Toshiba, Samsung in race to ship 256GB solid-state drives

Toshiba matches Samsung by shipping a 256GB solid-state drive, but Toshiba's drive rivals magnetic drives in size while delivering better performance.

Brooke Crothers
Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
2 min read

Toshiba will begin shipping a 256GB solid-state drive, matching Samsung, its bigger, badder rival.

Another nail in the hard-disk-drive coffin? Well, not quite. But Toshiba's drive rivals magnetic drives in size while delivering better performance.

Solid-state drives are more expensive than hard-disk drives but are also generally more power efficient and faster.

Toshiba is trying to keep pace with the 800-pound SSD gorilla, South Korea-based Samsung. Samsung is the largest flash memory chip supplier in the world and has stated in the past that it would sample a 256GB SSD in September. Toshiba is ranked No. 2.

And the two companies are duking it out in more ways than this: both are also vying for SanDisk, the largest maker of retail flash memory drives.

Dell, to date, has used mostly Samsung SSDs, as has Apple. Dell has said in the past that in tests of an SSD in a Latitude notebook, it saw a 35 percent overall system performance increase over a standard 2.5-inch 5400rpm notebook hard drive--the type of hard disk drive used in ultraportable notebooks today.

The Toshiba drive delivers a maximum read speed of 120MB per second and maximum write speed of 70MB per second using a high-speed SATA 3-gigabit-per-second interface.

Like Samsung, Micron, and Intel, Toshiba is using multi-level cell (MLC) technology in its high-capacity drives. An MLC memory cell structure allows drive makers to build larger capacity drives at lower cost but it is not as fast as single-level cell (SLC), nor inherently as reliable. (SLC solid state drives are used currently in laptops such as the Apple MacBook Air and ThinkPad X300.)

Toshiba, like Samsung, says it has developed a controller chip that mitigates the shortcomings of MLC. The "MLC controller...achieves higher read-write speeds, parallel data transfers, and wear leveling," the company said. Wear leveling reduces the "pounding" on one spot--that could wear out the cell--by spreading out the writes over many different cells.


Toshiba has plenty of other company in the high-capacity SSD market, too. Intel says it will ship a 160GB SSD in the fourth quarter, and Micron has stated that it plans to have a 256GB SSD in the same time frame. STEC already ships drives in this capacity.

Samples of Toshiba's 2.5-inch SSD are available now, with mass production following in the fourth quarter, the company said. SSDs currently come in two sizes: smaller 1.8-inch form factors and slightly larger 2.5-inch designs.

No pricing was given.