14-Way SSD Hard Drive Roundup

Flash SSDs Compared

July was an interesting month. Although there were no new major flash SSD product releases, we talked quite a bit about the successor to the hard drive, or what it will eventually become, and decided to keep looking at the flash SSD market. Today, an SSD isn’t necessarily the better choice over a magnetic hard drive, as there is a catch with most of the options out there. Some flash SSDs are much more efficient than hard drives, others are much faster than hard drives, and only a small minority can achieve both. But all are more expensive, especially when you consider cost per gigabyte.

The Flash SSD Market: Between SLC and MLC

We should keep in mind that the flash SSD market is still relatively young, and in the process of being defined. Manufacturers such as MemoRight and Mtron position their products for high-end workstations and servers, while Samsung has an excellent consumer drive, which it does not yet in retail. Instead, it provided small quantities to other vendors such as OCZ to create their individual products. All the premium products are based on Single-Level Cell (SLC) flash memory. You can identify these by their high write performance and I/O performance.

And then there is the flash SSD mainstream, although we’re having a hard time declaring this a “mainstream” segment when it still averages several hundred dollars per drive. The mainstream differs from the high-end in its utilization of Multi-Level Cell (MLC) flash products. These can be read quickly, but their write and random access performance generally lag behind.

Manufacturers typically don’t tell you whether they use SLC or MLC flash, but you can tell by the cost. If the price tag hits four digits, you’re looking at a high-end product based on SLC flash. Don’t make the mistake of declaring MLC the loser, though, since good products using it can certainly be suitable even for high-end desktop applications.

New Products: Hama, Mtron, Samsung, Silicon Power

As you would expect, the market for these products is in constant flux. We included two new 2.5” flash SSD in between our initial flash SSD Hoax article and our update on specific findings regarding efficiency. Although we had to return some drives to their sources, we added four new flash SSD units from the European vendor Hama, a 128 GB drive by Silicon Power, a new high-performance model by Mtron and Samsung’s latest offering.

And we found that only one product manages to stick out from the crowd.