawn of the flash memory era.

On a hot summer day in August of 2001, a number of Samsung executives gathered at a restaurant in Tokyo called Zakuro. They were pondering whether Samsung should accept a joint-development proposal from a company that was leading the flash memory industry at the time, or continue to develop its own technology.

After much deliberation, Samsung, which had long predicted that flash memory would come to dominate the market, and had been gradually preparing for that eventuality, decided to go its own way. The so-called ‘Zakuro Meeting’ had set a new course for Samsung’s flash memory business, which would eventually emerge as a key growth engine.

The first few steps toward success were not easy. Samsung had no established market in which to sell its products, and there were even whispers at the time that the NAND flash market would shrink by 35 percent. Put simply, Samsung’s survival in the market would require aggressive countermeasures.

The company responded to these challenges by turning its attention to an all-new application for the technology – one that could leverage the growing PC market, which had grown to over 100 million units. We’re speaking, of course, of portable flash memory. Pinky-sized USB memory sticks are ubiquitous today, and they were integral to helping Samsung overcome these challenges and become the market’s top flash memory manufacturer in 2002.

In 2005, it was forecasted that the global NAND flash market would face excess supply. Samsung responded by focusing its efforts on finding brand new markets, taking the mindset that ‘If there is no market, let’s create one.’ It persuaded its client companies to announce flash memory’s superiority over other forms of storage media. As a result, flash memory began to see incredible growth in the then-analog music player market, and Samsung was able to once again establish itself as a flash memory leader thanks to its huge success in the MP3 player market, where flash memory was standard.

In the mid-2000s, Samsung became the first to commercialize SSDs, creating a massive market that could eventually replace HDDs. Through continuous innovation, the company has retained its No. 1 position in the flash memory market to this day. Today, Samsung executives and employees are working hard to advance flash memory technology, and deliver the company’s innovative products to the masses.

History of Samsung’s Flash Memory

  • 1990's

    1994

    Released 16Mb NAND flash

    1998

    Started manufacturing
    128Mb NAND flash

    1999

    Developed 1Gb NAND flash


  • 2000's

    2002

    Started manufacturing
    1Gb NAND flash Developed
    90-namometer(nm),
    2Gb flash memory

    2003

    Developed 70nm,
    4Gb NAND flash

    2004

    Developed 60nm,
    8Gb Nand flash

    2005

    Started manufacturing
    70nm, 4Gb NAND flash
    Developed 50nm,
    16Gb NAND flash

    2006

    Started manufacturing
    60 Nano 8Gb,
    Developed 40nm,
    32Gb NAND flash

    2007

    Started manufacturing
    50nm, 16Gb NAND flash
    Developed 30nm,
    64Gb NAND flash

    2009

    Started manufacturing
    30nm, 32Gb NAND flash


  • 2010's

    2010

    Started manufacturing
    20nm, 32Gb and 20nm,
    64Gb NAND flash

    2012

    Started manufacturing
    10nm, 64Gb NAND flash

    2013

    Started manufacturing
    10nm, 128Gb NAND flash
    and 1st-gen, 128Gb V-NAND
    (24 layers)

    2014

    Started manufacturing
    2nd-gen, 128Gb V-NAND
    (32 layers)

    2015

    Started manufacturing
    3rd-gen, 256Gb V-NAND
    (48 layers) and 128GB eUFS

    2017

    Started manufacturing
    4th-gen V-NAND (64 layers)
    Developed 1Tb V-NAND

    2018

    Started manufacturing
    256GB eUFS and
    5th-gen V-NAND
    (9X layers)

    2019

    Started manufacturing
    1TB eUFS