SSDs are great! They make your computer run as if they were filled with greased lightning. That spinning beach ball stops spinning quite so much, and those apps struggling to load quit doing so much bouncing. Your computer gains instant-on functionality, better battery life, and ridiculously quick boot times. Win-win!
There’s only one problems: SSDs (like those found in the Retina MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iPhone or iPad) don’t have the same high capacity as physical spinning drives. That’s a problem if you’re the kind of user who carries around a terrabyte of media with him at all times. Luckily, it looks like SSDs limitations when it comes to capacity sizes is about to change.
Here’s the problem with SSDs right now: the process of building them is strictly 2D. Most SSDs are made up of groups of transistors that have been formed into long strings of NAND gates which store your data.
But these strings? Purely Flatland. That means that to make SSDs have higher capacities, scientists need to either figure out how to make the transistors smaller or make the actual SSDs bulkier.
But what if, instead of making these transistors snake along in a line like a parade, SSDs could embrace three-dimensions, and have the parade of transistors do the equivalent of snaking up, floor-by-floor, inside a sort of NAND skyscraper? In other words, build the transistors on top of each other, layer by layer? You’d be able to fit more capacity in the same space.
That’s what a company called Applied Materials has created: a new etching system that will make 3D transistors. It’s tricky, though. Applied Materials say that building 3D NAND structures is like building a one kilometer deep and three kilometer long hole in the earth with walls exactly three meters apart. Not impossible, but a serious engineering challenging.
When this technology really takes off, what we’ll see are multi-terrabyte SSDs at affordable prices. Imagine a Retina MacBook Pro with a 2TB drive, or an iPhone with 256GBs of storage. It won’t happen anytime in the next couple of years, but it will happen eventually.