Solid state drives (SSDs) have been all the buzz lately, with companies like OCZ and Super Talent pushing faster solutions at lower price points. But despite the strides being made, industry experts predict it could take up to 10 years for the SSD business to write realistic enterprise-level standards for flash memory.
Motivating vendors to get there, the enterprise flash memory market is projected to be in the $60 billion range by 2012. While cost still remains a roadblock, the real stickling point is that flash memory can only last for a limited amount of write cycles, at which point the cells become read-only.
"Personally, I think SSDs are a terrible replacement for hybrid hard drives (HHDs) at this time, for a lot of reasons, the biggest of which is that they haven't been around long enough to know how they really will perform in heavy-duty production situations," said Robin Harris, a panel member for Data Mobility Group.
Many analysts agree that the SSD industry needs a standard, and according to Michael Cornwell, Sun Microsystems' new head of NAND flash business development, "there are about 60 flash vendors and about 17 organizations doing some kind of standards work." Hard drives went through a similar competitive transition period back in the '80s, but it didn't happen over night.
Are we really a decade off from SSDs becoming a viable option in the enterprise market?
One of the biggest hurdles preventing solid state drives from bursting into the mainstream continues to be the relatively high price points compared to traditional hard drives. Recent strides have started to reverse this trend, with OCZ pushing its lower cost Core series and Super Talent slashing the price tag on its MasterDrive MX line, but SSDs still have a ways to go if they're to challenge HDDs for the bang-for-buck crown.
Stepping to the plate is Micron, who today announced it will ship a series of speedy SSDs up to 256GB in capacity as part of its next-generation RealSSD line. But the real story here is that Micron's new line will check in at one third the price per gigabyte of existing drives.
Hit the jump to see what Micron has to say about the RealSSD's pricing strategy after the jump.
Solid state drives continue to make headway into the marketplace and Buffalo appears to be readying a herd of 32GB (SHD-EP9M32G) and 64GB (SHD-EP9M64G) SSDs for the Asus Eee PC 900 and 901 ultraportables. Not much else can be discerned from the translated press release, but according to PC Watch (and Google Translate), Buffalo will price the 32GB and 64GB at 16,800 and 33,600 yen, or $150 and $300 USD respectively.
Japan will get first crack at the new SSDs come mid to late September, but if you simply can't wait for Buffalo's drives to migrate stateside, at least one company is already selling the units with worldwide shipping.
With the all the brouhaha surrounding solid state drives (SSDs), there remains a question of exactly how big of a performance advantage flash memory really holds over today's hard drives. On paper, most SSDs scream ahead in both read and write speeds, but real-world benchmarking paints a different picture. So why the discrepancy? At SandDisk, they're blaming Vista. The company's CEO, Eli Harari, says SSD "performance in the Vista environment falls short of what the market really needs. Vista is not optimized for flash memory solid-state disks."
It's not hard to find fault with Vista, but blaming the OS for underperforming SSDs qualifies as a new one that even Apple hasn't yet exploited in its many mocking commercials. To be fair, Harari made the statement as part of a pitch to improve SSDs' next generation controllers, which he says "need to compensate for Vista's shortfalls." Because of this need, the company claims it is behind schedule bringing competitive SSDs to market.
Is SanDisk justified in pointing the finger at Vista?
Not everyone is sold on SSDs, but that isn't stopping almost everyone from trying to sell you one. Competition has started to heat up, and it looks as though OCZ and Super Talent are lining up for a race to see which company can offer the fastest SSDs at the lowest price point. Super Talent kicked things off with its MasterDrive MX line, offering 120MB/sec read and 40MB/sec write speeds in 30GB, 60GB, and 120GB sizes for as low as $299, but OCZ joined the race just a few months later with a low cost line of its own. OCZ's Core series drives upped the ante with a hat trick that includes slightly more storage space, better read and write speeds at up to 143MB/sec and 93MB/sec respectively, and lower price points. Game, set, match?
Not quite. Super Talent doesn't appear ready to concede the mainstream market, and to prove it, the company has revised its MX series SSDs to offer faster speeds. Both the 15GB and 30GB models now sport read speeds of 120MB/sec and write speeds of 60MB/sec, while the 60GB and 120GB boast the same read speed but increases the write speeds to 80MB/sec. "Our expert engineering team is constantly discovering new ways to improve our proudcts, and this is one improvement that will be well received by power laptop users," said Super Talent director or marketing, Joe James.
The tweaked SATA-II SSDs still trail behind OCZ's Core series, but to make them more competitive, Super Talent has begun offering a $40 rebate (PDF) when purchased through Newegg. Is it enough to make you consider a SSD?
Solid state drives (SSDs) are usually considered to be more power efficient, faster, and in some respects more reliable than hard disk drives and they command a hefty premium over other drives. Dell's offering of a 128GB solid-state drive as an option on its Latitude, XPS, Alienware, and Precision laptop models for $649 is a steep drop price drop since many SSDs with half of that capacity still sell for more than $700. Is it really worth it? The IDC released a report that claims the performance gap between SSDs and lower-cost high-performance hard disk drives is not that significant at the system level.
