Report: More TLC and PCIe solid-state drives coming next year

SSDs with PCI Express interfaces are still relatively rare. So are SSDs with three-bit TLC flash. However, according to market research firm TrendForce, we’ll see many more of both kinds of drives next year. The company’s DRAMeXchange division says that PCI Express will supplant Serial ATA as the interface of choice for high-end systems. Windows 8.1 already offers native support for NVM Express, an interface specification designed specifically for PCIe SSDs. Intel’s upcoming Broadwell platform will reportedly support the standard, as well, helping to accelerate the adoption of PCIe gear.

We may not see Broadwell on the desktop until late next year, so PCIe drives could be scarcer in full-sized form. That said, DRAMeXchange predicts that PCIe solutions will become more popular the following year and that they’ll have "a legitimate chance of becoming the mainstream PC SSD format in 2015."

On the flash front, the transition three-bit TLC flash will reportedly begin in earnest. DRAMeXchange cites Samsung’s "widely praised" 840 EVO for inspiring multiple SSD vendors to develop "similar products that are geared towards 2014." Those drives will likely be lower-end offerings, the press release says, in part due to the more limited endurance of TLC NAND. We’ve observed in our SSD Endurance Experiment that three-bit flash is indeed more fragile than the two-bit MLC NAND found in most consumer-grade SSDs. We’ve also seen that modern TLC drives can take an awful lot of writes before wear becomes a problem—enough that we wouldn’t shy away from three-bit drives on endurance grounds alone.

Unfortunately, TLC NAND hasn’t really delivered on the lower prices that were supposed to be enabled by its higher bit density. Samsung’s TLC-based 840 EVO rings in at $165 for 250GB and $570 for 1TB. That’s definitely at the budget end of the scale, especially per gigabyte, but MLC drives can be had for about the same price or cheaper. Crucial MLC-based M500 is down to $145 for 240GB and $510 for 960GB. Both are limited-time deals (and the 960GB drive requires a promo code, AFNJ3007, to get to $510), but a look at Newegg listings confirms that plenty of other MLC drives are within striking distance. If three-bit flash is destined to become more prevalent, let’s hope the next wave of drives lowers prices appreciably. At least then, we’d be getting something in return for sacrificing endurance.

Comments closed
    • Zaxx
    • 6 years ago

    Since Intel has said they will NOT be including sata express on their upcoming P97 chipset, PCI-E ssds in their various forms will be popping up everywhere…esp the bootable ones. Intel wouldn’t say if sata express will be included on the highend X99 chipset, so all hope is not lost. Ofc pcie drives have been around for a while (ie the Ocz Revo line) but imo the bootable flavor will be the top sellers. There’s already pci-e adapter cards on the way for the m.2 (aka NGFF) drives which so far have 2 bootable models in existence. I’m sure these adapter cards will eventually sport a raid controller with multiple m.2 sockets on board. I’d recommend against buying any pcie drive at the moment…once SandForce releases the SF-3700 controller (1.8GB/s read and write) then we should see a LOT of very fast pcie ssds come to market. Heh…just imagine 2 x SF3700s in raid0 via a x4 pcie slot. That being said, there’s no way I’m buying anything ssd until LSI launches this bad boy.

    • Krogoth
    • 6 years ago

    NVM Express = SCSI/Enterprise tier

    SATA Express = SATA/Customer tier

    PCIe SSD cards are just a stop-gap transtional technology that will get replaced by NVM Express and SATA Express.

      • Wirko
      • 6 years ago

      I’m slightly confused. NVM Express, as advertised, is suitable for the enterprise [url=http://www.nvmexpress.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/FMS-Client-PCIe-SSD-Transition.pdf<]and the client[/url<], and is meant to eventually replace AHCI. SATA Express might become the interface for the enterprise too as it's based on PCIe. So it's possible that NVMe + [url=http://www.storageinterface.com/articles/3-sff-8639-drive-backplane-connector<]SFF-8639 connector[/url<] + (SAS or SATAe) interface = server NVMe + SATAe connector + SATAe interface = client Both are basically the same, and can be differentiated by the subset of features that are implemented.

        • Firestarter
        • 6 years ago

        Yeah wasn’t the idea of NVM to do away with SATA entirely? Lower latency, simplified protocol, etc..

