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SSD Moving into the Mainstream as PCs Go 100% Solid State

By Brian Beard, Samsung Semiconductor, Inc.

Most solid state drives sold in the last few years have been hard disk drive (HDD) replacements. While the majority of these 1.8", 2.5", and 3.5" storage drives were primarily aimed at the notebook market, they also have begun penetrating into server, PC, and many rugged or industrial markets. This year marks a critical threshold for the SSD growth curve, not only in traditional form factors, but in new drive shapes and sizes, as the SSD begins its move into the mainstream. SSD pre-2009 Due to major overcapacity in the commodity memory markets in recent years, the NAND flash market has had to weather some difficult times of late, with price declines of a greater degree than historical yearly market data would have led us to believe. But the consumer market has reaped the advantages -- enjoying higher quality SSDs at improved price levels, as SSD's move closer to mainstream adoption with higher performance ratings than many expected they would ever have. The cost differential between SSDs and HDDS has dwindled much more than anticipated. For example, in notebooks, an SSD currently costs orders of magnitude less than it did just two years ago, when compared to a similar capacity, high performance hard drive. Once the other advantages of SSDs over HDDs are factored in, like greater durability, more reliability, and higher performance, we can see how notebook SSDs are encroaching on the ever elusive `tipping point', ready to embrace mainstream acceptance. Netbooks Another catalyst for this has been the tremendously fast growth in popularity of the netbook. Clearly, netbooks have helped mainstream adoption of SSDs. Exploding into the marketplace, the ubiquitous netbook has been embracing SSDs in large part due to their cost advantage over low-capacity 1.8inch HDDs. Ten gigabytes of NAND flash (plus other SSD components) easily meets the PC OEM's desire for a stronger and more costeffective storage solution than a typical HDD, at $35 to $50. Similarly, SSDs have also made significant strides in the enterprise server storage arenas where total cost of ownership (TCO) matters a great deal. Consider that SSDs offer an almost instantaneous ROI when you factor in their significant performance advantages, typically 10X the fastest HDD, at 1/10th the power. The TCO for SSDs is most compelling for high performance, readintensive applications like web serving and video on demand.

SSDs 2009: "Inflection in the Solid State Ecosystem" At the core of SSD technology is NAND flash memory. While the current adoption of SSD is in large part due to the rapid decline in NAND prices, NAND technology continues to improve as suppliers push to smaller geometries and higher densities, keeping manufacturing costs on a downward slope. MLC or multi-level cell flash, the memory component typically used in notebook SSDs, is continuously being improved, allowing for larger SSD capacities each year as more gigabytes of capacity can be packed into each chip, and successively smaller chips packed into each drive.

For any given market segment, NAND flash technology is very similar regardless of which major manufacturer offers it. The real performance differentiator in one SSD brand versus another is the controller and the firmware. In fact, controller technology has progressed in leaps and bounds in the last few years, with most major SSDs moving from 4-channel to 8-channel controllers late last year, while controllers with more channels are right around the corner. Having more channels allow SSDs to perform faster and faster, moving them rapidly towards the SATA 3.0 gigabits-persecond actual performance limit of approximately 250 megabytes per second. Controller Technology Advances in controller technology have improved all SSD performance factors. This has allowed mainstream notebook and industrial PC applications as well as read-intensive server applications to move to MLC NAND while write-intensive server applications are using mostly single-level cell (SLC) NAND, a more durable component with a longer potential lifespan. For example, Samsung's latest controller for its MLC drives reads sequentially at 220 megabytes per second (MB/s) and writes sequentially at 200 MB/s. Samsung's latest enterprise (SLC) SSD offers similar outstanding sequential performance, and its ad-

vanced controller allows 25K random read and 6K random write IOPS (inputs/outputs per second).Firmware is today's other critical SSD differentiator. SSDs with the most robust firmware are being tested rigorously by Samsung and a few other manufacturers in conjunction with major PC and server OEMs for extensive debugging during rigorous validation processes. Over the long haul, the SSD suppliers who can best overcome performance improvement hurdles in the controller and the firmware will capture the greatest market share. Newest Trends This year, SSDs are well into the process of moving from a niche market position to a storage solution that's rapidly growing in popularity. As notebooks and netbooks adopt SSDs, they are actually moving to a 100 percent solid state composition as "cloud computing" becomes increasingly popular, and more and more notebooks/netbooks forego the space consuming and "flirtingly obsolete" optical drive. The trend is definitely toward "slim-light" portable PCs offering SSDs that not only help out with space constraints and weight concerns, but their lower power consumption and virtually heat-free emissions extend battery life and reduce cooling requirements.

Samsung's Solid State Drive (SSD) is an advanced NAND flash-based replacement for traditional hard disk drives, leveraging the company's longtime leadership in memory technology. This nextgeneration solution offers several advantages over rotating magnetic media such as significantly lower power consumption, remarkable ruggedness, high reliability, less weight and outstanding performance. According to iSuppli, approximately 60% of notebooks will have flash-enabled storage by 2010.

In 2009, a substantial number of notebooks will be made with SSDs as their only storage option (hard disks will not be a choice). This trend, which we refer to as SSD-Only or "SSD-O," began last year. The Lenovo X300 (now X301) was the first mainstream SSD-O business notebook, launching in early 2008 followed by a suite of netbooks from many OEMs. Dell, for one. joined the mainstream SSD-O fray with the Latitude E4200 followed by a full-size consumer SSD-O model called Adamo. The SSD-O design choice enables the OEM to literally design a notebook around the SSD so that everything ­ CPU, battery, cooling system and other components ­ is optimized to provide a greater total overall system value with an SSD. As OEMs take advantage of form-factor-agnostic NAND flash memory, more and more creative SSD solutions will arise. For now, in addition to performance gains, capacities are growing rapidly, with the "sweet spot" for business SSDs moving from 64GB to 128GB and consumer SSDs moving from 128GB to 256GB. More benefits are being added too. SSDs now are becoming self-encrypted devices, offering full hardware encryption to ensure data is secure at all times.

The SSD Future Looking beyond 2009, SSDs and NAND flash memory will proliferate into many new market areas including applications for railroad cars, airplane seatback entertainment, mobile internet devices, video cameras, and many more segments. Most of these applications will use standard SSD form factors, though many will not. New technologies are accommodating custom form factors such as PCI Express (PCIe), mini PCIe, eSATA, USB 3.0, and DIMMs. Looking out five years, solid state storage will be a common household term. While most consumers will never know the history of SSDs, many of us will look back and remember 2009 as a pivotal year, the year in which SSDs went mainstream.

Enterprise SSD: `Non-traditional IT' leads the charge SSD penetration into the traditional enterprise IT market is moving slowly. This is due to the "risk adverse" nature of server/PC OEMs and because HDD manufacturers generally want to retain their installed base of underperforming, energy-hungry HDDs to maximize existing revenue streams. Change is coming, however, with non-traditional IT-focused companies (predominantly in Web2.0 applications) leading the SSD charge. Those new applications most ripe for SSD conversion like web-serving and video on demand are "performance optimized" applications, an ideal fit for SSDs. New products are being announced almost monthly with the latest being new storage devices from the likes of EMC, Sun (Oracle), Fusion-io, and Dell's EqualLogic division.

Brian Beard is manager of SSD Marketing at Samsung Semiconductor, Inc.


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