The Rise of the Fab Companies
In order for the six NAND flash manufactures to rise, the third party customers need to fall. The most expensive part in a SSD, after you have the technology, is the NAND flash. There are six companies who make the NAND flash, Intel, Micron, Toshiba, SanDisk, Samsung, and SK Hynix. Simply put, these companies are the godfathers; they have every other SSD maker at their mercy.
Mercy is what the fab companies are not going to give, not anymore. Going into Black Friday, several SSDs were down to 50 cents per GB in the larger capacity models. Seagate, Mushkin, and a few others responded with low prices, but I don't think we'll see them survive the squeeze for very long. We've seen great names fall before in other markets. A great company name doesn't mean life is eternal; Abit comes to mind.
OCZ's CEO stated the company had issues purchasing flash. It wasn't a total flash lockout and the company's finances played a role. I doubt anyone at Samsung or Crucial is crying tonight because OCZ, the company who put a hurting on Crucial's C300 and Samsung's 840 Pro with competitive products, went under.
In early 2013, NAND flash supply decreased due to poor yields at IMFT (Micron and Intel). NAND flash prices increased and retail prices went back up to $1 per GB, sometimes higher. IMFT's second gen 20nm flash has started rolling and the experts predict excessive flash in 2014. This is good news for retail prices from the fab companies, but it doesn't mean they will sell NAND to third party SSD makers at prices that make the third party guys completive.
Controllers for Everyone... almost
In July, Micron publicly stated the company is working on a SSD controller. Until now, Micron used JMicron and Marvell controllers and developed their own firmware. Firmware seems to be the difficult part since SSD controllers are essentially programmable ASICs. Samsung, Intel, and SK Hynix have their own controllers, the latter from the purchase of Link_A_Media Devices (LAMD).
That leaves SanDisk and Toshiba as customers for controllers. SanDisk acquired Smart Storage, maker of great firmware, and Pliant before Smart. Toshiba has a nice semi-custom controller now in the Q-Series products. The controller is labeled Marvell and Toshiba, but doesn't use a DRAM buffer and we don't know of anyone else with it.
Just weeks ago, we inquired about the Toshiba / Marvell controller with a Marvell rep. and were told to talk to Toshiba about the controller because it has both Toshiba and Marvell IP.
Although not a fab company, LSI's SandForce division has a habit of outperforming everything else on the market upon a new controller release. Two weeks ago, we saw working silicon at LSI's AIS event and walked away impressed. The SF3700 Series is the most advanced controller SandForce has ever created, and with early hardware, is already capable of reading data at 1,800 MB/s.
The SF3700 is a new nine-channel controller that we should see more of at CES. At this time, I suspect we won't see products for sale until the second half of 2014. We're working on a special performance preview article for CES already. We'll know more about early SF3700 performance in just over a month.
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