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It has only been a few months since flash-based solid state drives (SSDs) were launched worldwide (although Samsung's expensive 32 GB flash drives with an UltraATA interface have been available for over a year). Unlike classic hard drives, flash-based SSDs store data onto arrays of non-volatile flash memory, while delivering good throughput with virtually nil access times and offering low power consumption. Now, Ridata and Samsung have entered the exclusive SSD market. Can they catch up with Mtron?
While DRAM prices have only been falling moderately, flash memory densities and costs have shown promise. Entry-level 2 GB flash-based storage products such as simple SD cards have already fallen below the $15 mark in retail channels, and even 8 GB products aren't unaffordable anymore. Higher capacities are only a matter of time.
It is necessary to differentiate between the cheaper MLC (multi-level cell) devices and the faster, but more expensive SLC (single-level cell) NAND flash media. The latter are used for all flash-based hard drives and high-performance USB 2.0 flash memory devices.
Although several flash-based drives at 8 GB to 32 GB have been available for some time Compare Prices on 32 GB Flash Drives, memory vendors are ready to ship products at 64 and 128 GB as soon as flash data densities become more affordable. While we consider 8 GB insufficient for notebook use, it can still be attractive for industrial or business applications. Flash-based permanent storage doesn't only offer significantly reduced read access times, it is also mechanically robust. Most flash-based hard drives are built into a 2.5" form factor, which is small enough for the majority of industrial and mobile applications and can be installed in 3.5" drive bays in standard PCs. In addition, many flash-based products have a higher operating temperature range than mechanical hard drives.
However, performance and cost remain the two main issues for flash SSDs. The fastest flash drive we've yet seen has been Mtron's 32 GB flash SSD, which we reviewed several weeks ago. Not only does it achieve an almost 100 MB/s read transfer rate, it removes the last serious disadvantage of flash drives compared to traditional hard drives; write access time and I/O performance of the Mtron drive are excellent. Yet, all other flash-based SSDs still deliver insufficient random write performance. With the exception of the Mtron SSDs, a fast mechanical hard drive such as the Western Digital Raptor or a fast SAS drive is the better choice for applications that show lots of write-intensive random I/Os.
Let's look at the two new contenders: Ridata's 32 GB Turbo SSD and Samsung's brand new 64 GB flash SSD.