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With a few firmware tweaks and SLC NAND flash, will OCZ be able to compete against mighty Intel?

Consumer adoption of Solid State Drives has been on the rise due to increasing competition and dropping prices. SSDs offer unparalleled random access times compared with traditional magnetic storage, but have the disadvantages of higher prices and lower capacities. Most consumer grade SSDs use Multi-Level Cell NAND flash in order to easily increase capacity and reduce costs.

One of the newer consumer grade SSDs has been OCZ's Vertex series, featuring maximum read speeds of 250 MB/s and maximum write speeds of 120 MB/s in the 120GB model. It uses a NAND flash controller from Indilinx in order to avoid problems with a stuttering effect present in older generation SSDs.

Although most recent SSD launches have targeted consumers, the enterprise server market is still the largest source of demand for SSDs. In many cases, SSDs are used in a tiered storage scenario, replacing short-stroked 15k RPM mechanical hard disk drives. Even though SSDs are expensive in terms of cost per gigabyte, they offer the greatest performance return due to their fast access times and read/write rates. Power and cooling requirements are also greatly reduced, a bonus for environmentally conscious companies looking to cut costs.

Due to the heavy transactional workloads required, these enterprise grade SSDs must use Single Level Cell NAND chips. All NAND chips have a limited number of writes per cell, but SLC NAND has ten times the number of writes available versus MLC NAND flash chips. MLC flash typically has around 10,000 write-erase cycles, while SLC flash has around 100,000 write-erase cycles. Wear-leveling algorithms are used to limit the number of writes and manage write-erase cycles. The higher the capacity of the SSD, the more room there is for the algorithms to do their work.

OCZ Technology is leveraging the current design of the Vertex series by swapping out MLC chips for more costly SLC chips in order to target this market specifically. The Vertex EX series will be available in 60GB and 120GB models, with maximum read speeds of 260 MB/s and maximum write speeds of 210 MB/s in the 120GB model. Random read and write speeds are not currently available yet, but are expected to be superior to regular Vertex series SSDs using MLC flash. The firmware has also been tuned for a higher number of IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second), since it is a commonly used benchmark in the enterprise market.

Pricing and shipping dates for OCZ's Vertex EX series have not yet been announced, but OCZ will offer a two-year warranty when they ship.

Intel is the current volume and performance leader in the enterprise server and workstation SSD market. However, its most advanced SSD is the X-25E 64GB SLC SSD, with sustained sequential read/write speeds of up to 250/170 MB/s.

Super Talent is the only other SSD manufacturer featuring SLC capacities larger than Intel's. It recently launched the MasterDrive RX Series, with SLC SSD models available in 128GB and 256GB capacities. It offers sustained sequential read/write speeds of up to 230/200 MB/s for SLC models.



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Competition!
By StevoLincolnite on 4/21/2009 9:57:31 AM , Rating: 2
I hope more smaller manufacturers jump into the SSD market and start driving down prices, hopefully we eventually get enough competition to drive down prices so Manufacturers have pretty thin margins like what happened to the DDR 2 market.

I'm still wanting a 128gb or larger SSD for under $300 AU as long as it offered somewhat decent performance, but the main selling point for me is lower power consumption and noise levels.

Perhaps one day we wont need RAM? It will be replaced by a Page File on the SSD... :P




RE: Competition!
By Jansen (blog) on 4/21/2009 10:02:51 AM , Rating: 5
You will always need RAM or some kind of fast cache.

L1, L2, L3, DRAM, SSD + HDD

The main barrier to lower prices right now is process technology; when Intel, Toshiba, and Samsung switch to 34nm for SSD we will see some newer products at lower prices.


RE: Competition!
By StevoLincolnite on 4/21/2009 10:10:51 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
You will always need RAM or some kind of fast cache. L1, L2, L3, DRAM, SSD + HDD The main barrier to lower prices right now is process technology; when Intel, Toshiba, and Samsung switch to 34nm for SSD we will see some newer products at lower prices.