        • StuffMaster
        • 6 years ago

        Yeah, I think (thanks to TR) that SATA Express is a stepping stone to NVM, it allows the logical transition to occur while keeping the physical sata connector for now.

    • Mikael33
    • 6 years ago
    • indeego
    • 6 years ago

    I trust TR less when I see redirection urls thrown into news articles. I guess it’s fine for your own self–[preservation]-promotion, but don’t you think news articles should be a tad more objective and less self-serving?

    [url<]http://www.kqzyfj.com/[/url<] "Data Collected: Anonymous (Ad Views, Browser Information, Date/Time, Demographic Data, Hardware/Software Type, Interaction Data , Serving Domains) Pseudonymous (IP Address (EU PII)) Data Sharing: Anonymous data is shared with 3rd parties. "

      • ShadowTiger
      • 6 years ago

      I think it is very important to be aware of redirects and knowning who is potentially tracking your behavior. I do not personally see any reason why companies should do what you suggest on a per-article basis (perhaps on an “About our advertisers” page).

      However, at the end of the day it is not a major concern for the site or its readers due to several reasons:

      Content is the most important thing, and cluttering up content with disclaimers would reduce readership.

      The target audience is people who actually buy the products listed in their articles, there is no money to be made targeting people who aren’t willing to click the links to get access to good deals.

      Finally, being a tech-oriented audience, most people are savvy enough to understand what is happening and also to prevent if they so choose.

        • indeego
        • 6 years ago

        > Content is the most important thing, and cluttering up content with disclaimers would reduce readership.

        Which is all fine and good, but if I trust a site less, then I begin to trust their reviews even less. For example, TR provides cost/performance comparisons in their reviews. Those are done with the same authors penning these news articles. Why trust the prices/links on one and not the other?

        There’s the issue of transparency and disclosure. TR demands it of companies like AMD with their GPUs and review samples, shouldn’t the readers demand the same from the staff in terms of full disclosure in links to offsite affiliates? It puts into question whether or not I really should trust either.

        I stopped trusting arstechnica when they write about privacy issues but then use 3rd party cookie-tracking in their RSS feeds, ones without any stated privacy policy that end-users can/could vet.

        > Finally, being a tech-oriented audience, most people are savvy enough to understand what is happening and also to prevent if they so choose.

        You do realize there are over 10,000 trackers online? And that there isn’t really a good way to delete e-cookies without fully flushing your browser cache each and every time?

        So every TR reader knows about:

        Standard HTTP cookies
        Local Shared Objects (Flash cookies)
        Silverlight Isolated Storage
        Storing cookies in RGB values of auto-generated, force-cached PNGs using HTML5 Canvas tag to read pixels (cookies) back out
        Storing cookies in Web history
        Storing cookies in HTTP ETags
        Storing cookies in Web cache
        window.name caching
        Internet Explorer userData storage
        HTML5 Session Storage
        HTML5 Local Storage
        HTML5 Global Storage
        HTML5 Database Storage via SQLite

        They really aren’t. I doubt most users of TR use ghostery (which is not perfect and doesn’t get all tracking) or similar products that would warn of 3rd party tracking. Even tech geeks I know don’t care. I had a conversation with a geek last night at a company party that was talking about VMware and host/guest tech, but when we brought the conversation down to automating installs via USMT, hotfix patching and browser-add ons he really was clueless. I don’t fault him for that, just like I’m not the biggest VMware geek on the planet and don’t know how to optimize a VMware install like an expert might.

        We’re cool, though. I’m hung over from said party and just kvetching a little. Carry on yo.

    • tootercomputer
    • 6 years ago

    Question: how will these drives interface with the motherboard? Will they plug into a PCIe slot? What would that look like?

      • questionlp
      • 6 years ago

      I believe NVM Express drives will still be PCIe cards, but using a standardized controller interface (something like AHCI) so that special drivers don’t have to be written for each controller (such as Fusion IO, OCZ, etc.). SATA Express drives on the other hand will use the same SATA controller design, but will have pins one side for SATA and pins on the other for PCIe.

      • Shobai
      • 6 years ago

      i’d like to know the answers also, and your redundant ‘question:…?…?…?’ amuses me. here’s hoping the reply is ‘answer:…’

        • Pwnstar
        • 6 years ago

        Beep: Turing test failure.

