Affordable SSD Drives Could be in Store This Year

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by Andy Patrizio

This Christmas could see a lot more solid state drives (SSDs) under the trees, as two market research firms see the price of SSD drives finally coming below the $1 per gigabyte limit for the first time.

Elgato Thunderbolt SSDThe predictions come from both DRAMeXchange, a research division of TrendForce, a technology market research firm in China, and HIS, formerly known as iSuppli, here in the U.S.

DRAMeXchage made six major DRAM and NAND Flash industry trends in 2012-2015, one of which is that based on new process technology entering mass production in the second half of this year, SSD prices should finally come down.

NAND flash RAM launched at 34nm and shrunk to 25nm for the second generation of SSDs currently on the market. The new generation due later this year will use 19-20nm, which should mean a price drop as you get more storage out of the chips.

When this occurs, DRAMeXchange expects notebook makers will more readily use pure SSD solutions instead of HDD/flash hybrids, like Seagate’s Momentus XT drive, and that mainstream capacity will increase to 128GB. IHS sees the same development. NAND flash has dropped below $1 per gigabyte for a while, but an SSD drive has other chips, like the firmware and controller, that have kept the cost up. Also, SSD requires pricier memory chips than your typical USB thumb drive.

“SSD cannot use the cheapest of the cheap,” said Michael Yang, senior principal analyst for memory at IHS. “SSD has certain qualities associated with it. Unlike a USB drive, which uses the cheapest of the cheap NAND flash out there, SSD simple can’t use cheap stuff.”

But the price is definitely dropping. Last year, SSD drives were around was $1.60 per gigabyte. By second half, it will be less than a dollar thanks to price erosion and the cheaper, smaller manufacturing process, pushing it below $1 per GB, said Yang.

He cautions that the price is not universal, that there are different quality NAND flash chips and that will affect price as well. That can be seen in the array of SSD drives on the market. A 120GB drive on NewEgg.com can run from $119 to $479 due to differences in RAM, the SATA interface and firmware and other circuitry.

Still, seeing SSD prices drop from their outrageous levels could be a shot the PC industry desperately needs, especially after a terrible 2011, where worldwide sales rose just 0.5 percent over 2010 levels, according to Gartner.

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