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eMMC Holds Its Own Against UFS

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The embedded MultiMediaCard (eMMC) standard is no longer being updated. But that’s not keeping some vendors from innovating around the NAND flash storage device for use cases where it’s still the best option.

While Universal Flash Storage (UFS) was trumpeted as widely replacing eMMC when it debuted, it’s overkill for some applications. In an interview with EE Times, Eric Spanneut, vice president of flash global product management for Western Digital’s flash business unit, said eMMC works best for mid–range mobile devices and thin–and–light entry–level compute devices, as well as wide range of emerging applications. “eMMC is here to stay for a very long time,” he said.

With little fanfare, the company recently introduced its iNAND EM141 Embedded Flash Device, designed for applications that require high performance, reliable data storage, a small form factor, and efficient power consumption.

Western Digital’s new eMMC iNAND EM141.  (Source: Western Digital)

Among the design features are enhanced endurance, advanced usage diagnostics with better failure analysis, and Encrypted Field Firmware Upgrade. The new eMMC device employs Western Digital’s 96–layer 3D NAND technology and fourth–generation SmartSLC architecture. The 96–layer 3D NAND is available in capacities ranging from 32GB to 256GB.

There are four distinct market segments where eMMC has traction, said Spanneut, including the Chromebook market. “At capacities of 32 and 64 gigabytes, eMMC is still a very popular interface in that space.”

Similarly, smartphones and tablets are still popular destinations for eMMC, especially 4G phones, although the higher–end devices will opt for UFS. “You could not have a high–end smartphone with eMMC,” he said. “The performance would not be good enough.”

eMMC continues to be widely used in automotive applications such as telematics, infotainment, and advanced driver assistance systems, and will continue to be for some time. “In the automotive space, we’re going to see a mix over time between eMMC, UFS, and SSDs. It will depend on the type of application,” Spanneut said. “You need to provide products with a lot of longevity. It takes time for the automotive space to move from one technology to another. eMMC is proven.”

The fourth market segment for eMMC is somewhat nebulous – the internet of things (IoT). Spanneut said IoT–connected devices encompass smart speakers and TV, set top boxes, point–of–sale devices, drones, and a wide range of wearables. “The IoT space is extremely fragmented and diverse, and a lot of the IoT sub-verticals will continue to use eMMC for a long time.”

The technology’s longevity even with newer alternatives available can be credited to its extremely proven and mature interface, he said, which haven’t been updated in the last five years. In the embedded space, eMMC can best address the lower capacity applications with a lower power profile compared with UFS.

Although there’s been no updates to the standard in some time, Spanneut said, there’s still opportunities for Western Digital to innovate around eMMC. “We have introduced a few advanced features for eMMC based on the market requirements.” Among them are smart partitioning that segments the device into two areas, one of which is optimized for reliability.

He said Western Digital’s portfolio of eMMC is customized for the four key verticals and the company is committed to refreshing its portfolio regularly. “We think eMMC will have a long life.”

— Gary Hilson is a general contributing editor with a focus on memory and flash technologies for EE Times.

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