SanDisk and Toshiba are starting pilot production of 48-layer 3D Nand chips set to offer 256Gbit of capacity.
The move comes as the solid state storage market is hotting up as competing technologies vie to be the fastest, most cost-effective or offer the highest storage density.
The two firms announced in March that they were working together on 3D Nand flash memory that would stack up to 48 layers of memory cells onto a chip to enable capacities up to 256Gbits. Currently available chips go only up to 128Gbits.
SanDisk and Toshiba refer to the 3D Nand technology as Bit-Cost Scalable (BiCS) Nand, and Toshiba said it is now preparing for mass production at a new fabrication plant at Yokkaichi in Japan.
Sample shipments will start in September, and SanDisk said it expects to begin shipping products based on the chips sometime in 2016.
The chips are expected to find their way into the usual products, including consumer and enterprise solid state drives (SSDs), smartphones, tablets and memory cards.
"This is the world's first 256Gbit X3 (triple level cell) chip, developed using our industry-leading 48-layer BiCS technology and demonstrating SanDisk's continued leadership in X3 technology. We will use this chip to deliver compelling storage solutions for our customers," said SanDisk executive vice president for memory technology Dr Siva Sivaram.
BiCS Nand uses a charge trap technique to store each bit of data, which is also used by Samsung, the first firm to bring 3D Nand flash chips to market. However, Intel and Micron have opted for a variation on the standard floating gate transistor technology for their next-generation 3D Nand chips announced in March.
The latest SanDisk and Toshiba chips are the world's first 256Gbit 48-layer BiCS devices and also employ triple-level cell (TLC) technology, whereby each memory cell can hold three bits of data.
However, Intel and Micron have said that their 3D Nand technology can store 256Gbit with two bits per cell, and there are plans to extend to TLC offering 384Gbits.
Also complicating the picture is the new 3D XPoint technology from Intel and Micron. Announced in July, this offers non-volatile storage of data and is claimed to be 1,000 times faster than Nand flash, but is not expected to offer the same density, at least initially.
The first 128Gbit devices are in production now, and due to appear in shipping products in 2016.
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