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The Art of Storage

Evolving Storage Technology in Consumer Electronic Products

By Tom Coughlin

C onsumer electronic products revolve around digital content. Every aspect of the consumer market requires digital storage

to keep this content. Many consumers use digital storage on flash memory cards built into smartphones to cap- ture still and moving images. Flash memory is used in most smart mobile devices (e.g., tablet computers and smartphones) for video and music playout. Hard disk drives (HDDs) (in desk- top and notebook PCs) are used to store the downloaded content that can then be transferred to and played on mobile devices. They are also commonly used in set-top boxes and DVRs for storing recorded television programs. Furthermore, HDDs, usually with flash memory, are used in game consoles, home media centers, and other home network-attached storage devices. Optical discs are used in many homes for high-definition Blu-ray video as well as DVDs. The introduc- tion of 4K # 2K (4K) TVs may require multilayer optical media to provide content at a high enough resolution to take advantage of these rich display systems. Optical disc technology competes with electronic downloads through many channels, and higher- resolution content delivery is the best chance for optical storage survival.

Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MCE.2013.2242692 Date of publication: 28 March 2013

New AdvANces iN digitAl storAge techNologies

Macronix, a Taiwanese NOR flash manu- facturer, announced that the write endur- ance life for flash memory cells can be increased considerably by locally expos- ing NAND flash memory cells to a high temperature (about 800 °C) [1]. The com- pany has built heating elements close to the NAND flash cells into the flash

elements close to the NAND flash cells into the flash Macronix believes that these flash memory

Macronix believes that these flash memory cells could last for 100 million write cycles, compared with today’s multilevel cell flash memory that lasts for a few thousand cycles.

memory design. Macronix believes that these flash memory cells could last for 100 million write cycles, compared with today’s multilevel cell flash memory that lasts for a few thousand cycles. The reduction in flash cell wear may enable three-level cell (TLC) flash to be used in more consumer applications. Currently, TLC flash is used in some inexpensive USB storage devices and flash memory cards. A reduction in flash cell wear may reduce the inten- sive wear leveling common in flash memory devices today. With less wear leveling overhead, flash memory may be able to deliver better performance.

Flash memory with a higher endur- ance will enhance the performance of storage devices and may also allow higher flash memory storage capacities. Narrower feature semiconductor pro- cessing technology is a leading method for increasing flash memory storage capacity. Unfortunately, as the lithogra- phy to make flash cells decreases in dimension, the wear life of the cells will reduce. Increasing endurance by heating flash memory cells could allow flash memory with a finer lithography to have acceptable wear endurance. Longer flash memory endurance could make these storage products easier to manufacture and introduce into con- sumer electronic products. HDDs have also experienced recent improvements, particularly in terms of storage capacity. The three remaining HDD companies are ramping up pro- duction of 4-TB 3.5-in HDDs. HGST, part of Western Digital, announced that it will make helium-filled HDDs that can support a couple of more disks in the size of a conventional five-disk 3.5- in HDD package [2]. By 2013, this technology could result in about 7-TB HDDs being intro- duced for near-line storage applica- tions, which means more storage in the cloud. The introduction of heat- assisted magnetic recording, perhaps as early as 2015, could bring us more than 10-TB 3.5-in HDDs and more than 2-TB 2.5-in HDDs in just a few years’ time. In addition to higher storage capaci- ties, Seagate, Western Digital, and

APRIL 2013 ^ IEEE ConsumEr ElECtronICs magazInE


Video Format

Bandwidth (M b /s)

Storage Capacity/h (GB)

iPod (MPEG-4)












Blu-ray Disc (~2K)



Ultra-HDTV (4K # 2K, with HVEC)



Ultra-HDTV (8K # 4K, with HVEC)



Figure 1. Storage and streaming bandwidths for consumer video content.

Toshiba are shipping hybrid HDDs tar- geted for the ultrathin mobile computer market with up to 8 GB of flash memo- ry and 1 TB of hard disk storage. West- ern Digital is offering a hybrid HDD, which is as thin as 5 mm and has a 500-GB storage capacity that could fit into very thin notebook computers. In the near future, hybrid HDDs will be

available with 24–36 GB of flash memory capacity. Optical storage technology still plays an important role in content dis- tribution. Blu-ray discs are popular for high-resolution (2K) video distri- bution. Multilayer Blu-ray discs avail- able today, most of which only write once, have storage capacities of up to


Reality, 3-D


1,000 Ultra-HD Movie 100 HD Movie 10 DVD Movie CD-Quality (MPEG-2) Stereo Audio 1 0.1
HD Movie
DVD Movie
Stereo Audio
Data Rate (Mb/s)

Multimedia Object Size

Figure 2. Media content size history and projections. [Courtesy of Coughlin Associates


