Most of the talk surrounding solid state storage tends to revolve around the performance numbers, or lack thereof. Sluggish write speeds have hampered the hype on all but a select few models, and while more attention is being paid to the performance numbers, speed isn't the only thing increasing; SSDs are getting bigger.
Toshiba said it will have on display a 512GB solid state drive next month at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), with shipments expected in the second quarter of 2009. At 512GB, Toshiba's SSD would rival mobile hard disk drives and qualify as one of the largest capacity SSDs for use in notebooks.
Alongside the 2.5-inch 512GB SSD, Toshiba also plans to release 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB models in both 1.8 an 2.5.-inch drive enclosures or as SSD flash modules. The new drives will be part of Toshiba's upcoming lineup of "fast read/write SSDs" built on a 43nm manufacturing process using multi-level cell (MLC) technology.
"The solid state drive market is evolving rapidly, with higher performance drives to meet market requirements, and differentiated product families targeted for appropriate applications,” said Mr. Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Vice President of Toshiba Corporation's Semiconductor Company. "This new 43nm SSD family balances value/performance characteristics for its targeted consumer applications, through use of MLC NAND and an advanced controller architecture."
Performance for the new drives look promising, with rated read and write speeds up to 250MB/s and 200MB/s respectively.
This past year we've seen a major push by several manufacturers to move solid state drives (SSDs) into the mainstream market, but the lower pricing has often come at the expense of performance. Enter Intel, who did away with any notion of bang/buck and instead focused on lightning-fast read speeds with its X-25M SSD.
Now OCZ is getting into the high performance SSD game with the introduction of its new Vertex series. Unlike the company's existing Core series SSDs,which target average users, the Vertex is aimed squarely at enthusiasts.
"The new Vertex Series of SSD drives are a premium MLC based SSD solution that are designed for consumers that require fast, rugged, and reliable solid state storage,” commented Eugene Chang, Director of Product Management for the OCZ Technology Group. “The Vertex makes use of our newest architecture and controller design complete with 64MB of cache to offer faster transfers and superior overall system response times in a broad range of applications and games."
Write speeds have traditionally been a weak spot for MLC-based SSDs, but that doesn't appear to be the case with the Vertex drives, at least on paper. OCZ claims read and write speeds of up to 200MB/s and 160MB/s respectively. By comparison, Intel claims up to 250MB/s and 70MB/s read and write speeds for its X-25M, making the Vertex appear to be a more balanced higher performance solution.
No word yet on availability, but OCZ did say the Vertex series will come in 30GB, 60GB, 120GB, and 250GB capacities. MSRPs for the 30GB-250GB will be set at $130, $250, $470, and $870 respectively.
As the memory competition continues to heat up, unlikely alliances will forge. Thanks to a joint press release, Hitachi and Intel have recently announced that they’ve signed a development agreement in order to create breakthrough performance enterprise-class SSDs.
They’ll be off to a running start too, thanks to Intel’s already deep foothold in SSD technologies. Their NAND flash memory already allows for extremely high operating rate and according to Randy Wilhelm, VP and GM of Intel NAND Solutions Group, “The new solid-state drives for the enterprise include a number of architectural breakthroughs and improve performance and energy usage models that will change enterprise computing.” He continued, “Intel and Hitachi GST share a common objective in delivering SAS/FC products based on solid-state technology that will help enterprise customers meet the skyrocketing demands for performance while reducing space, power and cooling costs.”
It’s expected that these drives will be available sometime in early 2010, and will be sold exclusively through Hitachi.
If you're going to throw the gauntlet down, do it a big way and let the competition know what they're up against. That's exactly what Micron has done, who demoed a new SSD drive like no other we've seen before.
Unlike standard SSDs, which come equipped for either a PATA or SATA interface, Micron's prototype drive eschews such quaint bandwidth limits and instead makes do with a PCI-E slot. The end result is a new level of benchmarking that blows every other SSD to date out of the water, including Intel's mighty X-25M.
The YouTube video does a poor job of zeroing in on the benchmarks during the demonstration, but Micron's Joe Jeddeloh reads off the numbers as the two-card test setup runs through a short series of tests. During an Iometer run, Jeddeloh claims the dual drive configuration posted 200,000 IOPS (input/output operations per second), proclaiming "that's what Flash can do when managed correctly."
While the demonstration showed two cards running in unison, later in the video Jeddeloh holds up a single PCI-E card that combines the two displayed in the test bed with 16 Flash channels and an x8 PCI-E connector. He says the card will achieve over 1GB/s of bandwidth and at least 200,000 IOPS, "coming to you soon."
