Welcome to part two of our in-depth series examining the scope and scale of Samsung’s flash memory leadership.
In part one, we took a look at where Samsung’s flash innovation began, and how landmark advancements in NAND flash technology catapulted the company to the top position in the market – a position it’s held for 18 years and running. Here, we’ll examine how Samsung’s commercialization of the world’s first solid-state drive (SSD) changed the PC storage paradigm as we know it by creating a powerful alternative to hard disk drives (HDDs) – the traditional mainstay when it comes to storage technology.
Read on to find out how Samsung leveraged its industry-leading NAND flash technology to open up a new era in PC storage.
Sparking a paradigm shift in storage media
The evolution of storage media has been, in a word, remarkable. What began as a relatively simple paper-based technology eventually evolved into magnetic tape-based tech, and ultimately to HDDs, and now, SSDs.
A simple way to understand the difference between an HDD, which employs magnetic discs and a motor mechanism, and an SSD, which utilizes NAND flash, is to imagine the former as a classic record player and the latter as an MP3 player. The HDD reads data similarly to how the record player reads an LP, while the SSD processes data (or music, to continue the analogy) digitally. What makes that difference so significant? To answer that question, we’ll need to take a closer look at how each technology works.
In a nutshell, an HDD reads and writes data by magnetizing a thin magnetic film known as a platter. Because it locates files by physically rotating the platter, if the platter reaches a certain speed, it can become particularly loud and power consuming. This means that no matter how fast a computer’s CPU (central processing unit) and RAM are, if its HDD can’t keep up, the whole thing slows down.
SSDs effectively solve this problem. Their use of NAND flash enables them to offer much faster data processing than HDDs. And because, unlike HDDs, they don’t feature mechanical components like motors, they’re generally quieter, more reliable, and cooler in operation.
Advancing the transition from HDDs to SSDs has required a great deal of time and research. Early forms of SSD technology can be traced all the way back to the 1970s. However, for many years, the technology’s high price tag and large size made commercialization prohibitively difficult.
Samsung has been spearheading SSD innovation for several years now, having recognized from an early stage that the storage media paradigm would eventually shift to SSD. The company’s extensive efforts paid off in 2006 with the release of the first PCs to feature 32GB SSDs built right in: the Sens Q30PLUS Samsung Note PC, and the Sens Q1 ultra-mobile PC. It was a landmark moment – the launch of an all-new market of SSD-based PCs.
What made these releases game-changers was the fact that up until that point, flash memory had mainly been used in devices like digital cameras, MP3 players and USB flash drives. Few at the time had considered applying the technology to PCs due to costs and other concerns. That is, however, until Samsung leveraged its NAND flash leadership to develop SSDs that were more price competitive and could be easily applied to consumer notebook PCs. The SSDs the company produced offered capacities comparable to 20GB and 30GB HDDs, and were capable of booting up in a fifth of the time.
Leading the SSD market with built-in(novation)
SSDs are comprised of four key elements: NAND flash, DRAM, and a controller with firmware that keeps things operating smoothly. If you imagine NAND flash as a library that houses stacks of books, the controller is the librarian who keeps everything in order. In other words, NAND flash increases the SSD’s capacity through data aggregation, while the controller improves the drive’s performance by regulating the movement of data between the interface and memory, and setting the order in which it reads and writes.
Samsung’s commitment to leading SSD innovation has enabled it to take the development of each of these vital components in-house. That commitment has been key to the company’s ascension to the top of the global SSD market – a position that it has held since 2006. Today, in addition to boasting its own unrivaled SSD technology, Samsung boasts the largest production capacity and market share in the NAND flash market, along with best-in-the-industry controllers and firmware – the key determinants of an SSD’s performance and reliability.
Samsung’s history of NAND flash innovation played a key role in helping the company become the first in the world to commercialize SSDs. Samsung’s commercialization, in 2006, of the first 40nm 32Gb NAND flash memory, which featured an innovative charge trap flash (CTF) design that overcame the limitations of the then-common ‘floating gate’ architectures, also played a pivotal role.
Samsung had, in fact, long anticipated that NAND flash technology would be a game-changer, having predicted that in the 2010s, ultra-high-capacity semiconductor technology would usher us out of the era of gigabytes and into the era of terabytes.
It didn’t take long for that prediction to become a reality. Samsung officially launched its consumer SSD business in 2010, and introduced the SSD 830 series, which featured 20nm high-speed NAND flash and a dedicated controller, in 2011, followed by the SSD 840 series, which featured 3-bit triple-level cell (TLC) NAND flash, in 2012. The latter series’ launch was particularly significant, as it essentially changed the popular perception that applying 3-bit MLC NAND flash to high-performance, reliable SSDs was difficult.
In 2013, Samsung once again redefined the limitations of fine processing technology by mass producing and commercializing the first three-dimensional V-NAND flash memory. The company leveraged that groundbreaking advancement to expand its high-capacity SSD offerings, and, in 2014, launched the SSD 850 series, which established 3D V-NAND as the standard for Samsung’s consumer SSDs.
Samsung began mass producing 1TB SSDs for enterprise data centers in 2013, followed by 15.36TB SSDs in 2016, and 30.72TB SSDs in 2018. Released just 12 years after Samsung’s first (32GB) SSD, the company’s 30.72TB enterprise SSD offered 1,000x more storage than that original model, and took ultra-high-capacity semiconductors to exciting new heights.
Today, Samsung continues to push flash memory technology and the SSD market forward with one first-of-its-kind innovation after another.
History of Samsung’s SSD