Look for prices for solid-state disk (SSD) drives to come down as manufacturers prepare to roll out new, thinner chipsets for NAND Flash memory in the fourth quarter.
In June, Micron’s Crucial MX100 became the first mainstream SSD to use 16 nm NAND chips, the smallest process deployed in consumer drives since manufacturing partners Toshiba and SanDisk introduced 19 nm transistors in 2012. Toshiba/SanDisk announced in April that they have shrunk the dimensions even further, and plan to release a 15 nm NAND chip to the consumer market before the end of the year.
Smaller, denser chips reduce SSD production costs, meaning that manufacturers can offer consumers more storage at lower per-gigabit prices. This is fundamental to the NAND industry, which is driven by how well SSD makers can position the technology as a cost-effective alternative to hard disk drive (HDD) storage.
On the heels of the Crucial NAND release, we have seen SSD prices per gigabyte fall below $0.50.
Meanwhile, Samsung took its new 3D V-NAND SSD drive technology to market in September. The Samsung 850 Pro Series deploys vertically stacked cell layers on its chipset rather than trying to decrease cell thickness. The Korean tech giant is the first to market with V-NAND technology, and it is said to offer higher density, faster write times, better energy efficiency, and it does not succumb to program and erase cycle loss—a potentially major breakthrough in NAND technology. The 850 Pro Series comes with a 10-year warranty, a feature that Samsung hopes can leverage this longevity advantage to consumers.
As all this new technology comes to market, analysts are sensing a pricing shootout in the coming months.
“Right now we are seeing stagnant prices because we’re in a transition period where manufacturers are ramping down on 19 nm technology, and ramping up on 15-16 nm,” says Stephen Yang, NeweggBusiness product manager for SSDs. “Once 15-16 nm goes into full production, and Samsung starts full production on 3D V-NAND, then those three will assume an all-out war for market dominance.”
Already, prices are lower than anticipated for 2014. Some analysts at the beginning of the year expected SSD prices to hold steady around $0.75 per gigabyte, with price increases forecasted. This came as a response to a perceived manufacturing shortage resulting from reduced investment in SSD technology a few years earlier.
As it stands on the day of publication, we see Crucial MX100 retailing in the $0.45 per gigabyte range. Samsung’s V-NAND retails around $0.70 per gigabyte for 512 GB models and larger. Yang expects SanDisk’s new 15 nm SSDs to retail for around the same prices as the Crucial, and possibly drive the prices down even more in this historically competitive market.
“Generally this cycle repeats every two years or so,” Yang says. “It’s a race for whoever has the lowest production cost, while at the same time it balances whoever has the best technology.” This has traditionally been a fine line for SSD manufactures to walk, with the consumer market generally opting for products that get the most bang (read: gigabytes) for the buck.
With that in mind, it may be a tough sell for Samsung, who is hoping that its V-NAND technology is advantageous enough to make consumers shell out extra cash for extra features.
In the longer term, V-NAND technology looks like the future of SSD storage. The latest iteration of 15-16 nm NAND chips are about as thin as they can get to physically store electrons, meaning that manufacturers need to build vertically to offer bigger, faster storage. Toshiba/SanDisk are developing their own V-NAND SSD that is expected to reach the consumer market by 2016.
In some areas of technology, being first to market means having to convince buyers to invest for a superior product. This is often a major challenge for manufacturers. Yang is confident that Samsung’s message will catch on: “It will take a while to permeate, but it eventually will get out.”
In the meantime, Yang says to watch SSD prices around the time of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as this is when the SSD market historically offers its most competitive pricing.
Related: HGST’s Phase Change Memory Architecture Might Be the Future of Flash Memory
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