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Overview of the Notebook SSD Market

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor

In the first 5 years of its history (2006-2010) the notebook SSD market was a disappointment to SSD evangelists like me - because integration with PCs was so bad, and most of the SSDs were too slow or had too little capacity to be useful, while some consumer SSDs were simply unreliable and badly designed. Hoping that SSDs would go away - most hard disk makers tried to offer hybrid drives as a stop gap - which I predicted (right from the outset) would be a waste of space.

Now in 2014 - the outlook for SSD notebook users is better.

You can now get affordable notebook SSDs which have no compromize in capacity or performance in a range of different designs.
  • fast notebooks - which use PCIe SSDs in the M.2 form factor. (Current consumer designs support generation 2 PCIe - which gives similar R/W speeds to the enterprise SSDs of 7 years ago.)
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Notebook SSD Timeline from SSD History

1993 - HP offered a PCMCIA flash disk as an alternative to a hard drive in its HP Omnibook 300. Although not strictly speaking an SSD (because it didn't include wear leveling) it was one of the first serious attempts to offer solid state storage in a mainstream portable PC.

January 2006 - NextCom became the first notebook maker to qualify flash SSDs for use in Windows XP, Linux and Solaris notebooks.

May 2006 - Samsung launched the world's first high volume Windows XP notebook using SSDs.

April 2007 - Dell joined the growing roster of notebook oems offering SSDs as a standard option.

September 2009 - Intel said it will deploy up to 10,000 SSD notebooks this year to its own employees. This followed an internal evaluation of the "compelling" productivity benefits of using SSDs instead of hard drives in business notebooks.

November 2009 - Google opened its doors to developers who want to work with Chrome OS - a new operating system for web notebook products. Its architects are "obsessed with speed". So they designed it to support only flash SSDs as the default mass storage.

January 2010 - Toshiba announced it is sampling 128GB mSATA MLC SSD modules (30mm x 50.95mm x 4.75mm ) aimed at the netbook PC market. Sequential R/W speeds are 180MB/s and 70MB/s respectively. Weight is 9g.

March 2010 - WD Solid State Storage announced its entry into the SSD notebook market. WD's SiliconEdge Blue 2.5" MLC SSDs offer capacity upto 256GB (MSRP $999), R/W speeds of 250MB/s and 170MB/s.

Also in March 2010 - RunCore, unveiled a new security feature in a consumer notebook SSD. If your notebook is stolen you send a (cell-phone) text message to it - and it destroys the data.

May 2010 - StorageSearch.com - published a new article called What's the best / cheapest PC SSD?

June 2010 - to save power in notebooks Samsung announced imminent volume production of a 512GB SATA SSD - the 1st to use toggle-mode DDR NAND which enables sequential R/W speeds upto 250MB/s and 220MB/s respectively while using about half the power of a regular flash SSD of the same capacity.

August 2010 - NVELO launched Dataplex - a software product aimed at PC oems - which provides SSD ASAP functionality inside a notebook. Dataplex will begin shipping from select Tier 1 PC OEMs in 2011.

June 2011 - SandForce announced that a single SSD using its SF-2000 SSD Processor along with 25nm MLC flash memory has achieved the highest possible WEI score of 7.9 for the disk data transfer rate in a Windows 7 environment (3.5GHz AMD CPU with 8GB 1.3GHz RAM).

September 2011 - OCZ launched its Synapse Cache Series 2.5" SATA SSDs for Windows 7 environments. The new SandForce driven SSDs (64GB / 128GB) integrate NVELO's Dataplex cache / SSD ASAP software to dynamically manage the SSD in conjunction with standard hard disk drives. When used to support a pre-existing terabyte hard drive - the overall performance for popular PC benchmar tasks can be 4x to 6x faster - as the software learns the where the hot data is for that user's PC - according to benchmarks and data in OCZ's related white paper (pdf) . No data migration or OS installation is required.

January 2012 - iSuppli said that the use of SSD as cache in ultrabooks would grow from just under a million units in 2011 to nearly 26 million in 2012 and then may continue growing to 120 million units by 2015.

May 2012 - Apacer launched a new small (50.8 x 29.8mm) mSATA SSD aimed at the Ultrabook market with upto 256GB (MLC) capacity and R/W speed upto 470/200MB/s and 50K IOPS.

