It's an interesting time for Toshiba. The company is in the midst of a contentious sale of its fab assets. The sale is constantly in the news, and we're not sure how long the name will hang on the fabs. With so much speculation, most of it in the form of intentional leaks (from multiple parties) designed to misguide and increase the bids, we're avoiding reporting every update. Currently there are lawsuits on two continents and a slew of companies stumbling over each other to be the lucky winner. Toshiba chose a preferred buyer, but Sk Hynix partially finances the group. That isn't popular with Western Digital (Toshiba's manufacturing partner) and the government of Japan. Western Digital isn't matters easier by trying to block to sale. Regardless of the outcome, we suspect there will be some hard feelings when it’s all over.
The sale means a lot to enthusiasts, too. The analysts put a lot of weight on Toshiba bringing BiCS NAND to market. It's supposed to the savior of the greatest NAND flash shortage of all time. Toshiba sells flash to half, or more, of the third party SSD vendors. It would be a detriment to the enthusiast market if the fab fell into the hands of a company not willing to share this valuable resource. Apple, Google, and many other bidders could easily use the Toshiba share of the flash flowing from the fab, but Western Digital would still have its share.
The consumer market has begun the transition to 3-bit per cell flash. There are a handful of MLC products still available for those willing to pay a high price. At least one more big planar MLC announcement is coming in July, but we aren't aware of any more after that from the major players.
That leads us to the Toshiba XG5. As an OEM drive, Toshiba hit a home run. If my next notebook came with this drive in a large enough capacity, I wouldn't replace it. The XG5 is an excellent SSD for what most users do on a notebook or desktop. It's a high performance NVMe drive that even does a good job closing the gap between planar TLC and MLC. It's still not on the same level as the professional workstation products, though.
We're more concerned about some of the latency issues we observed in our testing. The XG5 is still early at this point. The OEMs are busy with validation and will find the same issues. From there, it's just a matter of back and forth with Toshiba to reduce the latency. The drive we examined today is very close to the final XG5 we'll see in systems, but the OCZ RD model will be a little more refined. We'll wait for the retail drive before coming to any conclusions about the future of "high-performance" TLC consumer SSDs.
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