This content is part of the Essential Guide: 3D NAND technology: What it is and where it's headed

Do users need 3D NAND flash memory?

The population of users who need 3D NAND flash chips on their computers is limited to those who run extremely large workloads, such as big applications or multiple virtual machines.

Whether users need 3D NAND flash memory in their laptops depends on the kind of work they do with their machines. Most workers can get by with hard disk drives.

Solid-state drives (SSDs) are best suited to users who require high-performance storage, or who work in conditions that prohibit the use of HDD storage. For example, scientific research that is performed in high-altitude, unpressurized aircraft requires the use of SSD storage because hard disk drives cannot function under such conditions.

If users do need SSD storage in their laptops, then the next question is whether to use 2D or 3D NAND flash memory. Generally, 3D NAND flash memory provides a higher overall capacity. As such, 3D NAND is a good option for anyone who needs to run multiple virtual machines on their laptop, install large applications or edit videos.

What is 3D NAND flash memory?

SSD storage is based on NAND cells, which work by trapping an electrical charge within transistors. Historically, these transistors have been arranged on a die, which is a two-dimensional surface. If a storage manufacturer wanted to increase the capacity of a die, there were two main options: make the transistors smaller or put them closer together.

The problem with making the transistors smaller is that there's a limit to how small they can get, and manufacturers are reaching that limit. Placing the transistors closer together presents another problem, however. Because the transistors are so small, moving them closer together can cause electrons to jump from one transistor to another.

3D NAND flash memory solves this problem by stacking NAND cells vertically, thereby allowing for a far larger number of cells to be placed on a die. For example, many of the drives sold today have 32 or 64 layers of transistors.

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