One thing AMD has taught me is that you can never beat Intel at its own game. Simply trying to do what Intel does will leave you confined to whatever low margin market Intel deems too unattractive to pursue. It’s exactly why AMD’s most successful CPU architectures are those that implement features that Intel doesn’t have today, but perhaps will have in a few years. Competing isn’t enough, you must innovate. Trying to approach the same problem in the same way but somehow do it better doesn’t work well when your competition makes $9B a quarter.

We saw this in the SSD space as well. In the year since Intel’s X25-M arrived, the best we’ve seen is a controller that can sort-of do what Intel’s can just at a cheaper price. Even then, the cost savings aren’t that great because Intel gets great NAND pricing. We need companies like Indilinx to put cost pressure on Intel, but we also need the equivalent of an AMD. A company that can put technological pressure on Intel.

That company, at least today, is SandForce. And its disciple? OCZ. Yep, they’re back.

Why I Hate New SSDs

I’ll admit, I haven’t really been looking forward to this day. Around the time when OCZ and Indilinx finally got their controller and firmware to acceptable levels, OCZ CMO Alex Mei dropped a bombshell on me - OCZ’s Vertex 2 would use a new controller by a company I’d never heard of. Great.

You may remember my back and forth with OCZ CEO Ryan Petersen about the first incarnation of the Vertex drive before it was released. Needless to say, what I wrote in the SSD Anthology was an abridged (and nicer) version of the back and forth that went on in the months prior to that product launch. After the whole JMicron fiasco, I don’t trust these SSD makers or controller manufacturers to deliver products that are actually good.


Aw, sweet. You'd never hurt me would you?

Which means that I’ve got to approach every new drive and every new controller with the assumption that it’s either going to somehow suck, or lose your data. And I need to figure out how. Synonyms for daunting should be popping into your heads now.

Ultimately, the task of putting these drives to the test falls on the heads of you all - the early adopters. It’s only after we collectively put these drives through hundreds and thousands of hours of real world usage that we can determine whether or not they’re sponge-worthy. Even Intel managed to screw up two firmware releases and they do more in-house validation than any company I’ve ever worked with. The bugs of course never appeared in my testing, but only in the field in the hands of paying customers. I hate that it has to be this way, but we live in the wild west of solid state storage. It’ll be a while before you can embrace any new product with confidence.

And it only gets more complicated from here on out. The old JMicron drives were easy to cast aside. They behaved like jerks when you tried to use them. Now the true difference between SSDs rears its head after months or years of use.

I say that because unlike my first experience with OCZ’s Vertex, the Vertex 2 did not disappoint. Or to put it more directly: it’s the first drive I’ve seen that’s actually better than Intel’s X25-M G2.

If you haven't read any of our previous SSD articles, I'd suggest brushing up on The Relapse before moving on. The background will help.

Enter the SandForce
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  • vol7ron - Monday, January 04, 2010 - link

    I don't think Anand has ever tried to predict market price. He generally lets us in on lot prices, that is, what retailers buy the merchandise for in quantities of 1000. Generally, when he does release that information, he is close to dead on. He typically does not way in on numeric estimates of market prices, other than statements like "they should be cheaper than...[insert product here]... because material/manufacturing costs are lower." The link you gave looks less to be a prediction and more to be what the suggested retail price is; much like buying a car, although the suggested price is printed, it does not mean the actual market price will be equal to it.

    As for the G1/G2, as you recall, the G2 was very low on initial release (at least at Newegg) to the tune of ~$225. There have been several factors that have driven this price up (~$300). This is due to demand, but really it is a step demand. They are on Revision 5 of the G2, but the important thing is the fact that the G2 has been recalled twice. Where demand is generally steady in terms of price, abnormal release dates have pushed demand higher at different points (the graph looks more like a staircase, hence "step"). The price will again fall in the future.

    You should note that whenever things go "out of stock," the prices will go up, supply is low and demand is high, hence bargaining power from retailers, basic economics. Criticizing Anand does not accomplish anything as his facts were correct.

    Reply
  • vol7ron - Monday, January 04, 2010 - link

    Grammar/Syntax edit:
    "...lets us in on lot prices; that is, what retailers..."
    "He typically does not [weigh] in"


    Further note:
    If you look at the Arrandale article, there is a price supply list. Those prices are for lots of 1Ku (1000 units), which reaffirms the point I made earlier, before I even looked at the Arrandale article.

    As for Newegg, it's a unique site, which prices are close, but generally higher than the 1,000unit price. The fact that the G2 price was ~$225 on initial release was probably a promotional price point that often happens with new products.
    Reply
  • viewwin - Monday, January 04, 2010 - link

    Market forces are driving the price higher than MSRP(Manufacture Suggested Retail Price). Intel tried to have lower prices, but market demand pushed it higher. Prices were far lower on Newegg.com went the G2 first came out, but shot up to $600 at one point for the 160 GB. I recall an article about it, but can't find it. Reply
  • kunedog - Tuesday, January 05, 2010 - link

    OK, so he's "out of touch" with actual market prices, instead of made-up retail prices (MSRP).


    "I recall an article about it, but can't find it."

