The Race To The Bottom Travels Without DRAM: Low Cost SSDs

The Race to the Bottom is a term used in many industries, and in some situations it's not a favorable phrase. When it comes to SSDs, though, it means providing products that are capable of shipping in large volume and in low cost solutions. It's not a secret that very low cost notebooks and even Chromebooks outsell even moderately priced models with more features and more powerful components. Traditionally, low cost notebooks ship with hard drives, but SSD manufacturers want an increased presence in that space.

Even though retail products like the Mushkin Reactor have driven retail SSD prices down dramatically over the last year, the cost is still too high for adoption in entry level solutions. A recent report by TrendForce showed that OEMs currently pay around $50 for an OEM 128 GB SSD, down from $77.20 one year ago.

According to the same report, SSDs will ship in 30 percent of notebook products this year, with that number surpassing 70 percent by 2017. Most of the recent growth comes from triple-level cell NAND flash, but in order to continue the trend, further reductions are necessary. NAND flash makes up the majority of the cost on an SSD, but DRAM used to cache page table data also plays a significant price role.

SSD controller makers have started to increase processing performance of the controller to accommodate higher levels of ECC technology and at the same time increased SRAM in the controller. Next-generation products designed for OEM customers are powerful enough to remove the expensive DRAM package and manipulate all of the page table data from flash.

The flash technology plays a role here as well. Native TLC performance is low by nature, but pseudo-SLC technologies that mimic SLC flash functions greatly increase low block size performance. This allows SSD markers enough small block transfer performance to remove the DRAM, thus lowering costs.

At Computex 2015 we saw controllers that fall into this category from JMicron, Marvell, Silicon Motion Inc. and Phison. The image above shows JMicron's JMF60E DRAM-less solution in three capacity sizes: 32 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB. JMicron told us the that the JMF60E paired with Micron L95B NAND flash in a 2-channel configuration can read data at 518 MB/s and write sequential data at 139 MB/s.

The performance is light compared to mainstream PC SSDs but significantly higher than hard disk drives. That becomes even more apparent when looking at random performance. The JMF60F delivers up to 12,500 random read IOPS and 21,500 random write IOPS. Hard disk drive random performance still barely breaks 100 IOPS in both read and write random operations.

Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware, covering Storage. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Follow Tom's Hardware on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.