Flash Memory Summit, August 2016 – Flash memory is the enabling technology for most of the mobile devices today.  It allows for very high capacities of storage for things like music, voice, photos and videos to be stored for long periods of time, without needing power to store the information when it is not being used.

Eli Harari, who holds over 100 patents and has widespread recognition (including IEEE Reynold B. Johnson Data Storage device Technology Award in 2006 and IEEE Robert N. Noyce Medal in 2009), described flash memory as descriptive technology in that time. This descriptive technology enabled consumer applications such as cellphones, digital cameras, music players etc. that we enjoy today and they shape our lives. Here is a timeline of history of flash memory development.

The beginning of successful story of flash memory started at Bell Laboratories. In 1967 Kahng and Sze invented the floating gate memory device which allows a transistor to remember a digital value of 0 or 1, without power, until it is ready to be checked. Few years later Eli Harari of Hughes Electronics filed for first practical floating gate EEPROM (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) using thin SiO2 and using the electron characteristic of Fowler Nordheim tunneling for program and erase.

In 1978 Hughes Electronics introduced first CMOS NOVRAM 256-bit chip (non-volatile SRAM) and two years later the 1980, first CMOS EEPROM 8Kbit chip was released.  Both of these chips used Fowler Nordheim floating gate EEPROM technology. In 1980 Intel introduced the Intel2816, a 16K bit HMOS EEPROM with Fowler Nordheim tunneling and 3 years later the Intel2817A 16K bit EEPROM. While these chips were in the marketplace, the first paper describing flash EEPROM was presented by Fujio Masuoka of Toshiba at IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) in San Francisco in 1984, the year after Exel filed patent for the first NOR organized flash memory cell. In 1986 Intel introduced the flash card concept with ECC and on-card controller and the company formed unit focusing on solid state drives.

The flash memory industry financial success started grown rapidly at the end of the 1980s ($1.6M in 1987; $6.4M in 1988; $25M in 1989) followed by many inventions and patents.

1987 – Fujio Masuoka of Toshiba presented first NAND-type flash memory technology at IEDM. Intel invented first Flash File System concept and introduced NOR flash chips.

1988 – Early EEPROM inventor/investigator Elli Harari along with Sanjay Mehrotra and Jack Yuan founded SunDisk (later the name was changed to SanDisk) in 1988 to develop new “system Flash” architecture combining embedded controller, firmware and flash memory to emulate disk storage. The company filed the first two MLC (Multi-level-cell) flash patents. JPEG and MPEG standards allowed economical production of digital cameras and first flash-based digital camera, Fuji DS-1P was demonstrated. Intel sampled 1Mb NOR flash. Intel and Psion designed flash-based mobile PC.

1989 – SunDisk filed System Flash patent. M-Systems was founded and shorty after introduced the Flash Disk concept, that was precursor to flash SSDs. The same year Intel shipped 512K and 1Mb NOR flash. Psion introduced flash-based PC. Microsoft joined effort with Intel and introduced its Flash File System. Western Digital and SunDisk launched a NOR-based Flash SSD fully emulating a traditional rotating ATA HDD.

At Comdex (Computer Dealers’ Exhibition), the largest computer trade show in the world (precursor of today’s CES) that was held in Las Vegas, DiGiPro introduced 8Mb NOR Flashdisk. The flash industry reached 100 million parts shipped and made many introductions such as EReader by Sony, camera prototypes by Kodak, 1MB and 4MB linear flash PCMCIA card and 2Mb NOR chip by Intel, first NOR flash SSD: 20MB 2.5”, fully compatible with Conner Peripherals 2.5” ATA HDD. This year also PCMCIA set standard on ATA PC card form factor and pinout, using SunDisk “System Flash” specification for full HDD compatibility.

At the beginning of 1990 flash memory industry expanding amazingly fast like never before and the revenue grown from $170 million in 1991, $295 million in 1992, $505 million in 1993, $864 million in 1994 and reached over $1.8 billion in 1995.

1991 – Toshiba developed world’s first 4 Mb NAND flash. Kodak shipped DCS-100, its first DSC at $13,000. Zenith Poqet and HP showed palm-sized notebook computers using flash memory cards at Spring Comdex.

