If the fact that Toshiba is now selling retail SSDs to the consumer surprises you, it should. For some time now, the SSD industry has had its eye on Toshiba as they seemed to get caught behind the eight ball. From our perspective, the only Toshiba SSDs we had reported on were the client THNSN 128GB SATA 2 mSATA SSD found in our Toshiba Z830 Ultrabook Review, and the ‘SandForce Driven’ Toshiba 6Gbps SSD that we briefly spoke of in our MBA Ivy Bridge Mid-2012 Report. For the most part, Toshiba was nowhere to be found in the consumer SSD market, at least until Q3 of this year, and their presence in client systems is still not as those in the SSD world might have predicted.
Toshiba’s importance in the SSD market cannot be overlooked and Wayne Eisenberg (formerly of SMART and now OCZ) provided reason in his article, ‘Examining the SSD Industry – Benefits of Owning The Fab’. He spoke of the main NAND manufacturers being Samsung, Toshiba, Hynix, SanDisk, Intel and Micron, and these manufacturers having the ability to shape the SSD industry, much to the disadvantage of third party SSD manufacturers. In a nut shell, those who ‘Own the Fab’ could manufacture and sell SSDs at a lower price than third party manufacturers, forcing them to realign their products in areas that are more likely to support their revenue goals. Examples of this are evident with Patriot and Corsair who have changed product direction slightly, as well as OCZ who seems to be moving more into the enterprise SSD side of things than consumer.
A close look at OCZ’s recent success in their restructuring brings another important element of SSD success to light; this being that survival is much easier when one owns the SSD controller. With respect to past financial woes, it might have been very difficult to keep their doors open without purchase of Indilinx, a proprietary SSD controller maker, along with the PLX PCIe design team to strengthen their R&D capabilities. In the past, we had seen this with Intel who almost dropped the SSD ball when a leaked roadmap displayed a simple X-25m update, all the while SATA 3 was being introduced by others.
Intel’s quick fix was the Marvell based 510 Series SSD that was, not only unexpected, but short-lived and replaced by ‘SandForce Driven’ SSDs, a relationship the world just didn’t believe possible. Also a bit late from the gate was SanDisk, who introduced their SATA II Ultra when others were manufacturing SATA 3 SSDs, and yes, again this was a ‘SandForce Driven’ SSD. Quite frankly, SanDisk should have had a leg up on things as they were the very first to introduce SSDs to the client and consumer world way back in 2007, and we were the first to review the SanDisk U5000 SSD in that report!
Looking back, Samsung was (and still is) the only to build a completely in-house SSD which contained their own memory, SSD controller and DRAM Cache. As well, Micron/Crucial had partnered with Marvell, Intel had been with Marvell before settling on LSI SandForce, and SanDisk entered the SSD arena with SandForce but has moved to Marvell. Examining Toshiba a bit more closely, they were in the same boat as others as they had no proprietary controller, yet had the in-house firmware and engineering expertise. The options available were LSI SandForce and Marvell, both controllers of which had very solid reputations, yet very different business practices. LSI SandForce preferred to keep much of the firmware expertise and fine tuning in house. Marvell was in a perfect position to combine with Toshiba in building a jointly designed controller; a controller proprietary to Toshiba and relying on Toshiba’s in-house engineering and firmware expertise. The decision was easy.
So where does this bring us today? We have four memory manufacturers fighting it out to be the top dog in SSD performance and value; Samsung, SanDisk, Micron and Intel. SK Hynix recently purchased the LAMD controller, however, also suffered a massive fire in its China plant which saw memory prices jump a record 42% before leveling off. SSD pricing is the key to success and any of the top five has the ability to affect and control SSD market pricing as the main component of the SSD is memory. Toshiba realized this and quietly introduced their retail Q Series SATA 3 SSD to, not only online retail outlets but also, brick and mortar retail chains.
Toshiba introduced the Q Series with little fanfare, just as Samsung once did their 470 series which went undiscovered until our report labeled it as being the best available. We haven’t reviewed the notebook version of the Q Series but we do have a 512GB client version in hand. We have reviewed the similar 512GB M.2 form factor and Technology X reviewed the 512GB mSATA form factor which, for the most part, are twins of the present Q Series on the market. These reports both clearly identify the role Toshiba played in both hardware and software engineering as this is one of the the first Marvell based solutions that does not need a DRAM cache memory chip.
By examining the PCBs above, we can see that both Samsung and Toshiba are probably the closest match with respect to their marketing completely (or almost completely) proprietary SSDs. Their similarity doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to marketshare, as well, as both are very prominent in NAND flash memory sales in general. Toshiba has made a smart move in the marketing of their Q Series as the memory and controller contained could be considered upper tier level components, yet pricing matches that of a value driven SSD. Our check of Amazon brought in the 128GB capacity at $86.50 (.70/GB), 256GB capacity at $149.99 (.58/GB)and the 512GB capacity at $381.99 (.74/GB), the 128/256GB capacities being the lowest price available for their level, while the 512GB value point was owned by Crusial at $339.99 (.70/GB) for the 480GB M500. Frankly, the 256GB capacity is one of the lowest price points we had ever seen on an SSD of this caliber.
The Samsung 840 Pro has cemented its position as the biggest and best, followed by a few others to include the OCZ Vector, OCZ Vertex, Plextor M5 Pro (soon to be M6), Intel 5oo Series and soon to be seen Intel Pro 1500 Series SSD. Performance alone would be a bad comparison for the Toshiba Q Series, however, with this weeks announcement of the Q Pro Series, one never knows. Toshiba is doing a great job of showing who can hit the best price point in SSDs and the controller /memory combination is a great fit. Toshiba has assured us that the Q Pro family will be on its way for our analysis very soon. Stay tuned!