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SSDs are about to become massive, thanks to WD

Western Digital shows off the highest capacity NAND flash memory yet at an investor event, paving the way for huge drives in the future.

SSD capacity is about to explode: WD Black SN850X firework

SSD capacity is set to explode in the near future, thanks to a new tech development from Western Digital. The company, often known as WD, unveiled an industry first at a recent investor’s conference, showing off a high-capacity memory die that’s dwarfed by a human fingertip.

At the moment, Western Digital is planning to target this tech at AI and data center environments, rather than the best SSDs for gaming, but it shows that high-capacity flash memory chips are already in development, and it’s likely to be only a matter of time before we start seeing larger-capacity drives for desktop PCs as well.

WD’s senior vice president of technology and strategy for memory technology, Alper Ilkbahar, showed off the new die on the end of his finger at the company’s “New era of NAND” event, which was spotted by Tom’s Hardware. Ilkbahar described it as the “world’s highest-capacity memory die,” and it’s the industry’s first 2Tb 3D QLC (quad-level cell) NAND device.

SSDs are about to become massive, thanks to WD: 2tb memory die on fingertip

You’ll notice the small ‘b’ in the capacity there, and that’s because it refers to terabits rather than terabytes, and a 2Tb die equates to 256GB of storage capacity.

The NAND flash chips used in today’s SSDs usually contain several dies in one package. For example, our current favorite budget SSD, the 2TB WD Blue SN580, has one chip package containing 16 1Tb (128GB) dies. Bump that die capacity up to 2Tb, and the same structure would give you 4TB in a single chip.

There’s also nothing to stop WD from putting multiple chip packages on an M.2 PCB either. The Corsair M600 Pro NH can already have 8TB on one (albeit very expensive) SSD, for example, using eight chip packages, which each contain eight 1Tb dies. Apply the same principles with this new tech and we could soon be looking at 16TB SSDs.

SSDs are about to become massive, thanks to WD: World's highest capacity memory die

The big boost in capacity comes from the use of WD and Koxia’s jointly developed 8th-generation BiCS 3D NAND tech, which enables WD to stack up to 218 layers in a single die, compared with 112 layers in most NAND flash memory today. The 2Tb NAND die just shown off at the event is also based on quad-level cell (QLC) flash memory, which basically means it has four bits of data per cell, compared with three in the triple-level cell (TLC) commonly used in gaming SSDs.

The downsides of using QLC are usually slower performance and a lower endurance rating (the number of terabytes that can be written to the drive in its lifetime), but WD claims its latest tech boosts endurance by 60% compared with previous-generation QLC memory, and also improves latency and performance.

WD is promising more information on the new tech soon, so we’ll hopefully be able to glean some more details in the near future. In the meantime, if you’re looking to buy a new gaming SSD, check out our WD Black SN850X review, as this is our current favorite all-round drive.