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SSDs are looking even more attractive to the enterprise market

The prices of Solid State Drives using Multi-Level Cell NAND flash have dropped a lot recently. This is mostly due to Intel incorporating flash memory using 34nm technology in its newest generation of X25-M SSDs. This process was first introduced late last year by IM Flash Tech, its joint venture with Micron Technologies, but IMFT was only recently able to overcome mass production problems in order to meet the quantities that Intel needed.

Although MLC flash is fine for most uses, the corporate enterprise market demands the faster speeds and higher reliability of Single-Level Cell NAND. SLC flash is capable of much faster write/erase speeds and cycle reliability than MLC flash, but costs more for the same amount of storage. This has limited its adoption to IT departments that require the highest long-term reliability and lowest down time possible, or tiered storage uses in small and medium businesses. The extremely low latency and fast access speeds have made incorporating SSDs a high priority for IT departments eager to improve performance at a low cost. SSDs are much more cost effective than traditional 15k RPM hard disk drives, especially in a tiered storage environment.

OCZ has been having a lot of success with its Vertex series of SSDs using the Barefoot flash controller. Made by Korean upstart Indilinx, the controller provides random read and write performance that surpasses most of the rest of the market. The Vertex EX series pairs the Barefoot controller with SLC flash to compete against Intel's X25-E in the enterprise market. Recently, OCZ began using MLC flash from second tier manufacturers along with the Barefoot controller to introduce slightly slower SSDs in its Agility series at a much lower price.

The company is now looking to extend the same concept to SLC SSDs. Instead of sourcing SLC NAND flash from market leader Samsung, OCZ is partnering with other firms to bring the price of enterprise level SSDs down. The current price of most 64GB SLC SSDs is $600 and up; the new Agility EX 60GB drive will be introduced at a MSRP of $399. At a price that is only two-thirds of the rest of the market, this is a drive that many Fortune 1000 firms will be sure to consider.

“Though SLC has traditionally been more expensive than MLC flash there are both performance and lifespan advantages to SLC based solid state drives.  It is for consumers that require the extended reliability of  single level cell flash that we are now introducing the Agility EX series of SSDs,” stated Eugene Chang, VP of Product Management at the OCZ technology Group.

“The Agility EX offers consumers the most cost effective SLC solid state storage solution on the market, and when customers take all the benefits of SLC into consideration the total cost of ownership of these drives truly shines through.”

The 60GB Agility EX offers speeds of up to 255MB/s read and 195MB/s write, 64MB of onboard cache, and unique performance optimized firmware to keep the drives at peak performance. It will come with OCZ's new 3-year standard warranty. Higher capacity models will be introduced by OCZ later this year.

Intel has already announced that it will extend its 34nm technology to SLC NAND flash chips at a later date. The second generation X25-E drives are expected to launch at a lower price point using Intel's proprietary flash controller. A 128GB X25-E model is also expected to be introduced alongside its 32GB and 64GB offerings. Intel is currently capacity constrained by IMFT and has had trouble meeting market demand for its new generation of SSDs. A 320GB X25-M model will be introduced once production ramps up enough.

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RE: Hybrid HDD
By jdietz on 8/27/2009 9:00:01 PM , Rating: 2
Mass consumer-accepted price point for a 1TB SSD needs defining so let's say $200 for the sake of argument.

Current MLC SSDs are $2 per GB. For a 1TB SSD @ $200, the price point needs to be $0.2 per GB - a ten fold improvement. Assuming Moore's law (2x price improvement every 1.5 years), we are talking 5 years away from the situation you describe.

Five years from now, you will have 10TB mass storage drives for around $200. However, if you have nothing to put on the drive (it's possible that might be the case) then it makes sense to go with the SSD.

RE: Hybrid HDD
By MatthiasF on 8/28/2009 12:46:48 AM , Rating: 2
Good points.

I'm sure the typical user's disk usage will plateau at a point, making larger drives unnecessary, but there's still a lot of life left in magnetic mediums.

One area I've wondered about for some time is joining discs inside the drive together into the same volume. Why can't they create stripping on the discs directly to increase speed, like a RAID 0 array inside the drive? While that would increase the cost of the controller, and probably require independent head systems, it could boost performance considerably to put it in the middle between traditional HDD and SSD.

Meanwhile, there are also ways to layer materials on the disc, like envisioned in this recent discovery.

RE: Hybrid HDD
By FaaR on 8/28/2009 3:24:23 PM , Rating: 2
You can't "stripe" a HDD internally, because each track of one cylinder does not lie precisely beneath the track on the same cylinder above it.

Due to manufacturing tolerances and varying thermal expansion the tracks of one cylinder will vary slightly from one platter to another. So therefore you can't read or write several heads all at once.

Besides, even if it was mechanically possible, it would complicate the drive electronics significantly. You'd need to double up (or more) on a lot of internal components and beef up other stuff to handle the increased data rates, error detection/correction and so on. It's probably not as cost effective an idea as you perhaps think it might be... ;)

RE: Hybrid HDD
By Cheesew1z69 on 8/28/2009 8:32:11 AM , Rating: 2
Moores law has nothing to do with price.....

RE: Hybrid HDD
By strikeback03 on 8/28/2009 8:56:39 AM , Rating: 2
Another point to consider is that for pre-built consumer devices, there isn't much of a need for hybrid storage - they can include two drives (a smaller SSD for boot and a larger HDD for storage) and most consumers won't even know. This would even work for laptops if someone were to produce mini-PCIe sized SSDs with decent controllers. I really don't see the need to invest in research into hybrid drives (specifically into routines to store the most useful info on the flash portion of the drive) when the same job can be done with two off-the-shelf drives and vendor optimizations of the OS install.

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