SanDisk shows solid state drive

SanDisk has showcased its newly introduced 32GB Solid State Drive at the Storage Visions conference in Las Vegas. SanDisk's model joins Samsung in the nascent Solid State Drive market; Samsung announced its drive in March 2006.

SanDisk's SSD was engineered by the company's new Israel-based Computing Solutions Division (part of SanDisk's acquisition of M-Systems). The 1.8-inch drive is designed to replace the hard drive in devices that usually rely on that form factor.

Says Doreet Oren, director of product marketing, "The drive is targeted at the mobile PC user and road warrior, who need the reliability, durability, high performance, and low power consumption that flash solid state drives provide over hard disks."

Advantage over hard drives

The advantages to SSD are multifold. SSD has no rotating parts, unlike hard disk drives, which rely on rotating media to store data. This means increased reliability and durability. The SanDisk 32GB SSD is rated at 2 million hours mean time between failure, as compared with about 300,000 hours for a hard disk drive. And the SanDisk can withstand a 1500G shock during operation, vs. 500G on a typical hard disk drive.

SSD also has a speed advantage: The drives are about twice as fast a typical 1.8-inch hard disk drive. SanDisk says that its sustained transfer read/write speeds are 62MBps and 36MBps, ratings that just best Samsung, at 57MBps and 32MBps. SanDisk says its transfer speeds translate into a real world performance boost as well. When booting Windows Vista Enterprise (on a notebook running Intel's 1.2-GHz Core Duo Processor ULV U2500 and 1GB of DDR2-533 SDRAM), the Vista booted in 35 seconds on SanDisk's SSD drive, as compared with 55 seconds for a 1.8-inch hard disk drive.

Another bonus is power efficiency. SSD drives on a whole are lower-powered than 1.8-inch hard disk drives. The SanDisk SSD 32GB model requires no spin-up power, and requires just 0.4 watt during read/write operations, as compared with 1.0 watt for a 1.8-inch hard drive. SanDisk's Oren estimates this power savings equates to about a 10 percent longer battery life.

Additionally, SSD allows support for a wider range of operating temperatures than hard disk drives and lower noise noise levels. The SSD has a 0dB rating, as compared with Toshiba's 1.8-inch hard disk drive's noise rating of 22dB.

"It wasn't an issue of the difficulty in creating 32GB; we've done high capacity flash drives for the military and aerospace," says Oren. "The issue was building an ASIC tailored for the mobile pc market, with lower cost and low power consumption, and high performance. 32GB is a sweet spot we feel that the value of this product is worth the cost." The SSD 32GB is SanDisk's fifth generation SSD product, but it's the company's first targeted at consumer product suppliers.

What's ahead for SSD

SanDisk expects to ship the drive to notebook manufacturers this quarter, and estimates the first high-end notebooks equipped with the drive will appear in the first half of 2007. The expected premium to end-users is currently US$600; however, says Oren, "flash prices are always changing; it's not a constant."

Looking ahead, adds Oren, "We expect in 2007 to add a 2.5-inch drive, and capacities up to 64GB; the roadmap for the next few years calls for up to 128GB. And in the second half of 2007, we expect to have a SATA interface as well." The initial drive offering uses SLC (single-level cell) flash; an MLC version is also expected later this year.

While at the outset, Samsung expects to see SSD drives appear in high-end and corporate notebooks aimed at business users. Industry experts expect the demand for such solid state drives to remain miniscule in the immediate years following their launch. However, Oren says, "Eventually, I expect this to move into the consumer laptop market, and not just the business user." Although it's plausible that the SSD might appear in other consumer devices that rely on hard disk drive technology, Oren says the company has not explored migrating the SSD to other devices at this time.

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