If you thought Toshiba might simply hand over all solid state drive chores to its recently acquired OCZ Storage Solutions subsidiary, think again. Toshiba will continue to build its own brand SSDs alongside OCZ and today announced its new HG6 series. It's the newest edition to the HG family and is intended for a wide range of applications, everything from ultrabooks and ultrathins to data center servers.
Have you noticed how cheap NAND-powered memory devices have gotten? Flash drives and SSDs aren't quite a dime a dozen these days, but they're significantly cheaper than they have been in the past. While you and I may appreciate the decline in costs, low pricing is putting the pinch on NAND manufacturers, and Toshiba is cutting its NAND production by about 30 percent to compensate. (And drive up prices, of course.)
Seagate's getting into the SSD business, and it's doing so by converting coal into diamonds. Yesterday, Seagate inked a deal with DensBits, which has an SSD controller that it says can dramatically improve the speed and longevity of NAND flash memory -- basically making fairly low-quality SSDs into average-quality SSDs. Seagate bought an undisclosed stake in DensBits and together, they hope to bring "low-cost, high-performance" SSDs to both consumers and corporate buyers.
Technology giants Intel and Micron hammered out revised agreements to expand their NAND Flash memory joint venture relationship, the two companies announced this week. As part of the agreements, Micron will buy back Intel's stake in two wafer fabrication plants for $600 million, half of which will be paid in cash and the rest deposited with Micron to be refunded or applied to Intel's future purchases.
Like Jennifer's Lopez's marriage, DRAM manufacturers are going through a bit of a rough patch. DRAM insiders were popping Cristal when the industry saw a 77 percent surge in revenues between 2009 and 2010, but thanks to a dramatic death-spiral in DRAM prices, those same executives could soon be snuggling up to Wall Street bankers and MD 20/20 in the gutter. Today, a report surfaced that indicates that things could get worse before they get better for DRAM manufacturers; some experts theorize that PC owners may shift away from DRAM into the open arms of NAND flash memory.
Market research firm iSuppli expects declining NAND flash memory prices to fall to $1 per gigabyte at the end of 2010. This is significant as the $1 per gigabyte level is deemed critical to the success of SSDs. Interestingly, the last time the price was below the $1 threshold the year on the Gregorian calendar was 2008; MLC pricing averaged 90 cents per gigabyte in the fourth quarter of 2008.
iSuppli anticipates 3-bit per cell (TLC) NAND flash memory to average $1.20 per gigabyte during the fourth quarter of 2010 before ending the year at around $1.00. The research firm feels this would be a “precipitous drop from the first quarter of 2010, when pricing for TLC averaged $1.80 per gigabyte and 2-bit per cell (MLC) flash was at $2.05.”
Even though plummeting prices are expected to breathe new life into the SSD market, NAND flash memory prices will have to decline even further for SSD adoption to reach critical mass. According to Michael Yang, senior analyst for memory and storage at iSuppli, NAND flash memory prices will have to plummet to 40 cents by 2012 to pose a threat to HDDs.
“With NAND pricing having returned to per-gigabyte pricing levels not seen in two years, there’s likely to be a lot of new buzz created for the solid state storage market at the end of 2010,” Yang said. “However, traditional HDDs gained a lot of additional ground during the past few years in terms of rising capacity and falling prices. In fact, HDDs have gained so much ground that SSDs now are in danger of never regaining their competitive footing.”
Every time a new smartphone comes out, the guys at iSuppli get their paws on it and open it up. They rummage around inside and identify all the components to give us an extimate of just how much the parts are worth. This inevitably depresses anyone that spent money on the device in question. In their recent iPhone 4 teardown, iSuppli was able to deduce the new Apple phone is composed of $187.51 worth of hardware.
The most expensive element of the phone is the so-called "Retina Display", which clocks in at $28.50 from manufacturer LG. The NAND flash memory cost nearly as much at $27 for 16GB. The Apple A4 CPU also added noticeably to the cost at $10.75 from maker Samsung. These rundowns of cost obviously do not include R&D costs, or labor. Although, we hear Foxconn works cheap.
This parts list is par for the course. The iPhone 3GS was found to be worth $179 when it came out. Google's Nexus One had hardware costing $174.15 at launch. The 16GB iPhone 4 that was checked out goes for $199 on contract or $599 unsubsidized. This seeming disparity is probably just a fact of mobile life we'll have to live with.
In recent days, several SSD manufacturers have made it known that they wanted nothing to do with Samsung’s new 32nm NAND Flash chips. Now Samsung is coming clean and admitting to the issues. The new chips suffer from unacceptably slow write speeds, and are therefore not suitable for use in SSDs. It seems the problem lies mainly with the chips interaction with existing flash controllers.
According to Samsung, "… for quality SSDs, every NAND process geometry upgrade requires a matching upgraded controller. Should (Samsung's) 30nm-class NAND be used with a conventional controller of insufficient quality, performance slowdowns are indeed possible."
NAND flash memory uses floating-gate transistors to create arrays of memory cells. As these arrays scale to smaller and smaller sizes, errors will accumulate faster. Error Correcting Code (ECC) on the controller is used to correct these issues. If an insufficiently powerful controller is used, the memory may become corrupted. Samsung is currently working on its own flash controller to pair with the 32nm NAND chips. In the meantime, don’t expect SSD price drops for at least several months.
Consumer electronics giant Samsung also happens to be the world’s premier NAND Flash memory manufacturer. It now aims to further strengthen its position by acquiring flash memory maker SanDisk, if reports in the Korean media are to be trusted. The rationale behind such a move is that an acquisition will not only bolster Samsung’s current flash memory production capacity but also save the company about $350 million annually – the amount Samsung pays SanDisk in royalties. SanDisk has been navigating through some rough financial weather lately, but still is coveted by couple of big companies. Of course, rumors of Seagate making a bid for the company have also been around. A possible acquisition would handover a considerable advantage to Seagate in the SSD market. SanDisk certainly seems to have a few takers.