Episode #4

Samsung’s journey continues

Over the course of this series, we’ve examined steps that Samsung Electronics has taken in its journey toward becoming the world’s number one flash memory brand – a position it’s held since 2003. In this, the final entry in our series, we’ll trace Samsung’s history of spearheading advancements in consumer SSDs, and explore how the company plans to continue pioneering innovation in the flash memory market.

The Road to No. 1 ① Taking flash memory forward through independent development

An illustrative image of taking flash memory forward through independent development.

Even back in the 1990s, when Samsung was leading the global DRAM market, the company was constantly looking forward, developing technologies that would help define the next era of memory innovation.

These extensive efforts paid off in the 2000s and beyond with the development of one key flash memory technology after another. Samsung’s decision to develop flash memory independently – expanding memory capacity and strengthening its micro-processing leadership – was integral to making these advancements possible. It also paved the way for Samsung to become the first in the world to mass-produce 1Gb NAND flash (in 2002), and the first to develop a 40-nanometer (nm), 32Gb NAND flash (in 2006).

In August of 2013, Samsung raised eyebrows around the world by overcoming the limitations of semiconductor refinement technology and mass-producing its proprietary 3D Vertical NAND (3D V-NAND). The company’s decision to stack cells vertically rather than arrange them on a single layer was a landmark advancement from both a structural and processing standpoint. This innovative cell arrangement, along with the introduction of 10nm processing technology, allowed gaps between cells to become much more narrow.

Using this technology, Samsung managed to overcome a key limitation facing semiconductor fine-processing technology at the time: interference resulting from the leakage of electrons. It was a monumental moment for the industry, as Samsung had officially opened up the era of mass-produced 3D memory. An all-new era of high-capacity NAND flash memory that would ultimately pave the way for the ‘Era of Tera.’

The Road to No. 1 ② Leading a paradigm shift in storage devices

An illustrative image of leading a paradigm shift in storage devices.

Samsung has changed the paradigm for storage devices as we know them by producing some of the world’s most advanced NAND flash technology. In 2006, the company kicked off a brand-new era for PC storage by becoming the first to commercialize SSDs. The launch of the SSD created a powerful alternative to hard disk drives (HDDs) – the traditional mainstay when it comes to storage technology.

An HDD stores data by physically rotating a thin magnetic film known as a platter. If the platter reaches a certain speed, it can become particularly loud, start consuming more power, and ultimately slow your computer down. Because SSDs store data digitally and don’t feature mechanical components like motors, they open the door for faster data processing, and they tend to be quieter, more reliable, and cooler in operation.

Having anticipated that the storage device paradigm would eventually shift to SSDs, Samsung went to great lengths to ensure that the technology’s commercialization would go as smoothly as possible. This required the company to address what were perceived as two key limitations that were hindering the technology from appealing to general consumers: high price tags and large form factors.

In 2006, Samsung released the world’s first 32GB SSD-equipped PCs, the Sens Q30PLUS Samsung Note PC and the Sens Q1 ultra-mobile PC, launching an all-new market of hard-disk-free ‘digital’ PCs. The company has held the largest share in the global SSD market ever since.

Taking the development of key SSD components in-house, including NAND flash, controllers and firmware, has been key to Samsung’s ascension to the top of the SSD market. In 2013, the company helped accelerate the popularization of SSDs by becoming the first to mass-produce 3D V-NAND, and by offering consumers high-performance, high-capacity SSDs at reasonable prices.

The Road to No. 1 ③ Popularizing consumer SSDs

An illustrative image of popilarizing consumer SSD.

Samsung turned its attention to popularizing SSDs among consumers after expanding the devices’ adoption in both the enterprise server and laptop markets. Since releasing its 470 Series consumer SATA SSDs in 2010, Samsung has made it its mission to cater to consumers’ diverse needs, considering not just price but also capacity and performance.

In 2015, Samsung introduced a technology that overcame conventional limitations in terms of speed: the PCIe-based NVMe™ interface. That same year also saw the company begin to solidify its position as the leader of the consumer SSD market by launching an all-new kind of external storage device: the Portable SSD T1.

Samsung’s flash memory journey continues

An illustrative image of Samsung’s flash memory journey continues. *Source: Samsung internal data

Going forward, Samsung will continue to strive to develop ever-more innovative technologies to solidify its status as the world’s number one flash memory brand. Fortunately, the future of the flash memory market continues to be bright. As global IT companies accelerate their investment in sectors like big data and the cloud, demand for SSDs and data centers rises, which in turn increases market demand for high-performance, high-capacity NAND flash solutions.

Applications for SSDs in devices such as game consoles have increased in recent years. So it may come as no surprise that, with dropping NAND prices making SSDs more attractive to consumers, sales of SSDs in the flash memory market are steadily on the rise.

This global trend is reflected in Samsung Electronics’ sales figures for its consumer SSDs. After reaching 280,000 units in 2011, the company’s cumulative SSD sales reached 10 million units in 2014, 85 million in 2019, and are predicted to reach 100 million units in 2020. Sales of portable SSDs (PSSDs) are rising as well. After launching in 2015, sales of Samsung PSSDs reached one million units in 2017, and 3.8 million in 2019.

Having anticipated that consumers’ evolving lifestyles would lead to increased demand for NAND flash memory, Samsung Electronics has announced plans to establish a NAND flash memory production line (Line 2) at its Pyeongtaek campus. The facility will begin mass-producing cutting-edge V-NAND products in the second half of next year. Until then, and beyond, Samsung will strive to continue leading the flash memory market with unrivaled technology and through timely investment.