SLC, pSLC, MLC and TLC Differences - Does Your Flash Storage SSD Make the Grade?
Not all SSD are created equal. There are enormous differences in ability to work at temperature, in poor power environments, under high duty cycles. When talking enormous, an Industrial Grade SSD can have as much as 300 times (yes, 300 times, not 300%) more write endurance cycles per physical block of data.
An OEM designer should carefully choose which “Grade” of flash storage is right for their application if they want a system that will operate over the field life of their product.
The most common mistake some engineers make is believing all SSD are equally reliable, and therefore, only focus on cost, performance and high capacity. A lower endurance, high performance SSD may work great in the lab if an accelerated life test to judge longevity is not performed. But, once in the field, the true identity of the SSD is revealed and failures begin to occur - increasing as more endurance cycles, longer time at temperature, significant reads/writes and other forces take effect.
How to Choose the Right Grade?
NAND Geometry (Trace Width) Manufacturing
As touched on above, the Trace Width used to manufacture the NAND memory increases the number of cells per area of silicon. The smaller the Trace Width, the less space between cells. The larger the Trace Width, the more space between cells.
SLC NAND still is available and will be for at least several more years in the 43nm, 32nm and 24/20nm sizes. Even though all are SLC cell types, there is a huge reliability advantage in the 43nm & 32nm over the 24nm & 20nm SLC. If reliability is what you seek, stay with 43nm & 32nm SLC NAND based SSD.
Industrial Grade - What is it?
Industrial MLC - What is it?
Industrial MLC products are based on MLC NAND, MLC stands for Multi Level Cell and signifies a product which stores 2-bits per cell. This requires 4 voltage states to represent 00, 01, 10 & 11. The MLC NAND parts have 25-30 times less endurance than the SLC NAND of Industrial Grade and are not as reliable with many more issues with unexpected power loss, cell cross talk, read disturb, data corruption and data retention to be considered.
So why do people use MLC NAND? Because it’s much less expensive than SLC NAND and may be acceptable if their application does not need the higher reliability and longer life cycles of Industrial Grade.
Cactus offers Industrial MLC products, but is one of the few companies which locks the BOM (Bill-Of-Material) so what you initially qualify is what you receive for your ongoing production orders.
Industrial pSLC - What is it?
Industrial pSLC products are based on pSLC NAND, which stands for Pseudo Single Level Cell NAND and is the same MLC NAND as used in Industrial MLC. The difference is the MLC NAND is set in a mode which only the top and bottom states are used, thereby cutting the capacity in half but increase the endurance by 6 times the MLC.
Industrial pSLC offers better pricing than Industrial Grade, but still has to contend with similar unexpected power loss, cell cross talk, read disturb, data corruption and data retention issues of MLC.
Cactus offers Industrial pSLC products, but is one of the few companies which locks the BOM (Bill-Of-Material) so what you initially qualify is what you receive for your ongoing production orders.
Consumer Grade products are built for lowest cost and in some cases highest performance. They use the lowest cost NAND flash which today is TLC NAND. TLC stands for Tri Level Cell and signifies storing voltage at 8 different levels in the cell to represent 3-bits (000, 001, 010, 011, 100, 101, 110, 111).
Built on the same small manufacturing geometries as MLC NAND, TLC has even more issues with unexpected power loss, cell cross talk, read disturb, data corruption and data retention as well as difficulties at wide temperature ranges.
Consumer flash storage products are not typically satisfactory for OEM and Industrial applications and do not come with a consistent Bill-Of-Material.
A designer of an OEM system or system integrator using a motherboard or single board computer that needs to decide on a flash storage solution, should consider their options carefully.
There are significant differences between product offerings which are not evident at first glance or on the latest glossy brochure.
Industrial Grade offers the most reliable solution and OEM/Industrial MLC offer lower cost solutions which trade reliability for better cost. Consumer Grade products should be viewed critically for anything other than low duty cycle applications.
If you need assistance with an OEM design or needing special features, please contact us.