Client SSDs Come in Many Flavors for Good Reason

By Jon Tanguy - 2015-01-26

The solid state drive (SSD) idustry is maturing rapidly, and as this happens, customers have a widening set of SSDs to choose from—and not just from a variety of manufacturers. At Micron, for example, we’ve gone from being the first manufacturer to ship a SATA-III SSD back in 2009 to providing a variety of SSDs for consumers, enthusiasts, and professionals—with solutions for notebooks and tablets to the data center. In client computing, in particular, Micron is moving away from a “one-size-fits-all” strategy to providing unique solutions tailored to the needs of the end user.

Cost Is Still a Priority

One of the first priorities for the computer user is, was, and always will be cost. Since their introduction into the consumer market, SSDs have really been considered a luxury. Yes, you could get a huge bump in performance by replacing your old hard disk drive (HDD) with an SSD, but that came with a pretty big bump in cost as well. Fortunately for the consumer, SSD makers have rapidly moved client SSDs down the cost curve. Micron has done this by bringing to market the very latest and greatest NAND Flash technology on pretty close to a yearly basis.

Why We’re “Shrinking”

At the NAND Flash level, Micron has been reducing the cost to the consumer through “die shrinks.” In simplest terms, this is how we make the device smaller! This allows us to put more devices on a silicon wafer, which lets us improve manufacturing efficiency and, thus, brings costs down. It was five years ago that Micron and the rest of the industry were building SSDs on a 25nm (nanometer) process. For reference, a human hair is 3000X thicker than 25nm. Yes, that’s tiny, but we can go even smaller! Micron continues to lead the industry with the industry’s smallest 16nm multilevel cell (MLC) NAND device.

However, as NAND manufacturing process geometries get smaller, it’s more challenging to design these devices to fit the rigorous quality and reliability requirements of Micron’s SSDs. As the NAND process geometry shrinks, the endurance of these smaller cells decreases, meaning that each will start to wear out earlier than on bigger process geometries. Micron counteracts this physical fact with our proprietary firmware that features world-class wear-leveling algorithms. Our very latest SSDs, like Micron’s M600, include our first-in-class (also naturally making it best-in-class) dynamic write acceleration (DWA) technology. DWA uses the smaller NAND process in such a way that endurance for our client SSDs has actually increased—from the ability to write 40GB of data every day for five years to the point where we can write just about 200GB of data daily on our biggest drives. This added endurance and product reliability has now become the luxury.

Best Entry-Level SSD

Particularly in home computing and most office computing environments, the need to write 200GB of data every day of the year may not be necessary. As such, we’ve introduced our very popular consumer SSD—Crucial’s BX100. It features that same efficient NAND Flash device without the advanced reliability features (like DWA) of Micron’s M600. The BX100 continues to meet the same demanding requirements of our earlier-generation Crucial M4 SSD, yet at a more intriguing value.

You can consider the BX100 SSD as a plug-and-play, basic SSD that meets the general computing needs of entry-level computing and, frankly, a good number of other users up the chain. However, computing enthusiasts and gamers may need even more performance and endurance while professional and corporate computer users may need even more features.

Best Gaming SSD

For enthusiasts and gamers, Crucial’s MX200 SSD gives higher write endurance, in addition to better performance, particularly on write speeds. The MX200 is also offered not only in the traditional 2.5-inch notebook form factor (as a drop-in replacement for a standard HDD), but it also comes in the M.2 and mSATA form factors for the latest ultrathin and ultra-light mobile computers. You get what you pay for with the MX200: better reliability and performance and more form factor options—for only a bit more money.

Best Corporate SSD

Finally, let’s look at the professional or corporate computer users. Corporate computing has a few more feature requirements, some of which are even mandated by law and regulation. In particular, end-point data encryption can be an absolute requirement in computing environments like banking, finance, medical, and government computing. In addition, these corporate customers often ask for premium performance in order to meet the heavy compute needs in finance, oil and gas exploration, medical image processing, and other computing platforms where the HDD has simply been left behind.

Our current “flagship” client computing SSD is Micron’s M600. The M600 SSD offers 256-bit hardware encryption, which is certified to work with many of the leading data security software packages in the industry, including industry leaders like Wave Systems and WinMagic, as well as Microsoft’s BitLocker. The M600 SSD also offers high performance and best-in-class endurance ratings, featuring DWA.

The M600 SSD is not sold in retail but rather to our distribution and corporate customers. The M600 is included in the manufacturing processes of some of the world’s leading PC manufacturers. The typical customer for the M600 SSD is supporting an enterprise with anywhere from dozens to thousands of PCs, workstations, and notebooks. These customers need certified security features, integration support from the factory, ongoing control and notification of bill-of-materials, our highest level of reliability testing, and other advanced features.

We Have Standards

All of the SSDs that carry the Micron or Crucial brands meet our very tough quality and reliability demands. However, the various SSDs in our range of product offerings will meet the differing demands of the marketplace, from general computer users all the way to the most advanced and demanding corporate customers.

We’d love to hear what you think about the user demands for SSDs, and if you have any questions about Micron’s portfolio—please leave us a comment below!

Jon Tanguy

Jon Tanguy

Jon is a Senior Technical Marketing Engineer for Micron's Storage Business Unit, with a focus on client solid state drives.