Micron unveils first solid state drive offerings

Solid state drives come in 32GB and 64GB capacities, 50% lighter than HDDs

Micron Technology plunged headfirst into the nascent solid state drive marketplace this week with the unveiling of its RealSSD family of storage devices.

The RealSSD portfolio features serial ATA II-enabled 1.8-in. and 2.5-in. solid state drives in 32GB and 64GB capacities. The company early next year will start mass producing the drives, which are currently being "sampled," said Dean Klein, vice president of memory system development at Boise, Idaho-based Micron.

Micron's RealSSD drives, noted Klein, require less than 2 watts of power during active mode and are about 50% lighter than hard disk drives of similar capacities. The devices do not require a SATA bridge chip but rather rely on a single-chip controller (optimized for four-channel control of NAND flash) directly targeting the solid state drive application, he added.

The new RealSSD line also includes the Embedded USB and Module products. The RealSSD Embedded USB can be plugged into a PC or blade server system to provide operating system storage and boot capabilities via an USB 2.0 interface. The RealSSD Module is a SATA-enabled solid state drive for server-based applications that measures 25 millimeters high by 133.5mm long and less than 4mm thick.

Klein acknowledged that adoption of solid state drives for corporate users has been very slow, mostly because of the technology's high price tag. However, he predicted that declining prices of NAND flash technology and the inevitable development of applications for solid state systems will accelerate demand.

"Technology is going to make [solid state] real. The cost of the NAND components will be a large determining factor in terms of acceptance," said Klein. "Even if we could bring speed of light performance to these devices, there's a lot of applications that still won't take them because the cost is too high or the density isn't high enough."

Of the many first-generation solid state drive devices currently available, Klein remarked, "benchmarks have proven them to be fairly lame in terms of performance." Going a step further, he panned BitMicro Networks' 1.6TB solid state drive unveiled this month as a "pricey piece of art." Samsung Electronics Co. and SanDisk Corp are considered two established leaders currently providing solid state drive offerings, analysts noted.

Although initially focused on providing solid state drives for the notebook audience -- a natural fit, said Klein, because solid state is lightweight, and offers power savings and a small size -- Micron does have interest in examining larger-capacity solid state products for the desktop and enterprise industry.

Jeff Janukowicz, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, said his IT research firm has forecast that demand for solid state technology will "substantially" increase over the next few years. An IDC report released in July predicted that sales of solid state drives will grow from US$373 million in 2006 to a total of US$5.4 billion in 2011.

While notebook computing will fuel solid state adoption, Janukowicz said he expects the need for improved performance and specialized applications in servers, blade servers and enterprise storage systems to attract growing solid state interest over time.

Janukowicz said Micron's decision to debut an entire family of solid state products with RealSSD and its established NAND and flash memory expertise could prove to be a key differentiator with OEMs. But much work still needs to be done, he noted.

"Micron needs to work well with PC OEMs that deliver solutions acceptable for the PC market," he said. "The challenge there is [a traditional] usage model of using hard disks in notebook PCs. There is a bit of education process in terms of using solid state disks as primary storage in network computing that needs to take place."

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Brian Fonseca

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