NAND flash is the next big thing in storage, and SanDisk wants to be at the forefront

SanDisk has been making some waves in the industry during the past month. In early July, it was announced that SanDisk and Toshiba were spending a combined $8.2 billion USD to expand flash memory production. Of the funds earmarked, $3 billion is going to a new joint venture called Flash Alliance Ltd., while the remaining $5.2 billion is being reserved for a new 300mm fabrication facility in Yokkaichi, Japan. The plant, which is 51% owned by Toshiba, will produce an estimated 110,000 wafers per month (up from the original target of 48,750). Toshiba and SanDisk each are guaranteed 50% of total production.

SanDisk then made headlines last week with the announcement that it was acquiring M-Systems for $1.35 billion USD. The acquisition of its Israeli-based competitor puts SanDisk in a prime position to be at the forefront of the latest advances in NAND-flash based products. While NAND flash is used in devices ranging from memory cards to cell phones to PDAs to audio players, the technology will be a cornerstone for many new PC technology platforms in the coming years.

Intel has incorporated Robson NAND flash memory technology into the specifications for its Santa Rosa mobile platform which is scheduled to launch in April of 2007. With Robson, notebooks will be able to startup quicker and programs will execute faster by running from flash. Intel has also announced that NAND flash will be incorporated into the desktop in the form of Snowgrass. Snowgrass is simply Robson catered to the desktop market and will be a plug-in module that fits into a custom motherboard expansion slot. Motherboard manufacturers will also have the ability to integrate Snowgrass directly onto the motherboard.

NAND flash has also found a home in hybrid hard drives like those announced by Seagate. On Seagate’s 160GB Momentus 5400 PSD, 256MB of NAND flash memory is used to improve battery life and system performance by caching system and application data. NAND flash is also finding a home in the more ambitious PQI 64GB flash drive and Samsung’s 32GB Flash-SSD. Both are composed entirely of NAND flash memory cells.

SanDisk’s investments into NAND flash are likely to pay off big time in the near future. The company is already the world’s number one manufacturer of consumer memory cards and the acquisition of M-Systems brings with it a portfolio of SSD drives in 1.8”, 2.5” and 3.5” form-factors and modules for the embedded market. The newly strengthened company will be a force to be reckoned with in the industry. We’ve already seen Micron sink its fangs into one of SanDisk’s chief rivals, Lexar, to strengthen its position in NAND flash. Everyone is jockeying for position in NAND flash and this is just the beginning.

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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