1992 – Information Storage Devices introduced flash based voice recorder chip. AMD and Fujitsu released its first NOR product. M-Systems demonstrated TrueFFS that was adopted later by the PCMCIA as FTL. That was a year when Intel launched few products including: second generation FFS2, 8Mb flash chip, 4MB-20MB linear flash memory cards and   1Mb “boot bloc” NOR flash with sectors for BIOS applications – first use of internal write state machine to manage flash write algorithm. SunDisk introduced first serial 9Mb NOR Flash chip for SSD applications. Starting 1992 PCs began using flash for BIOS storage.

1993 – Datalight introduced “Card Trick” flash management software. Apple initiated the use of NOR flash in their Newton PDA. Intel inaugurated 16Mb and 32Mb NOR flash. Intel and Conner jointly developed 5MB/10MB ATA flash disk drive. AMD introduced 5-volt-only NOR using negative gate erase.

1994 – SunDisk presented CompactFlash card and 18Mb serial NOR Flash chip for SSD applications. Norris Communications introduced Flashback, the first portable digital voice recorder with flash memory.

1995 – Casio launched the QV-11 digital camera with flash rather than film or floppy. Mitsubishi introduced DiNOR. M-Systems initiated flash-based Solid State Drives and NOR-based DiskOnChip. SunDisk that changed the name to SanDisk introduced 34Mb Serial NOR Flash, first MLC flash chip for SSD applications.

In 1996 flash memory revenues reached $2.6 billion and noted 163% growth in 10 years.

1996 – Toshiba introduced SmartMedia Memory Card also called Solid State Floppy Disk Card. Samsung started shipping NAND flash. Kodak DC-25 was first DSC with CompactFlash card. Datalight launched “FlashFX” flash management software supporting NOR and NAND in the single driver. SanDisk initiated first flash cards with MLC serial NOR. Palm introduced flash-memory-based PDA.

1997 – First cell phones were shipped with flash memory. SaeHan Information Systems presented flash-based MPMan MP3 player. SanDisk and Siemens introduced the MultiMedia Card (MMC and MMCplus). Sony demonstrated the Memory Stick. M-Systems launched NAND based DiskOnChip/200 mm wafers began production/500 million flash chips were shipped. Intel introduced 2-bit/cell 64 Mb MLC StrataFlash.

1998 – NOR revenue exceeded $2 billion. 250nm process was announced. SaeHan Information Systems and licensee Eiger shipped world’s first mass-produced MP3 player (MPMan) with 32MB. Diamond Rio demonstrated its PMP300 MP3 player. Panasonic, SanDisk and Toshiba launed SD card.

1999 – NOR revenue exceeded $4 billion. Toshiba and SanDisk created flash memory manufacturing joint venture. Micron announced NOR products/over 1 billion flash chips were shipped. Dov Moran of M-Systems applied for patent on a USB-based flash drive.

2000 – Flash (NOR and NAND) revenue exceeded $10 billion. M-Systems (working with IBM) and Trek Technology introduced USB flash drives. Intel shipped its one billion flash unit/160nm process was announced.

2001 – NAND revenue exceeded $1 billion. Toshiba and SanDisk announced 1Gb MLC NAND. SanDisk by itself introduced first NAND System Flash product. Hitachi launched AG-AND. Samsung began mass production of 512Mb flash memory device.

2002 – Olympus in the cooperation with FujiFilm presented xD-Picture Card. MMCmobile card was introduce by MultiMediaCard Association (MMCA). Sony and SanDisk jointly launched the Memory Stick PRO and half-size Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. AMD introduced MirrorBit charge trap flash. 130nm process was announced.

2003 – NAND revenue exceeded $5 billion. SanDisk introduced mnSD card. Sony in cooperation with SanDisk launched the Memory Stick PRO Micro. Spansion was created out of AMD and Fujitsu.

2004 – NAND prices drop below DRAM prices for the first time at the same density. SanDisk and M-Systems introduced U3 software system for USB flash drives. SanDisk and Motorola launched the TransFlash card, now known as microSD card. Datalight initiated multi-threaded “FlashFX Pro” management software to support multimedia NAND devices. Spansion introduced MirrorBit Quad 4-bit NOR. The 90nm process node was announced for flash memory production. Hynix and ST Micro formed joint venture and Hynix NAND product was introduced. Infineon NAND product based on Saifun Charge Trap Flash was announced. Panasonic and Sanyo launched the first flash-based camcorders. SanDisk inaugurated Flash Sansa MP3 players.

In 2005 Apple introduced its first two flash-based iPods, the iPod shuffle and the iPod nano. The process of consumerization of flash memory started.

Information from Flash Memory Summit. Flash revenue numbers provided by Objective Analysis.