December 2012 - Samsung acquired NVELO - an SSD software company - with caching products for the notebook SSD market.

May 2013 - Biwin demonstrates SSDs for the ultrabook market using a new SATA sleep mode called DEVSLP DEVice SLeeP (pdf) - which reduces the idle power in SATA SSDs to 1% of previously controllable levels.

June 2013 - Samsung entered the PCIe SSD market - with models in a new form factor called M.2 optimized for notebooks. Samsung's XP941 - which weighs less than 6g - has a sequential read performance of 1,400MB/s, and capacity up to 512GB.
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The User Value Proposition of SSDs in the Notebook Market

The text below appeared in STORAGEsearch.com's SSD Market Penetration Model which was published in November 2005. That article also described the 3 other other main markets for SSDs.

In 2005 most analysts and IT and electronic publications doubted that flash SSDs would ever be affordable or viable in notebooks. I disagreed. But I was too optimistic about the timescale and the willingness of the PC market to innovate.
Road Warrior - Featherweight Notebooks - (weighing under 2lbs)
This market has not started yet (in 2005) but will kick into play during 2006/7.

My wife is a marketer who travels a lot by plane (in Europe) and train (in London). Running Powerpoint is critical - but so is the ability to pack a notebook PC and a week's worth of clothes and paperwork into a lightweight bag.

Notebook manufacturers like Sony, Toshiba and Dell love this kind of customer. Her lightweight notebooks typically cost 3 to 5 times as much as similar looking luggables weighing 3 to 4 times as much. And she changes them every year - because they never quite have enough performance.

In this part of the notebook market customers pay a hefty price to get less weight and better battery operation... And adding insult to injury - low weight notebooks also have processor clock speeds which are typically 3 times slower than desktop PCs (or luggable notebooks). The expensive notebooks also have slower hard disks because that's another way manufacturers deliver longer battery life.

What can flash SSDs do for this market?

A 30GB flash solid state disk can act as a speedup accelerator - complemeting a low power hard disk - so that a 1GHz lightweight notebook processor delivers similar performance as a 3GHz desktop model. (As CPU clock rates rise - the benefit delivered by the SSD actually increases.)

How much will high powered road warriors be prepare to pay for a flash disk which makes their featherlight notebook PC run as fast as a desktop or a luggable?

$2,000? $1,000?

You'll see that the cost, compared to a hard drive is not the relevant factor.

The customer value proposition in the Road Warrior Featherweight Notebook market is that the SSD provides desktop application performance in a low weight, long battery life form factor which is impossible to achieve using microprocessor technology. (Where high speed - means high power, fans etc.)

As flash disks are on a steeply declining cost curve - and new entrants to the SSD market apply learning curve pricing this application segment for SSDs will grow to billions of dollars in the next 2 years.

...Later:- January 10, 2006 - high performance Intel/SPARC notebook maker NextCom announced it had qualified flash SSDs in its notebooks and mobile servers, thereby becoming the world's first notebook maker to publicly offer an SSD option.

A video by Samsung (Q406) demonstrates the advantages of SSD accelerated notebooks graphically.

...Later:- 2 years after writing this article - in April 2007 Dell offered 32G byte SSDs as an option in its notebooks priced a little over $500.
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upgrading old PCs with new SSDs

Editor:- July 9, 2010 - Upgrading Old PCs with SSDs is a cautionary tale published on Denali Software's blog.

I've often told readers who asked me about this subject - that they could be wasting their time trying to upgrade old notebooks with PATA or SATA SSDs - because most of the speedup benefits - if any - will be lost by the latency damping effects of cheap and slow bridge chips on the motherboard - and that - unlike in a server - notebooks have precious little CPU headroom.

It's nice to see these views are shared by the author of this article who works for an SSD IP vendor.

Here's what I said to a reader (Simon, in June 2010) who asked me for advice about his Mac - which had a 4,200 RPM HDD and a lot more details supplied which I'll skip here.

Servers have a lot of CPU and interface performance headroom.

Notebooks and PCs don't - because they are designed to meet strict price points.