    • albundy
    • 6 years ago

    “Unfortunately, TLC NAND hasn’t really delivered on the lower prices that were supposed to be enabled by its higher bit density.”

    yeah, just like obamacare, yet here we are. must have been another typhoon or something, lol. but if that excuse doesnt work, i am sure its just plain ol’ price fixing intended to rip us off.

      • Deanjo
      • 6 years ago

      Ya, don’t think that the intention was to offer savings to the customer, it is more like “using TLC allows us to have better margins”.

      • Pwnstar
      • 6 years ago

      It shouldn’t surprise you that ObamaCare was designed to fail. Just read the bill (to find out what is in it).

    • just brew it!
    • 6 years ago

    I suspect one of the reasons TLC hasn’t had a big impact on prices is the write endurance issue. TLC likely requires significantly more sectors to be held in reserve as spares, since the write endurance of individual TLC sectors sucks pretty badly. This means you don’t really get double the storage density, even though each flash cell holds twice as many “bits”. Vendors may also still trying to recover firmware development costs; I imagine the error correction and wear leveling algorithms need to be more sophisticated to achieve acceptable reliability with TLC flash.

    I also suspect we may see more variability in reliability between brands once the switch to TLC is complete, since reliability of TLC-based drives is more dependent on wear leveling, and hence on the quality of the firmware.

    The whole SLC -> MLC -> TLC evolution amuses me. Most of my life we’ve been migrating from analog to digital information storage formats. Now we’ve effectively slipped an analog tech back in at the lowest level.

      • BillyBuerger
      • 6 years ago

      At the lowest level, all of our electronics are analog.

        • just brew it!
        • 6 years ago

        True. But TLC moves this analog layer closer to the user than any other semiconductor memory tech that I’m aware of.

        If you [i<]really[/i<] want to nitpick, at the [i<]very[/i<] lowest level an individual electron has a discrete quantity of electrical charge, and discrete quantum states it is allowed to occupy in a semiconductor. In other words... digital! 😀

      • cygnus1
      • 6 years ago

      I think there’s room for price drops and Samsung hasn’t done it because they’re probably trying to recoup R&D expenses and make a decent margin in the process. So far they’re the only ones selling TLC I’m aware of, and the performance and endurance are still in the same vicinity of MLC. They have zero reason to discount the drives lower than the competition, especially if they’re coming anywhere close to selling all the drives they can crank out.

      • Melvar
      • 6 years ago

      [quote<]This means you don't really get double the storage density, even though each flash cell holds twice as many "bits".[/quote<] Doesn't TLC only have 50% more bits than MLC?

        • just brew it!
        • 6 years ago

        Yes, you are correct. My bad. The TLC cells have twice as many voltage states, which effectively gives you a 50% boost in raw capacity compared to previous MLC devices (3 effective bits instead of 2).

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 6 years ago

    TLC drives by Samsung won’t see lower prices until someone challenges them with truly low pricing on a more permanent basis. Right now, Samsung rules the SSD market in terms of sales, profits, and word of mouth.

    Until one (or more) of those goes heavily away from them, they’ll remain on top.

      • DPete27
      • 6 years ago

      Exactly my thoughts. The 840 EVO [b<]IS[/b<] cheaper to manufacture. However: 1) If Samsung can make the drive for cheaper and sell at the same price as everyone else, more profit for them. 2) Because they have so much brand recognition, they don't have to undermine EVERYONE on prices. They're still probably selling more SSDs than any other single manufacturer.

    • jdaven
    • 6 years ago

    It makes sense. Spinning hard drives barely kept up with the PATA standard and SSDs were an order of magnitude or more faster. Keeping SSDs on the same interface trajectory seemed illogical.

    • chuckula
    • 6 years ago

    [quote<]Intel's upcoming Broadwell platform will [i<][b<]reportedly[/i<][/b<] support the standard, as well, helping to accelerate the adoption of PCIe gear.[/quote<] Shakes head in sadness at the lack of purportedly.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 6 years ago

      Supposably.

      [url<]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5z0Gitlj9bM#t=62[/url<]

      • Deanjo
      • 6 years ago

      Purportedly is soooo last year. All the kids are using “indubitably” now.

        • Yeats
        • 6 years ago

        Lolly Lolly Lolly

      • Shobai
      • 6 years ago

      [quote<]On the flash front, the transition three-bit TLC flash will reportedly begin in earnest.[/quote<] Perhap 'transition to'?

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