Intel and their memory-producing partner, Micron, have recently started mass-producing the first of their 34nm NAND flash memory. The smaller chips allow the two companies behind them to make single chip layers with 4GB of storage. This paves the way for two layer stacks that can hold as many as 64GB.
This new and improved flash memory is currently being aimed at portable electronics such as cell phones or MP3 players. What’s even better, is the possibility of a substantial increase in size of solid-state drives! And it shouldn’t be too far off, either. Thanks to their speedy manufacturing they’re currently looking to implement the first wave of chips in early 2009.
It’s expected that one of the first companies to take advantage of the tiny chips is Apple, who has been stuck at a 32GB storage ceiling on the popular iPhone and iPod touch.
The SSD market was moving at a peaceful albeit underwhelming pace until Intel joined the party, promptly putting the smackdown on the competition. Intel's X-25M SSD proved to be twice as fast as other drives to have gone through Maximum PC's lab, helping it to earn a Kickass! award.
Now Samsung looks to follow suit, which comes as somewhat of a surprise given that the company hasn't been at that forefront of performance with SSDs topping out at less than 100MB/s. But that was before, and Samsung's new 256GB SSD not only offers up to twice as much storage space as its 64GB and 128GB models, but is more than twice as fast as well. Samsung says its 256GB comes rated at 220MB/s read and 200MB/s, or fast enough to store 25 high definition movies in just 21 minutes and able to launch applications 10 times faster than the speediest 7200RPM notebook drive.
Steven Peng, SSD technical marketing manager at Samsung, said the speed increase was made possible through multichannel interleaving, noting that "the basic architecture remains unchanged. However, there are design improvements such as optimized firmware, and improvements to the controller."
Samsung said it has begun mass producing the new 256GB SSD, but has not released information on pricing or availability.
Storage that uses flash memory is quite unlike the hard disk drives used to hold your computer’s data. The latter rely on speedy actuators to read and write information on spinning magnetic platters. SSDs use electrical charges to read and write the state of individual flash memory cells. An SSD’s flash memory is nonvolatile: Unlike your computer’s RAM, an SSD drive retains your data when you switch the power off. And since the handshake is electric, SSDs can access that data in a fraction of the time it takes a mechanical hard drive to do so.
Sounds ideal, right? Actually, the performance potential of SSDs needs to be weighed against some significant drawbacks. We’re going to outline the pros and cons of the technology and how it compares to traditional hard disk storage. We’re also going to put seven leading solid state drives to the test and let the benchmark numbers do the talking. At this stage in the storage race, an SSD is a big investment; we want to help you maximize your return.
How big a deal is Intel’s entry into the solid-state-drive game? The announcement of the company’s new X-25M SSD, and a faster version for enthusiasts, all but overshadowed details of the company’s next-generation CPU at its fall developer conference.
After testing Intel’s entry-level SSD, we can understand why. The X-25M offers the fastest read speeds we’ve ever seen from a single SSD or hard drive.
How fast? The 10,000rpm Western Digital Velociraptor (reviewed September 2008) offered sustained transfer speeds of 98MB/s. The $1,500 MemoRight MR25.2-32/64S GT from our SSD roundup (November 2008) turned in read speeds of 112MB/s. The Intel X-25M hits 206MB/s read speeds.
Samsung’s 2.5-inch SSD packs 64 gigabytes of storage into an above-average package. Granted, the SLC-based drive delivers sustained read transfer rates that are slower than those of nearly all the SSDs reviewed here. But the drive makes up for this inadequacy by posting write speeds that match those of the fastest SLC-based drives in this roundup.
Our real-world experience with the drive followed suit. The Samsung SSD turned in a Premiere time of 8:43, nearly 2 minutes slower than Memoright’s GT-series 64GB SSD, but a mere 10 to 20 seconds behind the rest of the non-MLC drives we tested. The Samsung’s PCMark Vantage scores were within 4 percent of Memoright’s SSD, even though the latter crushes theSamsung by nearly 6 milliseconds in its random access write measurement.
RiData’s 64GB SSD uses an MLC design to pack more data onto its flash memory chips. We like how that makes the drive cheaper than the majority of SSDs on the market. What we don’t like is how the Ultra-S Plus illustrates the performance losses wrought by using this technology instead of a speedier SLC design.
The Ultra-S Plus was able to overtake the fastest hard drive we’ve tested—Western Digital’s Velociraptor—in two of our benchmarks: a random access read measurement and the overall PCMark Vantage score. Neither win came as a surprise. Because hard disk drives suffer lag while the drive arm moves to the proper location on the disk, flash memory consistently outperforms magnetic storage in random access read speeds. This helped in PCMark Vantage because the app’s eight individual benchmark traces favor read performance and random access reads.