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Intel, Micron New ONFi 2.0 Interface Boost the Data Transfer Rates Five Times of NAND Flash-Memory

Mark LaPedus                                                                                                                                                                          

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Inc. have unveiled a high-speed and souped-up NAND flash-memory interface technology that is said to boost the data transfer rates by up to five times over current devices.

Micron has rolled out the first NAND devices based on the technology, which could open up a new class of applications. The technology, co-developed by Intel and Micron, leverages a new interface specification as defined by the so-called Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFi) Working Group.

Formed in 2006, ONFi now has 71 or more members. The latest specification, dubbed ONFi 2.0, defines a high-speed NAND synchronous interface, said to deliver up to 133 megabytes per second (MB/s) in interface performance. The legacy NAND asynchronous interface is limited to a maximum speed of 50-MB/second, thereby hampering the performance in applications such as solid state drives.

Devices based on the ONFi 2.0 specification are said to reduce the time required to transfer data to and from the data buffer by using two techniques: double-data-rate (DDR) signaling and source synchronous clocks.

The technology solves the nagging "performance bottleneck" in the NAND interface, said Kevin Kilbuck, director of market development for NAND flash memory at Micron (Boise, Ida.). Micron and Intel are partners in a NAND manufacturing venture, dubbed IM Flash Technologies LLC.

Intel and Micron have taken the interface technology a step further. Using a four-plane architecture, NAND interface speeds can reach up to 200-MB/s for reading data and 100-MB/s for writing data. In comparison, conventional single-level cell NAND is limited to 40-MB/s for reading data and less than 20-MB/s for writing data.

This enables data to be transferred in a fraction of the time for computing, video, photography and other consumer applications. It also enables a faster way of transferring digital content between devices such as computers, digital cameras, MP3 players and cell phones.

"The computing market is embracing NAND-based solutions to accelerate system performance through the use of caching and solid-state drives," said Pete Hazen, director of marketing for Intel's NAND Products Group.

"At up to five times the performance over conventional NAND, the high-speed NAND from Intel and Micron, based on the ONFi 2.0 industry standard, will enable new embedded solutions and removable solutions that take advantage of high-performance system interfaces, including PCIe and upcoming standards such as USB 3.0," he said.

For example, the technology enables a hybrid hard drive to read and write data anywhere between two or four times the speed, when compared to conventional hard drives, according to the companies.

Seeking to get a jump in the market, Micron claims to be the first company to announce a product based on the technology. The company is sampling an 8-gigabit, single-level cell (SLC) device.

Designed on the 50-nm process node, Micron's 8-Gbit SLC high speed NAND component is sampling to OEMs and controller manufacturers, with mass production expected to commence in the second half of 2008. The company also expects to unveil future ONFI 2.0-derived NAND products in the next year, including multi-level cell (MLC) versions.

Future generations of the specification will deliver speeds up to 400 MB/second. This next generation of the ONFi specification, targeted for completion in 2009, is aimed to double the interface speed delivered in ONFi 2.0. ONFi's founding companies include Hynix Semiconductor, Intel, Micron, Phison, Sony and STMicroelectronics.