The news about solid-state drives (SSDs) has been mostly positive lately, and the trend of downward pricing and increasing capacity is likely to continue as we head into 2019.
We’ve already seen predictions that SSD pricing could fall more than 50 percent in 2019, although at least one manufacturer (WD/Sandisk) seems to be adjusting production to brace the impact of falling prices. But really, as we saw through the 2018 holiday season, SSD prices have already slid to impressive lows. I personally bought a 2TB NVMe Intel 660p drive from Newegg on Thanksgiving day for $249, as well as a 2TB SATA Crucial MX500 for $209. I know, that’s a lot of cash to drop on storage but, well, I’m not really a fan of hard drives and these drives finally let me kick the old spinning platters out of my PC forever.
With SSD sale prices hitting 10 cents per gigabyte and capacities expanding (Samsung’s new QVO drive will be offered at capacities up to 4TB), 2019 looks to be an excellent time to buy an SSD. But what’s driving capacity up and prices down? First off, the market has started to shift to QLC (quad-level-cell) NAND, which is cheaper to make than the TLC (triple-level cell) that’s baked into most existing consumer drives. QLC is in general slower than TLC, with less endurance. But with improvements in caching and cell resilience, QLC drives should generally be fast-enough, with enough rated endurance to keep most gamers and general-purpose PC users happy.
The other thing pushing down pricing is a shift to 96-Layer 3D NAND, which increases densities while lowering costs by stacking more storage cells on top of each other. All the major SSD makers have shifted or are expected to shift to 96-layer NAND in high capacities in 2019, although Samsung has the lead there and Intel/Micron seem to be lagging a bit behind.
Samsung’s Z-NAND Brings Competition to Optane
Intel’s next-generation 3D XPoint phase-change storage tech impressed us this year, with the 905p proving to be the fastest SSD we’ve ever tested. But Samsung will bring some competition to the ultra-fast (and ultra-expensive) storage front in 2019 with its competing Z-NAND technology. Samsung has been touting the potential of Z-NAND for years, but high-end Enterprise parts based around the technology only started to ship in limited quantities in 2018, and we expect to see more Z-NAND drives roll into data centers (and perhaps our testing rig) as 2019 progresses.
But, don’t get your hopes up yet about a consumer Z-NAND drive, at least yet. While it’s possible that the Samsung could release consumer-focused Z-NAND model next year, it seems unlikely given how few have yet to even make their way to professional customers. Plus, Samsung’s traditional consumer NVMe drives like the SSD 970 Pro are already fast enough in some tests (like sequential reads and writes) to give Intel’s consumer Optane drives a run for their phase-changing money.
What we’re more likely to see from Samsung in 2019 is a next-gen NVMe M.2 drive or drives (possibly an 980 EVO and 980 Pro) that ramp performance up even further (hopefully at lower prices). Because while the company long held a strong lead on consumer performance SSDs, upstarts like MyDigital SSD are increasingly offering compelling competing products that are nearly as fast as Samsung’s best, at significantly lower prices.
- 4TB consumer SSDs will become common
- QLC will replace TLC in mainstream SSDs (for better and worse)
- Prices will plunge below 10 cents per gigabyte for mainstream drives
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