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Budget SSDs offer more performance for same price
July 9, 2017, 12:46 pm

Last week, chip-maker Intel launched a first-to-market technology that might shake up the solid State Drive (SSD) market. The company said its new SSD 545s, based on 64-layer TLC 3D NAND technology, would allow more data to be squeezed onto fewer chips making big capacities and pro-level performance presumably more affordable.

Intel’s introuctory 545s model is a 512GB drive with a $179 price tag. The drive's main win over Intel's similarly priced 540s model is sustained write speeds. A $30 premium for 64-layer 3D NAND bragging rights seems steep, but hopefully these drives can eventually compete with Samsung and Crucial on price.

Incidentally, on the same day that Intel announced its lower priced SSD, Toshiba said that it had successfully developed what it claims to be the world’s first QLC — quadruple-level cell — 4-bit flash memory in a 3D flash device.

That is pretty big news for the future of flash memory, creating even higher storage density at cheaper prices. In simple terms, flash memory works by using a series of floating gate transistors with a charge value that is either assigned a “0” or “1” — one bit. These memory blocks are either arranged in a two-dimensional plane (planar NAND) or stacked in a more space efficient column (3D NAND, which is still relatively new).

To maximize storage, either of those memory blocks — whether in a 2D plane or stacked — can be divided up into more charge levels for even more data. Flash memory with four levels of charge per cell, or two bits, is known as multi-level cells or MLC, and memory with eight levels of charge (three bits) is referred to as having triple-level cells, or TLC.

QLC is the obvious next step, allowing even greater storage capacity by dividing each cell into 16 charge levels for four bits of data in each cell. Toshiba has obviously pulled off a technological marvel with its latest 3D NAND memory, which features 64-layer stacked QLC cells. The QLC method resulted in a 768 gigabit die capacity, a dramatic improvement over the earlier 512 gigabit TLC dies. Toshiba notes that the new QLC dies can be stacked in a 16-die package to create a single device with 1.5TB of storage, which it claims is the largest capacity in a one unit.

What Toshiba’s announcement means for the average consumer is that higher-capacity flash storage could soon be coming for less money, and this is good news for all those users looking to maximize storage on a budget. Toshiba has already started shipping the 3D QLC NAND samples to vendors for evaluation earlier this month, but there is no timeline as to when it will be available for consumers.

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