Flash memory is non-volatile computer memory that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed. Non-volatile means that no power is needed to maintain the information stored on the chip.
It is a technology that is primarily used in memory cards and USB flash drives as solid state storage and its main purpose is an inexpensive way of storing or transferring data between computers and other digital products. It’s used as primary storage memory on various portable devices due to its low cost, compact size, great physical endurance and low power consumption.
The most popular types of flash memory are NAND and NOR.
Flash memory is an electronic non-volatile computer memory storage medium that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed. The two main types of flash memory, NOR flash and NAND flash, are named for the NOR and NAND logic gates. Both use the same cell design, consisting of floating gate MOSFETs. They differ at the circuit level depending on whether the state of the bit line or word lines is pulled high or low: in NAND flash, the relationship between the bit line and the word lines resembles a NAND gate; in NOR flash, it resembles a NOR gate.
Flash memory, a type of floating-gate memory, was invented at Toshiba in 1980 and is based on EEPROM technology. Toshiba began marketing flash memory in 1987. EPROMs had to be erased completely before they could be rewritten. NAND flash memory, however, may be erased, written, and read in blocks (or pages), which generally are much smaller than the entire device. NOR flash memory allows a single machine word to be written – to an erased location – or read independently. A flash memory device typically consists of one or more flash memory chips (each holding many flash memory cells), along with a separate flash memory controller chip.
The NAND type is found mainly in memory cards, USB flash drives, solid-state drives (those produced since 2009), feature phones, smartphones, and similar products, for general storage and transfer of data. NAND or NOR flash memory is also often used to store configuration data in numerous digital products, a task previously made possible by EEPROM or battery-powered static RAM. A key disadvantage of flash memory is that it can endure only a relatively small number of write cycles in a specific block.
Flash memory is used in computers, PDAs, digital audio players, digital cameras, mobile phones, synthesizers, video games, scientific instrumentation, industrial robotics, and medical electronics. Flash memory has fast read access time, but it is not as fast as static RAM or ROM. In portable devices, it is preferred to hard disks because of its mechanical shock resistance.
Because erase cycles are slow, the large block sizes used in flash memory erasing give it a significant speed advantage over non-flash EEPROM when writing large amounts of data. As of 2019, flash memory costs much lesssolid-state storage. EEPROMs, however, are still used in applications that require only small amounts of storage, as in serial presence detect.
than byte-programmable EEPROM and had become the dominant memory type wherever a system required a significant amount of non-volatile
Flash memory packages can use die stacking with through-silicon vias and several dozen layers of 3D TLC NAND cells (per die) simultaneously to achieve capacities of up to 1 tebibyte per package using 16 stacked dies and an integrated flash controller as a separate die inside the package.
The origins of flash memory can be traced back to the development of the floating-gate MOSFET (FGMOS), also known as the floating-gate transistor. The original MOSFET (metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor), also known as the MOS transistor, was invented by Egyptian engineer Mohamed M. Atalla and Korean engineer Dawon Kahng at Bell Labs in 1959. Kahng went on to develop a variation, the floating-gate MOSFET, with Chinese engineer Simon Min Sze at Bell Labs in 1967. They proposed that it could be used as floating-gate memory cells for storing a form of programmable read-only memory (PROM) that is both non-volatile and re-programmable.
Early types of floating-gate memory included EPROM (erasable PROM) and EEPROM (electrically erasable PROM) in the 1970s. However, early floating-gate memory required engineers to build a memory cell for each bit of data, which proved to be cumbersome, slow, and expensive, restricting floating-gate memory to niche applications in the 1970s, such as military equipment and the earliest experimental mobile phones.
Fujio Masuoka, while working for Toshiba, proposed a new type of floating-gate memory that allowed entire sections of memory to be erased quickly and easily, by applying a voltage to a single wire connected to a group of cells. This led to Masuoka’s invention of flash memory at Toshiba in 1980. According to Toshiba, the name “flash” was suggested by Masuoka’s colleague, Shōji Ariizumi, because the erasure process of the memory contents reminded him of the flash of a camera. Masuoka and colleagues presented the invention of NOR flash in 1984, and then NAND flash at the IEEE 1987 International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) held in San Francisco.
Toshiba commercially launched NAND flash memory in 1987. Intel Corporation introduced the first commercial NOR type flash chip in 1988. NOR-based flash has long erase and write times, but provides full address and data buses, allowing random access to any memory location. This makes it a suitable replacement for older read-only memory (ROM) chips, which are used to store program code that rarely needs to be updated, such as a computer’s BIOS or the firmware of set-top boxes. Its endurance may be from as little as 100 erase cycles for an on-chip flash memory, to a more typical 10,000 or 100,000 erase cycles, up to 1,000,000 erase cycles. NOR-based flash was the basis of early flash-based removable media; CompactFlash was originally based on it, though later cards moved to less expensive NAND flash.
NAND flash has reduced erase and write times, and requires less chip area per cell, thus allowing greater storage density and lower cost per bit than NOR flash. However, the I/O interface of NAND flash does not provide a random-access external address bus. Rather, data must be read on a block-wise basis, with typical block sizes of hundreds to thousands of bits. This makes NAND flash unsuitable as a drop-in replacement for program ROM, since most microprocessors and microcontrollers require byte-level random access. In this regard, NAND flash is similar to other secondary data storage devices, such as hard disks and optical media, and is thus highly suitable for use in mass-storage devices, such as memory cards and solid-state drives (SSD). Flash memory cards and SSDs store data using multiple NAND flash memory chips.
The first NAND-based removable memory card format was SmartMedia, released in 1995. Many others followed, including MultiMediaCard, Secure Digital, Memory Stick, and xD-Picture Card.
Was this article helpful?