Oh I know you always need a fast cache, but one can dream cant they? :P

Back in olden days you used to get processors without any L2 cache.

I was actually specifically targeting RAM in particular as it would be nice instead of having to pay for a memory upgrade, or upgrading memory type every few years and instead be able to allocate say... 64gb of HDD space as a sort of "Ram Area" on the SSD, however for that to happen SSD's would need to reach a point where they meet/exceed the performance of RAM, something which wont happen for years, and perhaps even decades.

L1/L2/L3 is a different kettle of fish entirely however.


RE: Competition!
By notolerance on 4/22/2009 9:54:32 PM , Rating: 3
I'm really looking forward to seeing what Western Digital brings to the table, now that they have acquired Silicon Systems I think they were called. I'm sure they will be looking at pushing a WD branded SSD out as quickly as possible, and when this happens there will no doubt be another "Price Fight" which should also help out the consumer.

Fingers crossed that they actually deliver a decent product, with decent speeds and at a competitive price!... here's hoping at least.


RE: Competition!
By Reclaimer77 on 4/21/2009 10:44:46 AM , Rating: 2
Just a nitpick but competition is not going to drive down prices in this market. The single driving force of the SSD market is improvements made in the manufacturing processes of the flash ram itself. It's starting to be made faster, cheaper, and in higher quantities. THAT is where your cost savings are.


RE: Competition!
By omnicronx on 4/21/2009 11:30:45 AM , Rating: 3
While I 100% agree that reaching a smaller manufacturing process will surely lower prices, this is only one of the many factors that will drive these drives down in price. Unless we are talking the oil industry(which is essentially a world monopoly in itself), competition almost always lowers prices.


RE: Competition!
By bjacobson on 4/22/2009 7:37:40 AM , Rating: 1
Yawn, "Big" Oil is evil, blah blah.
Economics 101-- restricted supply leads to wild fluctuations in prices. Put it on the commodities market and the price roller coaster will be even more fun.

Quit passing offshore drilling laws, China is drilling all our oil away 100 miles off the coast.


RE: Competition!
By icanhascpu on 4/23/2009 7:56:43 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Just a nitpick but competition is not going to drive down prices in this market. The single driving force of the SSD market is improvements made in the manufacturing processes of the flash ram itself. It's starting to be made faster, cheaper, and in higher quantities. THAT is where your cost savings are.


Praytell what do you think IS the driving force behind improving the manufacturing processes in the first place? Here is a tip: its not because they are generous!

If you want to see what happends when you get no compitition, look at the internet providers in America.


RE: Competition!
By surt on 4/21/2009 4:51:26 PM , Rating: 2
That day is some distance away. Memory bandwidth to system memory is about 60GB/s. VS SSD bandwidth in the range of 240MB/s. We'll need the interface to be 250X faster. Assuming that they can catch up with main memory bandwidth at a rate of 2x per year, that's still ~8 years off.


RE: Competition!
By FaaR on 4/21/2009 8:47:31 PM , Rating: 2
Even when using 2GHz DDR3 modules and a Core i7 processor we "only" get 48GB/s (highly theoretical, of course - real-life figures will be much lower)... 60GB/s is still unreachably far beyond the horizon for us. :)

But if your argument is that external storage won't reach RAM-like transfer rates in a long time, then yeah, you're absolutely right. You'd need optical fibre connection to even come near RAM speeds, and even then access times would be much higher than what local RAM would manage.

The distance travelled from CPU to RAM is relatively short. It's much longer through a storage controller, no matter how fast the controller itself can pump data. Speed of light sets the ultimate barriers; the closer to the CPU the data is, the faster it can be accessed. :P


RE: Competition!
By MrPoletski on 4/22/2009 7:30:51 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
The distance travelled from CPU to RAM is relatively short. It's much longer through a storage controller, no matter how fast the controller itself can pump data. Speed of light sets the ultimate barriers; the closer to the CPU the data is, the faster it can be accessed. :P

Not if you fit your hard drive controller with flux capacitors!


"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates














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