SanDisk and Samsung announce new SSDs: Will the drives still be impressive by ship date?

SanDisk and Samsung have announced 19nm server-grade SSDs at impressive capacities, but new, smaller chips are rolling out of the factories and potentially into products released later this year.


Earlier this year, HGST rolled out a 600 GB 15K RPM traditional platter drive intended for servers, but advances in solid-state storage technology have smashed the records for density in 2.5" server drives for products shipping this year. Even still, smaller chips are already being produced and prepared for products coming your way in the near future.

Just announced: SanDisk Optimus MAX (4 TB)

SanDisk has unveiled the 4 TB Optimus MAX, a 2.5" solid-state drive (SSD) packed with 19nm eMLC flash, connected via 6 Gbit/sec SAS. The Optimus MAX is rated for 75,000 random read IOPS, 15,000 random write IOPS, and 400 MB/sec sequential read and write.

These figures are not exactly blazingly fast -- smaller drives do operate somewhat faster -- the focal point here is cramming 4 terabytes into such a physically small form factor. For comparison, the Optimus Eco (produced by SMART Storage prior to its acquisition by SanDisk) packed 2 TB in the same space with 100,000 random read IOPS, 45,000 random write IOPS, and 500 MB/sec sequential read and write. The drive is rated at being able to handle three full writes per day throughout the five-year limited warranty of the device.

This drive is ideal for low-rewrite long-term storage applications that require fast access to data -- that is, without the seek time of a platter drive. Potential applications for cloud data storage for documents, email, photo, and some database work seem ideal. The random write rating is not exactly low, but this is clearly marketed for density, not for blazingly fast speeds. Overall, this should fill an important market niche, assuming that someone is willing to pay the price for it.

The Optimus Max is expected to ship in Q3 2014. While pricing hasn't been announced, there is no expectation that this device will break through the $1/GB price barrier.

Faster, but less dense: SanDisk Lightning

SanDisk has also refreshed its Lightning series of drives. The second generation moves from 34nm to 19nm Flash, and changes the connector to 12 Gbit/sec SAS. This series is where the speed of flash truly shows.

The Lightning Ultra series, available in 200 GB, 400 GB, and 800 GB SKUs are rated at 1000/600 MB/sec for sequential read and write, 190,000 random read IOPS, and 100,000 random write IOPS. The Ultra series is rated at 25 full writes per day throughout the five-year warranty. The Lightning Ascend series, available in the aforementioned SKUs plus 1.6 TB, share the same specifications, except for random write IOPS is instead rated at 80,000, and only 10 full writes per day for five years.

Based on specifications alone, this drive seems like an absolute dream for storing a SQL database or other such latency-critical, high-rewrite application. In contrast to the traditional platter HGST Ultrastar C15K600 drive, the Lightning series has a larger capacity and higher sustained transfer rate, though comparing sequential write on a platter drive and sustained write on an SSD is not a particularly fair comparison.

A mystery: Samsung PM835T

Samsung's server-class drives, in terms of what the drive is capable of doing and what technology goes inside the drive, are shrouded in mystery. The PM835T, a 3-bits-per-cell (TLC) NAND flash SSD, is marketed as using "a 10nm-class process node," which could mean anything less than 20nm and more than 10nm, though if the current state of the industry is any indication, the drive is very likely using 19nm flash. The PM835T comes in 240 GB, 480 GB, and 960 GB SKUs, and for the entire series, is rated for 90,000 random read IOPS, 14,400 random write IOPS, and 530/420 MB/sec for sequential read and write. The PM835T series has no published write endurance.

The PM835T is presently in production, with sales expected to begin later this quarter.

Regarding the future

SanDisk has started production of 15nm NAND for SLC and MLC, being apparently the first manufacturer to commence production of anything at this scale. (As noted above, Samsung has not officially disclosed the manufacturing process it currently uses.) These chips will go in anything from SSDs to standalone memory cards such as SDXC. In the press release, SanDisk noted that "no sacrifice in memory performance or reliability" has occurred in the jump from 19nm to 15nm.

Speak out

Is the promise of performance enough to convince you to upgrade to your servers to the Optimus MAX or Lightning series? Are you a stalwart in your continued use of traditional platter hard drives? Does "10-nm class process" sound like something other than a hedge to you? Let us know your opinion in the comments.