SanDisk Shows Us That Average Can Be Interesting
The SSD industry has a feudal dynamic of sorts. Up top you have the big powers, the players with fabs. In the middle and at the bottom, you have the other contenders, each paying homage to the organizations that create the NAND on which they all rely. Samsung, Intel, Micron, Hynix, Toshiba, and SanDisk each fab their own flash, though each plays a different role in the retail market and as a supplier to smaller SSD vendors. One thing is for certain: the inexorable fact that owning a own fab gives you a huge leg up economically and technically.
Further, the knowledge that goes along with designing flash provides even more insight to draw from when it comes to designing products based on that memory. There are a few notable exceptions, but the days of many firms pumping a crazy number of models into the market are drawing to a close. When there are flash supply issues downstream, it won't be SanDisk and the company's contemporaries that suffer. There are too many pressures on the smaller companies, especially the ones without big OEM and data center sales. Something has to give eventually, and the Ultra Plus represents the sort of product those other players need to watch out for.
True, the UltraPlus isn't brutally fast. It falls into the soft and soggy mid-range across its specification sheet. Performance ranges from excellent to merely good. But we can't really complain because we know that this is the space SanDisk was aiming for. Given budget pricing and a very sparse bundle, there's no pretense of benchmark magic or fat extras in the package. It's just a SSD in a box with a slightly different mix of controller, firmware, and attitude.
Right now, that's good enough to make the Ultra Plus a great alternative to many of the value-oriented products floating around. Considering the many drives offering solid performance for the price, we're really saying something profound. The newly-minted SanDisk Extreme II is definitely a cut above when it comes to speed. However, SanDisk is charging more for it too. For most mainstream buyers, the Ultra Plus and its mid-range competition are just what the doctor ordered.
The largest Ultra Plus is as fast as last year's quickest drives in most circumstances, with the added benefit of lower per-gigabyte pricing. On the other end of the spectrum, the 64 GB model is ninja-quick for its size. If you're looking for something inexpensive to drop into an older system, or to create a reasonable RAID 0 array, the smallest Ultra Plus could be an ideal candidate. But it's hard to justify the 64 GB model at all when the 128 GB version sells for a few dollars more, and with performance closer to the 256 GB drive. Regardless of capacity, the Ultra Plus is at home with the lighter workloads that typify average computing environments.
Any of the Ultra Plus drives might be an interesting alternative to the rapidly-disappearing Crucial m4, a drive that helped pave the way for exceptional performance at lower prices over the last year. You could always count on the m4 being a good deal. Now that it's on its way out, SSDs like SanDisk's are in a great position to slide in.