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SSD prices face uncertain future in 2014

Mark Hachman | Jan. 20, 2014
Technology advances fail to budge SSD buyers from trying to paying as little as they can for the most storage possible. But SSD pricing for 2014 is uncertain. Here's why.

Executives at SanDisk, which has pledged to make SSDs 25 percent of its corporate revenue by the end of 2014, say that "for this year, pricing will remain in balance," said Tarun Loomba,  vice president of marketing for client storage solutions.

Still a capacity game
The size of the typical solid-state drive still varies dramatically, precisely because of the differences between corporate customers and the general consumer.

"[An SSD is] much smaller in a corporate environment than a consumer environment," SanDisk's Loomba said. "In a consumer environment, they want to pack rat'," storing virtually everything on a hard drive."  But an IT administrator feels the opposite, he said.

"And so the average capacity has been moving—I don't have the exact numbers, but from 150 [GB] to 170, I'd say. So there's definitely a migration upwards, but it's still sort of balanced between the 128-[GB] drive and the 256," Loomba said. "There's some 512-[GB drives], but again, but as one of those things in the corporate space, an IT admin doesn't want you to have that much, and it's typically too expensive for the consumer space." 

Drive capacities also vary dramatically by form factor. NAND manufacturers have to decide whether to design and sell their flash for SD cards inside cameras, for flash drives built into phones, or for SSDs inside a traditional laptop.

Those SSDs are typically built into a chassis that mimics a 2.5-inch drive. Space-constrained Ultrabooks, however, slip storage into just about wherever they can, inside different variations of what is now known as the M.2 form factor.

So while 1-terabyte drives that were designed for the 2.5-inch laptop form factor have fallen in price—the 960GB, 2.5-inch Crucial M500 costs just under $600 at Amazon—they're still far out of price reach for most users. Meanwhile, the typical size of the SSD found within an Ultrabook is 128GB and isn't expected to increase all that much, said Samsung's Geiser.

SSD makers have employed various strategies to increase the amount of data that can be stored in a given space, known as storage density. In mid-2013, for example, Samsung announced a 128-gigabit [gb], three-level, multi-level-cell flash chip designed for SSDs at 500GB and above. But MLC technology has also been linked to higher failure rates over time, as a 2012 examination by Microsoft indicated. 

At CES 2014, Mushkin and ADATA, among others, showed off whopping 2TB SSDs. But the drives aren't ready to ship, and there's no indication that the prices will be less than astronomical.

Likewise, SSD makers have steadily tacked on higher-speed storage interfaces. moving from the 3-gb/s SATA interface to the 6-gb/s version.

Plextor used CES 2014 to announce its M6e M.2, an SSD drive that uses the PCI Express bus typically reserved for graphics cards. The M6e M.2  delivers maximum sequential read/write speeds of up to 770MB/625MB per second and random read/write speeds of up to 105,000 and 100,000 IOs per second.

 

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