New Intel SSD Roadmap Points To 2TB Drives Arriving In 2014

A leaked Intel roadmap for solid state technology suggests the company is pushing ahead with its plans to introduce new high-end drives based on cutting-edge NAND flash. It's significant for Intel to be adopting 20nm NAND in its highest-end data center products, because of the challenges smaller NAND nodes present in terms of data retention and reliability. Intel introduced 20nm NAND lower in the product stack over a year ago, but apparently has waited till now to bring 20nm to the highest end.  Next year, Intel will debut three new drive families -- the SSD Pro 2500 Series (codenamed Temple Star), the DC P3500 Series (Pleasantdale) and the DC P3700 Series (Fultondale).

The Temple Star family uses the M.2 and M.25 form factors, which are meant to replace the older mSATA form factor for ultrabooks and tablets. The M.2 standard allows more space on PCBs for actual NAND storage and can interface with PCIe, SATA, and USB 3.0-attached storage in the same design. This gives manufacturers more flexibility for product design.

The new high-end enterprise drives, meanwhile, will hit 2TB (up from 800GB), ship in 2.5" and add-in card form factors, and offer vastly improved performance. The current DC S3700 series offers 500MBps writes and 460MBps reads. The DC P3700 will increase this to 2800MBps read and 1700MBps writes. The primary difference between the DC P3500 and DC P3700 families appears to be that the P3700 family will use Intel's High Endurance Technology (HET) MLC, while the DC P3500 family sticks with traditional MLC.

HET is Intel's method of improving MLC yields and reliability. The company does this in two ways. First, it cherry picks the best MLC NAND off the wafer (Intel has previously indicated this improves performance characteristics by 50 - 100%. Then, it tunes the NAND for longer read/write cycles, sophisticated additional managment algorithms, and a greater-than-normal amount of overprovisioned space.


The net impact of this tuning is to create a type of enterprise Flash that can withstand the requirements of an enterprise-class business through far more read write cycles than equivalent drives based on traditional MLC. The move to 20nm HET Flash is interesting for this segment, because it implies Intel has found a way to ensure continued reliability and longevity even as the process node shrinks. This has become something of a tug-of-war in process technology -- smaller nodes allows for greater economies of scale in Flash production, but it also decreases longevity.

There's no word on new consumer drives at the moment, but those segments are already based on 20nm MLC flash. By the end of 2014, Intel should be entirely standardized on 20nm flash.