For many years the mechanical hard drive has been the last great bottleneck in PCs. Despite faster implementations of the Serial ATA standard the vast majority of desktop hard drives still use the same 7,200rpm spin speed that they did a decade ago. Even the premium market, consisting of Western Digital's Velociraptor series has sat at 10,000rpm since launch.
Solid State Drives have been trying to fill the mechanical hard drive niche for some time now. The problem is that while flash memory is faster than a spinning platter, it is also much more expensive per gigabyte. This year we have finally seen 100GB SSDs drop below the $400 price barrier, but they are still luxury items used mainly for fast boot drives.
Back in May Intel and Micron announced that they had started production of NAND flash memory using a 25nm process. This has allowed for 8GB of memory to be placed on a NAND chip - previous fabrication technology meant only 4GB was possible per chip. This doubling led to Intel/Micron announcing that these new chips would halve the price of SSDs, something which we are yet to see happen in the market.
That doesn't mean the promise was false - over the weekend details leaked about Intel's SSD roadmap, and what is most interesting about the new roadmap is that the capacities of Intel's SSDs are going to increase.
First off is a refresh to the high performance X25-M range of SSDs. Currently available in 80GB and 160GB models, these will be replaced by a new design, codenamed Postville, which will come in 160GB, 300GB and 600GB variants. According to the roadmap these drives will use a 25nm MLC NAND flash, which is most likely to be the process announced earlier this year.
At the same time Intel is set to double the capacity of its value X25-V drive. This old design uses 34nm flash and comes in a 40GB capacity. It will be replaced by an 80GB model that uses the same 25nm MLC flash as the X25-M update.
Next year will see the top of the range Enterprise drives move from 50nm SLC flash to 25nm 'Enterprise Grade' MLC flash. This move away from SLC is surprising, considering that it is traditionally the fastest kind of flash, but the move to MLC does mean a massive leap in capacity. The existing 32GB and 64GB Enterprise drives are set to be replaced with 100GB, 200GB and 400GB size drives.
It remains to be seen just what effect this massive reshuffle of products will have on the rest of the SSD market. We have seen prices slowly drop, but there has been no massive change in a long time. Considering that Intel's changes are based upon advances in its own Flash memory chips, it will be fascinating to see whether other manufacturers can keep pace with the huge leaps in capacity shown in the leaked Intel roadmap.