In this fast-paced world of modern technology, people have become so accustomed to a fast real-time response from their respective phones, Internet speed, and every other element of this new digital life that they expect them as quickly as one can act in the analog world. And if by any slightest of chance, the response gets a bit late or slower in comparison to one’s expectation, it is automatically assumed that the device might have broken.
To satisfy people’s expectations, technology industry has always been upfront working and researching on new technologies that can increase the pace of functioning of any device. This has led to the introduction of NOR Flash technology that has changed the outlook of microcontrollers (MCUs) massively with their unique features and small size.
But before discussing the reach of NOR Flash technology further, let’s take a quick look at some basic information about this technology.
Some Common Terms:
Flash Storage or Flash Memory: Flash memory is a type of non-volatile memory used to erase data in units called blocks and then rewriting that data at the byte level. Flash memory is most commonly used for storage and data transfer in consumer devices, industrial applications, etc.
NAND Flash: NAND Flash can be defined as a type of flash memory with non-volatile storage technology that does not need the power to retain data. The most common example for this would be a mobile phone since NAND Flash (or the memory chip) is the place where data files are stored like photos, videos, and music on a microSD card.
NOR Flash: NOR flash is another type of non-volatile flash memory that is most commonly used in applications where individual bytes of data need to be written and read. It is mostly used in random access and execute-in-place access techniques. Since each read access takes the same amount of time, sequential read access is no faster than random access.
Memory Architecture: Memory architecture is best described as the method used to implement electronic computer data storage such that it is a combination of the fastest, most reliable, most durable, and cost-effective to store and retrieve data.
Common Types of NOR Flash
Since we are discussing in detail about the NOR flash technology, we will take a look towards its most common types present. So dissecting the NOR flash memory further, we have two types in the market that are as follows:
Serial NOR Flash: Like the name suggests, serial NOR flash has an architecture of serial connections type. And the main thing differentiating serial NOR from parallel NOR is that serial flash devices normally require fewer connections to the circuit board, unlike parallel flash devices.
Parallel NOR Flash: Similar to its name, Parallel NOR flash has a memory architecture of parallel type and requires more connections to the circuit due to its architectural design.
NOR Flash Market Scenario
The market of NOR Flash has picked up its pace in the last few years due to its various demanding characteristics that have made it a hot topic in the embedded technology industry.
With its unique features like low read latency and shorter initial access times than NAND Flash, NOR flash has become an integral part of today’s embedded systems industry. But is it all there is to NOR Flash or some other factors are also required while selecting a flash memory?
Embedded system designers must always take into account many considerations while selecting a Flash memory like which type of Flash architecture to use, whether to select a serial interface or a parallel interface, does the device needs an error correction code (ECC), and so on.
With its inception in the early ‘80s, NOR flash was not the choice of designers at first but its usage began to plateau due to its one distinct feature that works in critical instant-on applications, a feature called execute-in-place, or XIP.
XIP technology can be used by the processors to execute code directly from the native memory device rather than copying it to RAM first, as is the case with NAND flash.
Also, the types of NOR Flash present in the market became a topic of debate with their different advantages over each other. Serial NOR technology comes with the feature of reduced pin counts that would reduce design complexity, a smaller overall package size, and lower cost.
On the other hand, Parallel NOR flash has the feature of bringing higher XIP performance and package times. And because of this, designers would face a hard time selecting the type of NOR flash but recent advances in NOR memory are looking to change that.
When Micron Technology launched its XTRMFlash memory solution, a Serial NOR flash product utilizing a dual-mode synchronous bus running at 200 MHz for improved memory bandwidth, it opened a new door for NOR flash. Due to this technology, NOR Flash now possess the capability to meet automotive temperature and reliability requirements that includes security provisions to help safeguard modern connected vehicles.
And with this, any NOR memory vendors are seeing the biggest growth coming from embedded applications in new markets like automotive, industrial, and IoT.
Importance of NOR Flash in 2021
Though the pandemic times harmed the global NOR flash memory market, the temporary decline in the market is predicted to recover starting from in the upcoming years depending on the gradual lifting up of lockdowns, which has eased to some extent, will help ease the operations and the supply chain.
And though the industry has a bright future ahead as it is stepping into the fast-booming market of LCD, the sector is forecasted to resume in full strength once the pandemic is over.