Storage

iPad to lead 400 percent surge in NAND flash use

Apple’s iPad is leading an almost five-fold surge in NAND flash memory use this year as consumers gobble up tablets in increasing numbers, according to a report released Friday by HIS iSuppli.

The consumption of NAND flash memory chips, which are used to build solid-state drives (SSDs) used in mobile devices, is expected to soar to 2.3 billion gigabytes (2.3 exabytes) this year, up a 382.4 percent from 476.8 million gigabytes (or 476.8 petabytes) in 2010.

According to iSuppli, shipments of NAND for tablets shows no sign of slowing down, eventually hitting 12.3 exabytes of capacity shipped by 2014.

When measured against the total supply of NAND flash, memory in tablets will represent 11.8 percent of the supply this year, up from a 4.3 percent in 2010. By 2014, tablet memory will represent 16 percent of all NAND flash.

Ultimately, the NAND landscape appears to favor entertainment-focused tablets, like the iPad, over computing-oriented models that will soon be released using a Windows/Intel platform, iSuppli indicated. The high-density requirements for the latter category of tablets will mean higher prices for the devices, which could deter buyers.

Conversely, tablet makers will be pressured to keep prices down, which could serve to limit the amount of flash memory in each unit.

“The bump in NAND consumption among tablets is likely to come from devices such as Apple Inc.’s iPad as well as a raft of tablet devices powered by the rival Android operating system expected to hit the market this year,” said Dee Nguyen, analyst for memory and storage at HIS iSuppli. “Together, the iPad and Android-based tablets form one strand of the tablet experience offered by manufacturers—one centering on Internet-based media consumption. For such tablets, internal storage capacity is less an issue because the devices are intended to provide entertainment, not a full PC computing experience.”

According to iSuppli, average flash memory densities will range from 27.1GB for non-iPad slates to 41.5GB in the iPad. Currently, NAND flash costs about $1.20 per gigabyte.

While still an order of magnitude more expensive than hard disk drives, solid-state storage is taking over the market in mobile devices, from smart phones to ultra-portable laptops, because of its greater performance and durability.

Soon there will be a second surge in tablet sales led by new products based on Windows/Intel platform. Those tablets will be sold by the likes of Lenovo, Samsung and Hewlett-Packard and will have solid-state storage with capacities ranging from 32GB to 64GB, Nguyen said.

The expected high volume of iPad and Android tablet sales will end up contributing significantly to NAND consumption by 2012, HIS iSuppli said.

[Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld.]

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