Why are SSDs pricing going up?

The demand for tablets and smartphones grows rapidly which results in higher prices of embedded multi-chip packages (MCP) where expensive DRAM goes together with less expensive eFlash or eMMC. It seems that another reason for NAND price rise is strong demand from laptop producers in the face of weak sales which result in inventories building up (and possibly more frequent product updates).

As far as phones go, there might be another factor in play: Apple killed off the 16 GB model and now sells devices with 16, 32 and 64 GB of memory. It seems like no-name Chinese manufacturers who make cheap Android phones might be losing market share as a result of this move because they can’t really offer more than 16 GB of storage for an affordable price (not to mention that many people buy those phones as a “cheap” second phone).

Price increases are not limited to NAND flash only. DRAM prices were going up as well (even before the flood) and we can see some price adjustments on eMMC/eMCP packages as well. What’s good about it is that those parts use less expensive Multi-Level Cell (MLC) flash, which makes the price increases more acceptable.

I believe that memory suppliers are trying to raise prices on some products but lack of strong competition (and strong market growth) make it hard for them to do so.

This will probably change soon though with Micron’s new 32 nm (1Y) NAND flash coming online. However, I’m not sure if they can produce enough of those chips in time to affect this quarter or next – given how fast NAND production is expanding now, most likely there won’t be many 1Y chips until Q2/Q3 2012.

Maybe the companies who sell SSDs will pass most of these price rises onto consumers? That might be true for large brands like OCZ and Corsair, but what about those who buy from smaller manufacturers? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. We might even have a slight shortage of memory going on if everything goes as planned by major suppliers.

Another thing that could be a factor in the price increase is massive flooding which damaged many factories in Thailand, including some SSD factories. It’s hard to say how much this will affect prices though because most companies are still silent about their production capabilities for now.

Why are SSDs faster then HDD?

In simple terms, it’s because NAND flash is a much faster technology. At the same time, you have to keep in mind that SSDs use SLC/MLC memory with a relatively low number of cells compared to HDD – so the speed difference isn’t as huge as it might seem at first glance. It also depends on how well data is packed inside the RAM buffer and how big the disk cache is. This applies mostly to “hybrid” drives (SSD plus HDD) which are often sold as fast storage devices even though they’re not really any faster than traditional platter-based drives.

Additionally, read speeds depend on garbage collection routines employed by SSD makers; sometimes it can take several seconds to complete this operation, which makes some drives slower than others.

The latest SandForce SSD controllers seem to be able to compress/decompress data on-the-fly which eliminate the need for GC routines; apparently, this technology will make its way into new products soon.

You might not realize it due to good optimizations in software, but HDD writes are much faster than flash memory writes (even with MLC NAND). That’s because writing is a multi-step process: writing data to RAM buffer (which requires reading back what you wrote recently or all your data), then packing that into segments and then actually pushing it through the drive controller. The last step is still very fast, but you have to wait for all previous steps to complete.

In the case of SSDs, writing is a very quick process – it writes data directly from RAM buffer to Flash media, so there’s no separate step which takes time. In real-world conditions this might not make a huge difference because most operations are reads/writes mixed together in some way or another, but if you had a scenario where you do many small write operations (e.g. booting Windows) then SSDs will make a huge difference here.