TargetTech.com quotes David Reinsel, one of the authors of the report, "Many tests have been done comparing 4,200 rpm hard drives to SSDs, but 5,400 rpm is now mainstream and even 7,200 rpm disks are available." He adds that the gap between performance in systems with 7,200 rpm 2.5-inch drives and systems with SSDs was much smaller than expected, mainly because of the performance of the system as a whole rather than just the storage device. Reinsel goes on to say, "There will be what's called a 'period of interdependency' with this technology. It isn't just plug and play." He suggests that system redesigns will be necessary in PCs and enterprise systems to gain the full benefit from flash.
If you are the ultra curious type and have ten grand to blow you can grab the report here. My credit card just laughed at me for trying.
Even though SSDs have dropped in price, they still are not a good performance item for the price point. A Fujitsu 120GB 7200 RPM 8MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb OEM notebook drive is going for $99, versus a $640 SSD with the same capacity. The price savings can buy you a lot of other goodies. We will have to wait for systems to be updated to take advantage of SSD drives and of course in the mean time, the price will continue to go down. When will it be the right price point versus performance for you to make the switch?
According to Fujitsu, flash memory currently has no place outside of handheld gadgets, a situation it doesn't see changing within the next two years. But despite Fujitsu's short-term reservations, other manufacturers seem intent on pushing SSD storage into the mainstream posthaste. Both Super Talent and OCZ have recently announced lower cost SSDs, and now Samsung is getting into the fray by saying it has begun mass producing 1.8- and 2.5-inch 64GB and 128GB multi-level cell (MLC)-based SSDs.
"With the 64GB and 128GB MLC SSDs, we are satisfying the density requirements of most business users and many PC enthusiasts, who will appreciate not only the performance gains and added reliability, but also the more attractive pricing," said Gerd Schauss, Director of Memory Marketing EMEA, Samsung Semiconductor Europe.
Throwing a wet blanket over the announcement are somewhat comparatively underwhelming performance numbers. Samsung claims its MLC based SSD has a write speed of 70MB/sec and a read speed of 90MB/s, which not only pales in comparison to some of the faster single-cell SSDs on the market, but lags behind Western Digital's VelociRaptor HDD. That might make the new SSDs a tough sell to PC enthusiasts with money to burn, but depending on how 'attractive' Samsung plans to price the units, it could capture a portion of the bang/buck crowd, a market segment SSDs aren't used to seducing.
With companies like Super Talent and OCZ pushing solid-state disk pricing into affordable territory, there has been a recent rash of excitement of building up over what the near future might bring. Can we finally expect to get over the performance bottleneck imposed by hard disk drives? Not so fast, says Joel Hagberg, VP of business development at Fujitsu.
In a recent interview, the high level exec played down the current state of flash memory. Even as the latest batch of SSDs tout impressive performance specs to the tune of 120 to 143 MB/sec read speeds and 80 to 93MB/sec writes, Hagberg claims it's more hype than substance. Hagberg says SSDs are "really good if you're reading stuff, but it doesn't work very well for large file reads and large file writes, and it doesn't work well for random writes." Because of this, the VP notes a sizeable rift between notebook customers' expectations and real-world experiences.
Hit the jump to find out why Hagberg thinks we're still more than 2 years away from seeing SSDs as a viable option.
While SSDs continue to come down in price and up in performance, hard disk drives keep ballooning in size. And just when we thought we were becoming spoiled with storage space, Hitachi hits us with a humdinger by announcing plans to release a 5TB hard drive by 2010. That's FIVE freaking terabytes in a single 3.5" drive, or half the storage capacity of the human brain, claims Dr. Yoshihiro Shiroishi from Hitachi. In more concrete terms, 5TB equates to about 5,000 hours of video, or more than a million songs. Throw two drives together and you could store a human brain's worth of porn!
Hitachi's pledge trumps an earlier prediction the company made back in October 2007 when it said 4TB of storage would be likely by 2011. Instead, Hitachi will employ Current-Perpendicular-to-Plant Giant Magnetoresistance (CPP-GMR) magnetic read heads to pack an additional terabyte than initially anticipated, and a year sooner than predicted. CPP-GMR will make it possible to achieve data densities of 1TB or more per square inch, paving the way for even larger hard drives.
Home theater buffs will undoubtedly herald Hitachi's announcement, but what about everyone else? Are we reaching the point of diminishing returns in terms of hard drive space? Post your thoughts in the comments section.
As previously rumored, Asus' new Eee PC 904 will sport both a larger keyboard and bigger chassis akin to the Eee PC 1000, while also carrying a comfortable price tag of just £269 when it ships in the UK in mid-July. But in order to reach the low price point (and perhaps cope with Intel's Atom shortage), the new model will feature an Intel Celeron M processor instead of the popular Atom chip. Asus previously indicated the shortage of Atom processors would continue through September, a scenario which has low-cost panel makers more than a little bit nervous.
But the Atom chip isn't the only component playing a disappearing act; Asus plans to go with an 80GB hard drive for storage duties instead of a speedier SSD commonly found on other Eee PCs. Rounding out the spec sheet will be 1GB DDR2 RAM and Windows XP instead of the oft used Linux OS.
No word yet on when U.S. residents can expect to see the 1.4kg ultraportable on store shelves.