5G is driving a great deal of the memory requirements in smartphones and advances in processors have been a big driver for higher bandwidth.
Smartphone memory and storage requirements continue to be driven forward by 5G networking, but it’s not the only trend putting pressure on mobile DRAM and flash.
Bigger bandwidth and faster speeds open the door for significantly large file sizes, including the adoption of 8K video. That nearly doubles the file size of video, said Itzik Gilboa, Western Digital’s head of mobile segment marketing. The company recently announced its second-generation UFS 3.1 storage solution for 5G smartphones, the iNAND MC EU551. It’s also aimed at supporting emerging applications such as gaming, augmented reality/virtual reality, and ultra-high-resolution cameras for burst mode photography. The new storage offering is the first to be built on Western Digital’s UFS 3.1 platform, which leverages faster NAND along with a faster controller and improved firmware.
Today’s smartphone is expected to ingest larger files much more quickly. Gilboa said the iNAND MC EU551 offers a 90% improvement in sequential writes compared to its predecessor. Not only does this enable smartphones to take advantage of 5G, but also the faster download speeds enabled by Wi-Fi 6. A 30% improvement in sequential reads lets applications launch faster with shorter boot-up time and enables faster upload speeds. Looking further into the future, Western Digital expects a new Wi-Fi standard beyond Wi-Fi 6 that will put even more pressure on memory and storage to handle bigger files faster.
Much like the PC, smartphones are now expected to run multiple applications simultaneously, which iNAND MC EU551 supports with a 100% improvement in random read performance and up to 40% on random writes to support mixed workload experiences, said Gilboa. In addition, screen sizes are getting larger and resolution continues to climb to accommodate smartphones that are 8K video-capable because 5G handsets are becoming increasingly common. “We are at an inflection point where 5G is taking off,” he said. “Most flagship cell phones have 5G compatibility that’s really driving the need for higher performance on our interfaces.”
There’s also an increasing number of different types of sensory devices that have been added to smartphone platforms, said Gilboa, including capacitive sensing, magnetic sensing and accelerometers to understand the phone’s surrounding environment in new ways. “Applications that can take advantage of those sensory capabilities are just coming up.” These will also drive more multitasking, he said, which will in turn drive latency requirements. The larger videos being captured on the smartphone may even get edited on the device, too, which will drive write requirements on the flash storage and will onboard artificial intelligence operations.
Gilboa said handset makers are looking at ways to distinguish their respective devices, and it’s more than just advertising high-capacity storage to users. “They want to make sure we provide a seamless way to transition data in and out of the storage device.” In some cases, he said, handset makers ask for unique features that enable them to control the data path under a variety of conditions so that path doesn’t bottleneck the performance of the phone. “We’re at a point where we’re saturating the interface capability.”
Western Digital’s iNAND uses two proprietary features — its Write Booster, a buffering technology that increases sequential writes, and its host performance booster (HPB) 2.0 that contributes sequential write improvements of 90%, doubles random reads, and increases random writes by 40%. Gilboa said these capabilities are well beyond what emerging uses require today but will be normal a year and a half from now.
iNAND only addresses the storage needs of smartphones, while Samsung’s approach is to provide both the flash storage and DRAM memory in a single UFS-based multichip package (uMCP), the latest of which integrates LPDDR5 DRAM with UFS 3.1 NAND flash to meet the needs of 5G smartphones throughout the mid- and high-end segments. The new uMCP measures 11.5mm x 13mm, allowing more space for other features with DRAM capacities ranging from 6GB to 12GB and storage options from 128GB to 512GB.
Stephen Lum, senior product marketing manager for consumer memory at Samsung Semiconductor, said fast speeds and high-capacity storage at low power are required for many 5G applications previously only available on premium flagship smartphone models as they move down to the midrange market—such as advanced photography, graphics-intensive gaming, and AR. Compared to its LPDDR4X-based UFS 2.2 predecessor, Samsung’s new uMC boasts a nearly 50% improvement in DRAM performance, from 17 gigabytes per second (GB/s) to 25GB/s, and a doubling of NAND flash performance, from 1.5GB/s to 3GB/s.
While 5G is driving a great deal of the memory requirements in smartphones, advances in processors have always been a big driver for higher bandwidth, said Lum. “You don’t want the DRAM to be the bottleneck in the system.” HDR photography where multiple exposures are captured and amalgamated is an excellent example of an application that requires a lot of memory bandwidth, he said, as is gaming due to the high-resolution graphics.
The storage side must also keep up as network speeds get faster and more content, such as movies, are pulled down from the cloud for consumption — including 8K video — or sent up to the cloud because people are able to shoot and edit entire movies on their smartphone. Lum said AR/VR applications also require the high refresh rates that LPDDR5 enables to provide a good user experience in a virtual realm, as well as the bandwidth from UFS 3.1.
The amount of memory and storage on smartphones is rivaling desktop computers and the trend will continue as the amount of content grows in both volume and file size, said Lum. A package that combines DRAM and NAND flash allows performance and capacity to keep up while accounting for limited board space in mind. “Saving that board space is an enormous benefit for the smartphone OEMs. You have more space for other components or perhaps a larger battery to improve the overall device.”
This article was originally published on EE Times.
Gary Hilson is a general contributing editor with a focus on memory and flash technologies for EE Times.