Most smartphones can store 128 gigabytes, and this solid-state drive can store one terabyte of data, and it all happens inside this microchip, right here. 

If this one terabyte solid-state drive were full of movies and TV shows, it would take about three weeks of non-stop binging to watch them all.  

So how can this incredibly small microchip fit such an insane amount of content?


To understand that, we gotta zoom in to a nanoscopic view of its insides. Here we can see an individual memory cell called charge trap flash. This memory cell stores 3 bits of information by trapping different levels of electrons on a charge trap.

Very few extra electrons are a 1-1-1, while many electrons are a 0-0-0, and the other groups of trapped electrons have other 3-bit designations. Measuring this value doesn’t change the number of electrons, and once electrons are placed on the charge trap, they stay trapped there for years.

However, when the memory cell is erased, the electrons are forcibly removed. To reach a terabyte of storage capacity in a single chip, this memory cell is copied, and it is copied a lot.

First, these memory cells are stacked 100 layers tall, and then these stacks of cells are copied 40,000 columns across, which is then copied 50,000 rows down. You may form of consider it as a 3D excel spreadsheet where the values can only be 0 to 7, and this spreadsheet has 40,000 columns by 50,000 rows, and then there are 100 different spreadsheets stacked in layers one on top of another.

To isolate and determine which row and layer to write to or read from, control gate selectors are used along with layers, and bit line selectors are used along the rows. We’reWe’re going to zoom out to the view that we had earlier to see the overall microchip. 

          Here’s the 3D array of charge trap flash cells and control gates that we were just lo at. This is a massive layout of memory cells, but engineers didn’t stop there. To fit more capacity, they copied this layout onto the other side and then copied it eight times again, and crammed it into a single microchip. And that that’s it – 3 weeks of non-stop binging movies and TV squeezed into a microchip the size of a dime. 

Read our follow up article to get a complete and in-depth understanding of how everything.      

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