By Dave Simpson
—In another sign that solid-state disks (SSDs) are making their way from niche markets into more-commercial, and consumer-oriented, markets, STEC this week announced shipments of an SSD—dubbed MACH8-MLC—based on multi-level cell (MLC) technology.
First, a little background: The NAND (non-volatile) segment of the SSD market can be divided into two sub-segments: single-level cell (SLC) and MLC. The primary difference between the two is that SLC stores a single bit of data per cell, whereas MLC, by using a larger number of voltage levels, stores two bits of data per cell. SLC, the higher-performance technology, is often used in applications such as streaming video and handheld devices. MLC NAND flash, on the other hand, is often used for price-sensitive applications where the maximum SSD performance is not required.
With the MACH8-MLC, STEC is primarily targeting notebook computers and portable media players, and is currently shipping to OEMs.
Although MLC-based SSDs are much less expensive than SLC-based devices, MLC technology historically has been plagued by inherently slow write speeds and relatively low write/erase endurance. STEC claims it has minimized those drawbacks with a combination of technologies, including a high-performance (eight-channel) controller that enables write performance superior to traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), and ECC and flash management technology that meets the data integrity and extended-life requirements for devices such as notebooks. Media management techniques also contributed to increased performance relative to existing MLC-based NAND devices.
STEC officials claim sustained sequential performance of 90MBps in read operations and 60MBps in write operations based on the IOmeter benchmark. Officials also quote a power consumption rating of 0.5 watt, or about 80% of the power consumption of many HDDs.
The MACH8-MLC SSDs are available with either SATA or parallel ATA (PATA) interfaces and come in a variety of form factors (1.8-inch or 2.5-inch) and capacities (ranging from 32GB to 512GB). The maximum capacity for the 1.8-inch version is 128GB, and the maximum capacity for the 2.5-inch version is 256GB.
STEC quotes pricing for the MACH8-MLC at about $5 per gigabyte, which it claims to be about half the price of existing SSDs, although it's important to note that the pricing is based on OEM volume quantities (e.g., 5,000+ units per month).
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