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Solid-state rivalry sizzles: Toshiba ships 512GB SSD

Toshiba has begun volume shipments of solid-state drives ranging up to 512GB in size, as these hyper-fast storage options bulk up on capacity.

Toshiba has begun volume shipments of solid-state drives ranging up to 512GB in size, as these hyper-fast storage options bulk up on capacity.

Drives are also offered in 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB capacities and are built on a 43-nanometer manufacturing process using multi-level cell (MLC) technology. MLC technology allows drive makers to increase capacity while keeping production costs under control.

All drives come in either a 1.8-inch enclosure, typically used in ultraportable laptops, or a 2.5-inch housing, the standard size for mainstream laptops.

Toshiba said in December that it would begin shipments of a 512GB drive this year. And this drive became available exclusively on Toshiba laptops in May.

SSDs typically offer higher performance--often much higher performance--than hard-disk drives and are more durable since they have no moving parts.

But SSDs are still hobbled by a distinct price disadvantage. Toshiba's own Web site offers vivid proof. A Toshiba Portege R600 laptop is priced at $2,099 with a 160GB hard disk drive. Adding a lower-capacity 128GB SSD hikes the price to $2,499. Add the 512GB option and this goes to $3,499.

Back in December of last year, Toshiba said sample quantities ranged from $220 for the 64GB drive to $1,652 for the 512GB drive--though these prices have likely come down, as the drives are now shipping commercially.

For businesses up-front pricing may be less important. Over the lifespan of an SSD total cost of ownership may be lower, according to Gregory Wong, president, Forward Insights. Potential savings are particularly relevant to business laptop users, said Wong. And Intel recently did some in-house testing that showed that failure rates of SSDs are lower than hard disk drives.

On the performance front, Toshiba said it is using an advanced controller chip that enables a maximum sequential read speed of 230 megabytes per second and maximum sequential write speed of 180 megabytes per second. These read-write speeds are typically many times that of a hard disk drive. Toshiba did not specify random read and write speeds, which are also critical benchmarks for everyday data access.

Intel has recently begun shipping a 160GB solid-state drive that offers improved random write performance. The chipmaker was able to get up to a 2.5X improvement over previous versions of its SSDs.

Toshiba is not alone in announcing commercial shipments of large-capacity SSDs. Micron Technology's Crucial Technology unit has begun selling 256GB drives listed at $599, which beats Toshiba pricing at that capacity.

Note: Intel has found a bug in the new SSDs cited above that affects users who set a BIOS drive password. When disabling or changing the password followed by powering off/on the computer, the SSD becomes inoperable. The root cause has been identified and a fix is under validation. Intel expects to post an end-user firmware update to fix this bug in the coming weeks.