That means notebook interface chips are cheap and slow and waste many tens of microseconds latency. That's OK with the HDDs they were designed to go with.

Installing a fast SATA SSD in most notebooks is a waste of money - because most of the potential performance is lost between the CPU and the SSD in a poor motherboard interface.

If you have a bus interface like express card or PCIe of some sort - that could give better results.

All notebooks in the market today are designed according to spreadsheets and formulas around HDD-aware chipsets. There hasn't been any innovation in the notebook market for about 20 years. They just follow the lead that Intel, Microsoft, IDC and Gartner give them.

It's possible that a new generation of Google OS notebooks will lead to better chipsets for notebooks which will feed back into the Wintel and Mac markets.

Until then the best starting place for an SSD notebook speedup is a model which has been designed for the faster HDDs - like 7,200 RPM. In those cases the chipsets will be slightly better.

When Mtron emerged into the SSD market many years ago with a notebook SSD that was many times faster than Samsung etc I spoke to the guys there and asked how they did it.

They said that instead of using standard HDD SATA chips in the SSD they redesigned the SATA chip to make it faster for SSD. That difference made their SSD the fastest at that time.

But if delays are already soldered into the notebook motherboard - most advantages of an SSD will be lost.
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Problems with the Notebook SSD Market

(this article was published in June 2009)
There's a simple way to summarize my complex view of the SSD Notebook / Netbook market.

Lots of initial hype and optimism that the market would deliver an astonishingly new product experience to users, followed by dismay and disillusion due to a flurry of poorly conceived, badly designed and ineptly executed products.

For an analogy - think cars, gas and batteries.

Just as electric cars are mostly expensive lifestyle trophies which don't solve the problem of how to drive thousands of miles reliably or affordably - so too most SSD notebook products have been expensive duds.

I commented on the failure of the notebook PC market to design worthwhile SSD based products in an earlier article.

Discussing it with readers since then- I've been able to get a better understanding of why the notebook pc market is so bad at innovation.

And so we get back to cars...

Everyone knows that the problems seen recently in the car market didn't arise from the credit crunch and recession. The roots go back decades. The auto market has paradoxically invested huge amounts in R & D - but despite that - has failed to be innovative.

So too - the pc market has developed into a lethargic mind set where the design is driven more by spreadsheets- than by engineers.
  • Intel or AMD bring out a new processor - tick the box for the next model. The same old cycle for the past 27 years.
  • Notebook PC interfaces change in a major way only once every 10 years. Broadband is over a decade old. USB changed from 1 to 2. Disk interfaces changed from PATA to SATA (and many didn't even make that change). PCMCIA changed to ExpressCard but most early ExpressCard SSDs were slower than hard drives.
  • Market analysts give you quarterly spreadsheets which predict how many models you can expect to sell with different size screens, capacity, memory and battery life.
  • Remember to load the latest image of the OS from Microsoft. The same old cycle for the past 27 years.
All these factors tend to stagnate innovation - rather than promote it. The successful notebook makers have been those who can recycle the same motherboard or chipsets and general IP through multiple product generations - with little or no brainpower involved. Move the mouse to import the new iteration of the technology - click click. Cut and paste to next year's designs.

In the rare cases recently when notebook designers had to wake up and drink some coffee - they got burned.

The hard disk makers promised that hybrid drives would create a new market segment. It did. But as StorageSearch.com predicted (when the concept was mooted in 2005) - notebook hybrid drives were mostly duds.

Microsoft promised notebook makers that their Vista OS would help sell new models. That was a dud. Instead the user experience of notebook users with Vista in the first few years was so appallingly bad - that the lesson learned was - hang onto your old notebook as long as possible - or if it dies - go out of your way to buy a rare new notebook installed with XP.

The combination of the hybrid and Vista fiascos being such recent memories - you can't blame pc notebook makers for being too cautious about flash SSDs.

Except I do blame them - because the badly designed and poorly integrated solid state notebooks we've seen in the market in 2008 and the first half of 2009 have tarnished the reputation of the SSD market.

And there were some badly designed SSDs in that mix to share some of the blame too.