    That's OK, I saw the whole thing play out firsthand. After Anand posted these articles . . .
    http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=36...">http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=36...
    http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=36...">http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=36...
    http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=36...">http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=36...

    . . . stressing the expected performance and *affordability* of Intel X-25M G2 drives (I quote: "The performance improved, sometimes heartily, but the pricing was the real story."), they quickly disappeared from Newegg at the Anand-predicted price (with Newegg suggesting the G1s as an alternative, for which I call foul because many or most people wouldn't know the difference). They stayed out of stock for weeks. A month later, he posts this on the weekend:
    http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=36...">http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=36...

    The very next day (a Monday), G2s were suddenly in stock again at a huge markup, and the prices continued to climb for a few days. They've slowly fallen since that week, but never to the Anand-predicted price, and that fact has never been acknowledged in any of the subsequent reviews.

    The pattern repeated with the Kingston 40GB drives:
    http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=36...">http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=36...

    The pricing prediction ($85 w/ rebate, $115 without) for it was apparently so important that it had to be right there in the summary (so you don't even have to click the full article to see it). I checked Newegg every day for a couple weeks after it was posted (and somewhat less often since) but *never* saw it in stock for less than $130 (which is the current price). Further, that article was repeatedly updated and bumped for minor and predictable updates (like new bugs/firmware), but the pricing of the Kingston never updated (even though the rebate is expired).

    I would argue that market prices matter *more* than MSRP, and deserve Anand's attention. The high prices themselves aren't a problem; clearly people are willing to pay that much, therefore the drives are "worth it." It's Anand's complete obliviousness to them (after previously stressing their importance and total awesomeness) that comes across as strange.
    Reply
  • chemist1 - Sunday, January 03, 2010 - link

    Hi Anand,

    When you wrote: "Current roadmaps put the next generation of Intel SSDs out in Q4 2010, although Intel tells me it will be a 'mid-year' refresh," didn't you mean "*there* [not 'it'] will be a mid-year refresh?" I.e., that the next generation is still not expected out until Q4, but that there will be a mid-year updating of the current generation? [By writing "it" will be a mid-year refresh, you communicate that Intel told you that the next gen will be released mid-year instead of Q4, which is not what I think you meant to say .... or is it?]
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Sunday, January 03, 2010 - link

    Good question.

    To clarify what he's asking:
    Is it a mid-year refresh and a 2010Q4 release?
    -or-
    Is the mid-year refresh going to take place instead of the Q4 release (Q4 is pushed back).
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Saturday, January 02, 2010 - link

    I thought GIGABYTE released a motherboard with SATA6 for AMD (GA-790FXTA-UD5). It might be nice to start testing it out and putting these SSDs to the test.

    Also, is it fair to take the enterprise level controller (SF-1500) and compare that to the consumer market product (X25-M)? Granted the SF-1500 has already stood well against the X25-E, but it's going to cost a heck of a lot more than the X25-M and the target market is the enterprise sector, anyhow.

    Regardless of what it compares to, I'm already saying that the cost of this controller is overpriced. They can justify it however they would like; that is, better performance, high research and development costs, market barriers to entry, eg. The truth, though, is that they're overcharging. The logic is mostly sound, but the price is not. OCZ should sign a contract to buy the controller for a year, sell what they can, and negotiate a lower price, or else drop the controller. I'd like to see what that does to SF's profits.

    I also would like to say that not using DRAM can have bad effects down the line. To get rid of it to justify a more expensive controller seems like an ignorant bargaining chip that SF is using to make more money. That's like saying, "I've upgraded your Ferrari with a newer, bigger engine, but it'll only take Regular [gas]." There's a high correlation between horsepower and Premium fuel; suffice to say the product might be faster, but it could be better.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Sunday, January 03, 2010 - link

    Given time to think about this:

    Maybe it is fair to compare the SF-1500 to the X25-M, since they're both MLCs. However, if the SF-1500 is still supposed to be the enterprise version, the two products are not price equivalent.

    Regardless, I do like to see the comparison. I just don't like to see the criticism when one is deemed an enterprise version and the other is still targeted for the home consumer/enthusiast.
    Reply
  • Capt - Saturday, January 02, 2010 - link

    ...it would be nice to have a shootout between the test field (Vertex 2, X25-M, ...) and a pair some drives in a RAID0/Stripe configuration, especially comparing equal total sizes and different platforms (Intel/AMD chipset, hardware controllers). With the new about-to-be-released Intel RST drivers SSD stripe performance got boosted quite a bit, and although I guess there won't be much of an improvement in the 4k area, reading/writing larger blocks and sequential does improve by a massive amount. As a pair of two 80GB X25-Ms costs only 10% more than a single 160GB drive this scenario is very tempting... Reply
  • vol7ron - Saturday, January 02, 2010 - link

    I also have been trying to get the reviewers to show more SSD RAID configurations. Not just because the price difference is semi-negligent, but because SSDs are suppose to be more error-free, and thus a more suitable technology for RAID. After all, isn't the exponential error potential the reason why RAID-0 was frowned upon?

    On the downside, I think there have been problems recently with the Intel Matrix Storage Manager, which might be one reason why the topic has been delayed. Regardless, it would be nice if this topic was re-addressed, if only to remind us readers that it is still in your thoughts :)
    Reply

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