SandForce didn't have the fastest overall SSD in 2010, but they made the biggest impact. To be fair, only the 240GB drive took a back seat to Crucial's Real SSD C300 256GB drive in performance, but SandForce made up for their single shortcoming by delivering class leading performance in the 40, 50, 60, 80, 90, 100, 120, 400 and 480GB capacity points. Obviously SandForce and their partner manufacturers went a little overboard with capacity sizes, but SSDs are the fastest and easiest way to boost a computers performance and companies tried to deliver a product to fit every budget.
SandForce was very successful in gaining partners to deliver their controllers to. If you thought 2010 was big, just wait and see what happens this year. In 2011 SandForce has converted Kingston from Intel at the high end, and Kingston, a massive power player in every market, will ship thousands of SandForce consumer drives in 2011. Kingston previously sold Intel enterprise drives as well and I wouldn't be surprised to see Kingston deliver an enterprise SandForce SSD, too. Other partners, known around here as 'Team SandForce', will also be returning in 2011 and I don't foresee anyone dropping off anytime soon. I will cover a little more of this on the next page.
SandForce's largest partner to date has been OCZ Technology and without OCZ SandForce might still be a company dreaming of the big time. At CES, OCZ was the only partner to show a next generation SandForce SSD working. The OCZ Technology Vertex 3 Pro, an enterprise class model, was churning data at over 540MB/s and delivering 70K IOPS. The Pro model isn't even the flagship; that designation goes to the EX and it's capable of over 80K IOPS, or nearly twice that of the consumer drive we have today.
Off the cuff the only thing I can see going wrong for SandForce in 2011 is their focus on the enterprise sector. Enterprise models require more validation and with it more effort and time than consumer drives. This actually works out better for consumers since all of the heavy lifting goes into getting the enterprise drive ready, but it also pushes the development of the consumer drives back further into the year. As it sits right now, March appears to be the magic date for the Vertex 3 Pro and EX enterprise drives and the consumer models will only come after the enterprise gets their next generation product.
In the enterprise market SandForce will have to compete with Intel and Toshiba. At CES we saw an Intel / Hitachi enterprise drive that was not working, but the real news was from Toshiba. Toshiba had a working sample of their next generation enterprise drive and it was turning out big numbers as well.
On the consumer side SandForce appears to have the fastest SSD for 2011, but it's time to market will be an issue. In March Marvell and what will soon be known as Team Marvell will have consumer drives ready; the Crucial M4 leading the charge in this group. We are not in a position to call winners yet, though, but the on paper, the numbers suggest that SandForce will deliver over 530MB/s to consumers and Marvell will be closer to 470MB/s. If both drives hit the market at the same time, things would be a lot easier for the crystal ball, but as it sits right now, Team Marvell will have a three month advantage on Team SandForce in the consumer market space.
Good things come to those who wait, though. The next generation SandForce controller can use just about every type of NAND on the market. Look for manufacturers to experiment with flash to deliver high performing and lower cost products at the same time.