I'm not sure if electric cars are the future of personal transport - but I do hope that we'll be seeing better designed SSD notebooks sooner rather than later.
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FlexPCServer from NextCom - dual boot Solaris / Windows / Linux
Solaris / Windows/ Linux Notebooks?
1 solution / 2 dual boot operating systems
from NextCom
- (Oct 2005)
NextCom was the world's first notebook maker to qualify SSDs in 2006. See also:- SSD market history
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... Overview of  the  Notebook SSD Market
Spellerbyte's ScryWare accelerated
notebook was ahead of its time
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2.5 inch SATA 3 SSDs from Kingfast - click for more info
fast popular 2.5" SATA 3 SSDs
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SSDs for notebooks - reviews etc?
For consumer facing SSD info such as
buyers guides, reviews etc -
see the Consumer SSD Guide.
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In November 2002 - Bill Gates, talking about Tablet PC's said:- "There are also a lot of peripherals that need to improve here. ...Eventually even the so-called solid state disks will come along and not only will we have the mechanical disks going down to 1.8 inch but some kind of solid state disk... will be part of different Tablet PCs."
...from:- Charting the Rise of the SSD Market
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"...although we're already 5 years into the notebook SSD market - many early products were disappointing - which has made consumers wary of SSD promises."
...from the article- SSDs replacing HDDs? - that's not exactly the way it happened
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"SSDs in notebooks are not expected to significantly impact and displace HDDs in notebook platforms until 2015 with adoption of over 24% penetration."
Alan Niebel (June 2012) - in the exectutive summary of the latest SSD market report from Web-Feet Research.
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SSD ad - click for more info
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Where does all the money go? - inside SSD pricing
SSDs are among the most expensive (and complex) computer hardware products you will ever buy and understanding the factors which determine SSD costs is often a confusing and irritating process... ...which is not made any easier when market prices for apparently identical capacity SSDs can vary more than 100x to 1!
Clarifying SSD Pricing - where does all the money go? - click to read the article Why is that? There are good reasons for these cost differences. But more expensive isn't always better for you. To find out what goes into the price - and whether you need it - ...read the article
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What's a Notebook SSD?
Let me begin by saying - there's no such thing as a "notebook SSD".

But there are plenty of different SSDs which go into notebooks.

Confused? - You should be. Here's a list of SSD directories - any one of which - or all of which include manufacturers of viable notebook SSDs. Depending on the size of the notebook, other SSD options include:-
  • 1.8" SSDs - these are usually pre-installed by the original manufacturer. Available with upto 128GB capacity, the fastest 1.8" SATA SSDs are as fast as the 2.5" SSDs but are much faster than hard drives.
  • 2.5" SSDs are available pre-installed by the original manufacturer and as user installable upgrades. In the latter case most SSDs designed for the user upgrade market include an additional USB interface which enables you to create an image of the original hard drive while the new SSD is outside the system.

    Here's a warning to users! Upgrading an old hard disk based notebook with a new 2.5" SSD can be a disappointing experience - because the SATA / PATA interface path on the old motherboard wastes a lot of the potential latency gain of the SSD. Try before you buy - or carefully read upgrade benchmarks which you can trust.
  • 1.0" SSDs - which also includes motherboard soldered SSD chips and modules. These are mainly used in netbooks - because they can occupy a 75% smaller PCB footprint than a traditional drive. A new standard in this market is slim SATA SSDs.
  • ExpressCard - (now obsolete) this was intended to be a user upgrade market. The performance of early ExpressCard SSDs were disappointingly slow in comparison to 1.8" drives. A new rev 2.0 standard - agreed for ExpressCard in June 2009 - was faster but only offered similar speed to SATA 2.
  • Mini PCIe cards - is another user upgrade market. In July 2009 Active Media launched its SaberTooth brand of SATA Mini PCIe MLC flash SSD cards as upgrades for Asus Eee PCs. R/W speeds are upto 155MB/s and 100MB/s respectively. The 64GB model costs $219.95.
  • M.2 was a new form factor for consumer SSDs which started shipping in 2013. This form factor supports both SATA SSDs (for low power) and PCIe SSDs.
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shapes and sizes of consumer SSDs
Editor:- January 13, 2014 - For those who like to see pictures - an overview of consumer SSD form factors - written by Kent Smith of LSI can be seen in an article on TechSpot.com.
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the flash SSD story - survival of the fittest?
The emerging size of the flash SSD market as you see it today was by no means inevitable. It owes a lot to 3 competing storage media competitors which failed to evolve fast enough in the Darwinian jungle of the storage market in the past decade.