60 IEEE ConsumEr ElECtronICs magazInE ^ APRIL 2013

125 GB. At recent consumer electron- ics conferences, 4K (4K # 2K) dis- plays have become more common, and there is a developing market in higher-resolution content (beyond 2K) in the home.

digitAl storAge ANd New coNsumer Products

Although compressed versions of higher-resolution content may be possible through cable and satellite distribution systems using standards such as high-efficiency video coding (H.265, sometimes known as HVEC), high-resolution content in a true 4K format [particularly three-dimen- sional (3-D) 4K content] will probably require physical content distribution, likely through optical discs. Figure 1 shows the typical streaming band- width and storage capacity require- ments for video content of various resolutions. Aside from using multiple-layer optical discs, higher storage capacity in optical recording requires a shorter wavelength. Moving from blue laser technology to ultraviolet lasers could increase the storage capacity of optical distribution media to more than 100 GB. The introduction of holo- graphic storage (yes, there are compa- nies still pursuing this technology) may offer storage capacities that approach, and possibly exceed, 1 TB in normal optical disc formats. Larger distribution media could enable 4K, and even 8K, content and ultimately, multicamera content that may create experiences similar to Star Trek’s famous “holodeck.” Figure 2 shows the possible require- ments for storage capacity and network bandwidth for various content resolu- tions, including virtual reality (the holodeck). The proliferation of smart mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers, has increased the use and interest in cloud-based services and applications. This has caused a signifi- cant growth in digital storage in data centers that provide these online services. The digital content within these data centers is stored in tiers,

HDDFlash Memory Storage Manager Host Interface

Flash Memory
Storage Manager
Storage Manager

Storage Manager

Storage Manager
Storage Manager
Storage Manager
Storage Manager
Storage Manager
Storage Manager
Storage Manager
Storage Manager
Storage Manager
Storage Manager
Storage Manager
Storage Manager
HDD Flash Memory Storage Manager Host Interface



HDD Flash Memory Storage Manager Host Interface
HDD Flash Memory Storage Manager Host Interface

Figure 3. Control of data placement on an HDD and flash memory device in a hybrid or dual-storage environment.

which may use HDDs and magnetic tape storage and increasingly employ dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) and solid-state NAND flash memory for content caching and deliv- ery acceleration. As connected mobile devices flour- ish and online connectivity becomes more common, cloud storage require- ments will increase. As a result, there will be an increase in the demand for digital storage in data centers that pro- vides online consumer services and online digital storage for content shar- ing and data protection. Connected consumer products depend heavily upon access to signifi- cant storage and other hardware as well as management software in large Internet-accessible data centers. These online storage systems must meet a number of requirements. Namely, they must be able to acquire and store large amounts of commercial and user- generated content, particularly to sup- port on-video streaming and video downloads at increasing resolution. Large content libraries will include the largest-capacity HDDs. These are currently as large as 4 TB, but hermeti- cally sealed HDDs containing helium gas would allow for more disks in a standard 3.5-in serial ATA (SATA) drive-housing system. These products are slated to be released in 2013, and they will allow for up to 7 TB of stor- age capacity on a single HDD. Such large HDDs make it possible for a con- tent library comprised of SATA HDDs to increase its total storage capacity

62 IEEE ConsumEr ElECtronICs magazInE ^ APRIL 2013

by over 40%, compared with today’s 3.5-in SATA HDDs. At the same time, magnetic linear tape-open (LTO) storage capacities

time, magnetic linear tape-open (LTO) storage capacities This decrease in flash memory cell line width could

This decrease in flash memory cell line width could allow tablets and smartphones to have storage capacities of up to 128 GB using the same number of 19-nm flash memory chips as older and larger line width flash memory chips used in 2012.

(used for the backup and archiving of digital content) have increased to 2.5 TB with the introduction of LTO 6 [3]. This magnetic disk-tape format also supports a magnetic linear tape file system, which makes the magnetic tape look like an HDD when inserted into the tape drive. Such archive and backup systems are com- mon in a robotic tape library that sits behind an HDD-based content library storage system. It is likely that flash memory will be increasingly used for caching content in physical delivery systems on con- sumer-accessible cloud services. This will take many forms, and the increas- ing use of high-speed flash memory in

