Dr. Fujio Masuoka from Toshiba invented the first flash memory in 1984. When Intel introduced it as a commercial product four years later, the flash market grew by several orders of magnitude. In the late 1980s, the Israeli company Msystems (now part of Sandisk) started selling flash storage solutions for the military and aerospace industries (the lack of moving parts made them ideal for ruggedized systems). At the time 1MB of flash cost thousands of dollars. Almost 20 years later, the same revolution is reaching the consumer and business markets with a new generation of SSDs which outperform even the fastest magnetic based drives in both read, write and of course latency.
Currently there are several main differences between SLC and MLC based drives. SLC, which has been used for defense and industrial applications since the early days of solid state drive technology, has an inherently better endurance (more read/write cycles) than MLC. SLC is also typically faster, especially when it comes to sequential write speeds (although read speeds are also typically lower for many low-end parts). On the other hand, MLC has higher density and significantly lower cost per Gigabyte.
However, Intel is far from being the only player in the advanced SSD market. Samsung, which released the first consumer SSD in 2007, has also significantly improved its products in the past two years. Back in May 2008, Samsung announced plans to release an ultra fast MLC based SSD, boasting an exceptionally large 256GB capacity. In November 2008 Samsung made good on its promise and announced that the new drives have entered mass production and should be expected on the market soon. The new drive will boast a read speed of 220 MB/s and an exceptional write speed of 200 MB/s. Like Intel’s SSD, the price is going to be the determining factor. Although as of late November 2008 Samsung had not yet released specific prices, estimates are that these will reach at least $1000.
So what are we going to see in 2009 in the SSD market? Setting aside game-changing technologies such as Sandisk’s ExtremeFFS we believe the market will be divided into 3 main segments. High-end industrial/enterprise SLC based drives with $1000 and higher price tags. These more “traditional” SSDs will gradually lose their appeal as more cost effective high-end MLC drives will reach the market. These new drives which include Intel’s X25-M series (with a 160GB and even larger capacity versions planned for 2009) and Samsung’s upcoming ultra fast MLC drive (with a 512GB version planned for 2009) will represent a more viable option probably around the second half of 2009 (given the predicted drop in flash prices for this time period).