One of these 3 contenders is definitely on the road to extinction - but could one of the other 2 still emerge to threaten flash SSDs?

A recently published article - SSD's past phantom demons explores the latent market threats which hovered around the flash SSD market in the past decade. They seemed real and solid enough at the time.
SSD past phantom demons image - click to read the article Getting a realistic perspective of flash SSD's past demons (which seemed very threatening at the time) may help you better judge the so-called "new" generation of nv memory contenders - which are also discussed in the article. ...read the article
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SSD stuff - long list - A to Z

1.0" SSDs1.8" SSDs
2.5" SSDs
3.5" SSDs
19" rack SSDs..... notebook SSDs

1970s, 80s, 90s, etc SSD history
2011 - SSD market key changes
2012 - SSD look ahead

After SSDs... what next?
Analysts - SSD market
Analyzers - SSD
Animal brands in the SSD market
AoE storage
Articles and blogs - re SSD
Architecture guide - storage
ASAPs / Auto tiering SSDs

Backup software
Bad block management in flash SSDs
Benchmarks - SSD - can you trust them?
Best / cheapest SSD?
Big market picture of SSDs
Bookmarks from SSD leaders
Branding Strategies in the SSD market
Buyers Guide to SSDs

Calling for an end to SSD vs HDD IOPS
Can you believe "reliability" in a 2.5" SSD ad?
Can you tell me the best way to SSD Street?
Chips - storage interface / processors
Chips - SSD on a chip & DOMs
Clarifying SSD costs
Cloud storage - with SSD twists
Compression
Controller chips for SSDs
Cost of SSDs - why so much?

Data integrity in flash SSDs
Data recovery for flash SSDs?
Disk sanitizers

Education - re SSDs
Enterprise MLC SSDs - how safe?
Encryption - impacts in notebook SSDs
Endurance - in flash SSDs
Enter the SSD market - 3 easy ways
Events
ExpressCard SSDs

Fast purge / erase SSDs
Fastest SSDs
Fibre-Channel SSDs
Flaky reputation for consumer SSDs
Flash Memory
Flash SSDs
flash SSD vs RAM SSD
Future of enterprise storage (2020)
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Green storage

HA enterprise SSDs
HDD vs SSD
History of SSD market
Hybrid Drives

Iceberg syndrome - invisible SSD capacity
Imprinting the brain of the SSD
Industrial SSDs
InfiniBand
IOPS - a problematic metric for flash SSDs
iSCSI SSDs

Jargon - legacy storage
Jargon - RAID
Jargon - flash SSD

Legacy vs New Dynasty SSDs

Market research (all storage)
Military storage
MLC - in SSD jargon
MLC in enterprise SSDs

NAS
News page
Notebook SSDs
NVM

ORGs

PATA SSDs
PBGA SSDs
PCIe SSDs
People in storage
Perspectives - on the SSD market
Petabyte SSD roadmap
Popular SSDs - 2007 to today
Power loss - sudden in SSDs
Power, Speed & Strength in SSD brands
Rackmount SSDs
RAID controllers
RAID systems (incl RAIC RAISE etc)
RAM cache ratios in flash SSDs
RAM memory chips
RAM SSDs
RAM SSDs versus Flash SSDs
Recession - impact on SSD market?
Record breaking storage
Reliability - SSD
SAN - FC
SAN - IP
SAS storage
SAS - flexibility for the Data Center
SAS SSDs
SATA storage
SATA SSDs
Security
Services
SLC vs eMLC
Software
SSD articles and blogs (popular)

Test Equipment
Top 20 SSD companies
Training

USB storage
User Value Propositions for SSDs

VC funds in storage
Videos - about SSDs
Wear leveling (SSD jargon)
What's an SSD?
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The movie What Women Want has a funny scene where Mel Gibson is putting on panty hose. That could be a metaphor for SSD product marketers too.
...from - 2011 - Year of Reality Checks for SSD Makers?
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