Report: Intel's Braidwood flash memory module could kill SSD market

Flash memory cache is a quarter ogf the cost of traditional DRAM

Intel's upcoming Braidwood NAND flash memory module, which is aimed at giving users faster boot-ups and application launches, could undermine solid-state disk (SSD) demand, according to a recent report on the new technology.

The 50-page report, "Intel's Braidwood: Death to SSDs?," from research firm Objective Analysis in Los Gatos, Calif., said that Braidwood's flash memory is less expensive to install because it resides directly on the motherboard and will offer all the same benefits of an SSD at a lower cost.

Intel's Braidwood technology, slated to launch in the first quarter of 2010, is basically a NAND flash memory module that serves as cache for all reads and writes, speeding up the performance of a system. Consumer-grade SSDs use relatively inexpensive multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash memory, which is about one-eighth the price of DRAM memory typically used for cache in a computer.

Braidwood, which is expected to offer anywhere from 4GB to 16GB capacity, will only raise the cost of a PC by about $US10 to $US20 per system, according to Jim Handy, according to Objective Analysis analyst Jim Handy, who authored the report. (Intel has said nothing formally about the cost).

According to Handy, the company plans to use higher-end, and more expensive, single-level cell (SLC) NAND flash memory as opposed to MLC flash. SLC memory stores only one bit of data per cell and is natively faster and lasts longer than MLC memory. Even so, it is one-quarter the cost of traditional DRAM cache.

"The move to NAND in PCs will boost the NAND market, soften the SSD and DRAM markets and pose problems for those NAND makers who are not poised to produce ONFi (open NAND flash interface) NAND flash," Handy said.

Intel makes two of the more successful SSDs on the market today, the X25-M and X25-E drives , which are aimed at consumers and data centers, respectively.

An Intel spokesman disagreed with Objective Analysis' premise that Braidwood could hurt SSD sales, saying "It's not just the performance, but also the added reliability...[SSDs] can help facilitate versus a hard drive. We see a long life ahead for SSDs, and won't stop inventing a variety of other technologies that make computers faster and/or more energy efficient."

Handy disagreed, saying that hard disk drives are very reliable and only have a reputation for hardware failures when, in fact, most crashes can be attributed to software issues. "If you really get down to what makes consumers buy SSD, the reliability issue is not something they often cite as reason [for] spending extra money on an SSD," Handy said.

The 50-page report from Objective Analysis is an in-depth review of the market for NAND in the PC, exploring Braidwood technology, implementation costs, and expected benefits. It also explains how those benefits compare to alternatives like SSDs, larger DRAMs, and standard PCs.

The impact of Intel's technology will not only affect its own SSD products, but also those of NAND makers such as Toshiba, Samsung, Hynix, Micron and as well as DRAM suppliers.

"Intel has got a very good [SSD] product. But, they view additional layers of NAND technology in PCs as inevitable. They don't think SSDs are likely to take over 100 per cent of the PC market, but they do think Braidwood could find itself in 100 per cent of PCs," Handy said.

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Lucas Mearian

Computerworld (US)
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