data centers and computer systems in general is driving the development of fast storage interfaces, many of which are based on the Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) bus. These new PCIe-based interfaces include the NVM Express, SCSI Express, SATA Express, and Thunderbolt interface. Some consumer PCs include a Thun- derbolt interface for data transfers of up to 10 Gb/s. Individual mobile consumer devices could sport quite a bit more storage capacity in short order as 19-nm line width flash memory finds its way into embedded and card-based storage devic- es. This decrease in flash memory cell line width could allow tablets and smart- phones to have storage capacities of up to 128 GB using the same number of 19-nm flash memory chips as older and larger line width flash memory chips used in 2012. A greater capacity on mobile devices allows for more local content storage to support either more video or higher-resolution video. It also allows for capturing more content at a higher resolution when using the camer- as on a mobile device. Dual-storage configurations using solid-state drives (SSDs) and HDDs are becoming common in computers. Apple introduced its own version of this, the Fusion Drive, which tiers stor- age for a desktop Mac computer on flash memory or an HDD, depending upon the frequency of use, but the com- puter appears as a single-storage device to the user [4]. By combining HDD storage capacity with the higher performance of flash memory, we can achieve a total system performance akin to flash memory and storage costs close to those of regular HDDs. Ultrathin notebook computers will probably become more popular with the increase in products offering hybrid HDDs that contain flash memory in addition to less-expensive HDD storage. Seagate, Western Digital, and Toshiba are all now offering hybrid HDDs. Western Digital has even announced that in 2013, they will ship a 500-GB HDD notebook that is only 5 mm thick. Dual-storage configurations that include separate SSDs and HDDs

are also appearing in notebook and desktop computers. Apple’s Fusion Drive is an example of this dual-storage technology. By combining flash memo- ry with HDD storage capacity, costs typical for HDDs can be achieved while also reaching data rate performances similar to those of pure SSDs. Figure 3 shows how data may be allocated between HDD and flash memory storage using an intelligent storage controller [5]. With the market growth of 4K # 2K TVs, a new generation of physical content distribution systems may also be needed, perhaps resulting in an optical disc physical distribution format with storage capacities of over 100 GB. New data compression methods, such as HVEC, could make it easier to store 4K content on these discs, as well as move this content through a very fast Internet network, in the not too distant future.

summAry ANd coNclusioNs

Richer consumer content and the rise of smart mobile devices have led to increased storage capacities and perfor- mance through the use of many different storage technologies. In large Internet- accessible data centers that support cloud applications, large HDD libraries, and even tape libraries, may stand behind flash-based data acceleration layers for faster content transport. The growth in the amount and rich- ness of commercial, as well as user- generated, content will cause the size of online consumer storage in data cen- ters to swell. This will create a demand for larger storage devices, which may include HDDS of up to 7 TB and LTO magnetic tapes of up to 2.5 TB, in content libraries, as well as better data backup and archive capabilities. Optical discs could also benefit from the possible introduction of physical content delivery for 4K × 2K content for the next generation of TV displays. Even the promise of holographic discs remains alive as new funding has emerged for descendants of the holo- graphic pioneer, InPhase. Mobile devices will make use of these cloud services, including storage

services, but their own storage capaci- ties will also increase with the improvement of storage capacity in flash memory chips. Tablet computers using 128-GB flash memory have appeared in 2013. In addition, hybrid HDD or dual-storage ultrathin note- book computers will probably become a significant part of the total notebook market by the end of 2013. If new developments in flash memo- ry can extend write endurance life, thus decreasing the overhead and complexity of flash memory controllers, a flash cell lithography smaller than 19 nm may be reached. At the same time, the intro- duction of heat-assisted magnetic recording by 2015 may give us HDDs with storage capacities well in excess of 10 TB. In 2013, the storage capacity of helium-filled HDDs for use in near- line data centers could be as high as 7 TB. Clearly, richer video content requires greater storage capacities as well as higher storage device data rates. All of the major storage technologies are rising to meet this challenge. In addition, data center storage systems and management software are making social networking, video streaming, cloud backup, and other popular storage-based cloud con- sumer services a possibility. Digital stor- age is a key technology for consumer electronics in 2013 and will become of even greater importance in the foresee- able future.


[1] Y.-T. Chiu, “Forever flash,” IEEE Spectr., vol. 49, no. 12, pp. 11–12, Dec. 2012. [2] E. Hartin, “HGST announces radically new, helium-filled hard disk drive platform,” HGST, San Jose, CA, Press Release, Sept. 2012. [3] A. Barile, “LTO technology moving into ‘starring’ role for a broad range of applications as the LTO program finalizes generation 6 specifications,” LTO Consort., Marina Del Rey, CA, Press Release, Aug. 2012. [4] J. S. Domingo. (2012, Dec. 1). 5 things to know about the Apple Fusion Drive. PC Mag. [Online]. Available: http://www.pcmag.com/


[5] J. Handy and T. Coughlin, “HDDs and flash memory: A marriage of convenience,” Coughlin Associates, Atascadero, CA, Anal. Rep., 2011.

Coughlin Associates, Atascadero, CA, Anal. Rep., 2011. Delivered via the IEEE LMS IEEE eLearning Library The
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