The Big Break
Currently, there are two competing technologies lumped together under the SSD banner. For most users the difference is like that of Plasma vs. LCD; both have an advantage over the other in certain areas, but when it comes down to it, you wouldn't think of going back to a CRT, or in this case a platter based drive.
The first technology is SLC or Single Level Cell. Once the oil separates from the water, SLC will stay where it is at; the upper echelon of storage, which is what you presume SSD is all about; wicked fast read and write speeds with near non-existent access times and a price that will remain wicked, for the next six months anyway.
MLC or Multi-Level Cell is emerging as a lower cost SSD technology and the direction many manufacturers are moving towards. In the past, read speeds have been a bit slower than SLC and write speeds have been right at the half way mark. Access times are still very low at less than 1ms, but not quite the sub millisecond that SLC can achieve when paired with an exceptional controller. For this article we are going to focus on MLC technology as it is the technology most likely to make its way to the masses this year.
Just like a controller you see on the bottom of your hard drive now, SSDs also need a chip to give them instructions. The controller is just as important as the type of memory used in a solid state drive; having a good controller can make or break your drives performance.
Solid state controllers are evolving rapidly, so fast that even the Super Talent MasterDrive MX I reviewed just days ago will be updated this coming Monday with what amounts to a firmware update. I was told this update improves the write speeds of the drive by a factor of two, making the drive write data within 10-15% of the much higher priced SLC drives.
To put this on a timeline to show just how quickly the product evolved, a sample request was issued. Just two days later the drive shipped out, and within a weeks time the article was posted. The day after, I received word about the update and an announcement is set to be made in the next two business days.
The Super Talent MasterDrive MX 60GB we looked at has a retail price of under 400 U.S. Dollars and doubles the capacity of many 32GB SLC drives we tested, costing over two times as much. The drive, post update will perform within 10% of the median speed of the SLC drives.
Samsung and Super Talent are not the only companies diving down the cost of solid state drives. OCZ Technology, based in Sunnyvale, California, announced on July 1st an even higher performance, low cost drive. The OCZ Technology Core Series specs out at an incredible 120-143 MB/s read speed and 80-93 MB/s write speed. You already know SSDs are fast, but the real story is in the price.
Core series SSD drives are available in capacities of 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB and deliver incredible 120-143 MB/s 80-93 MB/s read/write speeds and seek times of less than 0.35ms, making the Core series up to 10x as fast on a seek-time basis and up to 40% faster on a R/W basis that the best performing 2.5" HDDs on the market, all while consuming 50% less power. MSRPs at time of launch are USD $169, $259 and $479 for 32GB, 64GB and 128GB models respectively.
Neither the press release nor the product home page specify if the Core Series will use SLC or MLC memory, but given the low price I am going to go out on a limb and say MLC; though it is clear that the lines are starting to blur when it comes to performance.