SAN FRANCISCO—Shipments of cache solid state drives (SSDs)—NAND flash drives that must run alongside a separate hard drive—are projected to soar by more than 100-fold between now and the end of 2015, thanks in large part to Intel's Ultrabook initiative, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli.
Shipments of cache SSD units are projected to reach 25.7 million units in 2012, up from 881,000 units in 2011, when the technology first appeared, according to a new IHS iSuppli report on the storage space market. The report projects that 68.2 million units of cache SSDs will ship in 2013, growing to 121 million units in 2015.
According to IHS, most cache SSDs will find their way into Ultrabooks, ultra-thin, low-power notebook PCs supported by Intel and being brought to market by a number of PC OEMs. Ultrabooks have been the talk of the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with more than a dozen new models being introduced and showcased.
Of the 25.7 million cache SSDs expected to ship in 2012, 22 million will be in Ultrabooks, up from 500,000 in 2011, according to IHS. The remaining cache SSDs will go into other notebook and desktop PCs, according to the firm.
"Intel is continuing to put its eggs into the Ultrabook basket, as indicated by its activities at the Consumer Electronics Show this week," said Ryan Chien, research associate for memory and storage at IHS, in a statement. "From the company’s introduction of the Nikiski reference design, to its announcement that more than 60 additional Ultrabook designs will enter the market in time for the 2012 holiday season, Intel at CES showed that Ultrabooks have become the centerpiece of its mobile computing strategy."
According to Chien, cache SSDs represent a key part of Intel's Ultrabook specification, proving performance, convenience and power efficiency that are key to the platform.
A cache SSD looks like a regular SSD made up entirely of NAND flash. But while typical SSDs can take the place of a PCs hard drive, a cache SSD is not an independent storage drive and must run alongside a separate hard drive.
Cache SSDs, essentially a requirement for SSDs, make PCs more responsive, allowing faster boot-up times than hard disk drives, according to IHS. Cache SSDs are also less expensive than conventional SSDs, making them a more economical means to enhance system performance than by the wholesale replacement of hard disk drives with solid state drives, IHS said.
For example, the Vertex 2 SSD from California-based OCZ Technology Group with 120 gigabytes costs about $160—the same price as Intel’s 311 Series cache SSD paired with a 500-gigabyte hard disk drive, suggestive of the kind of appeal that cache SSD solutions might offer for today’s price-conscious consumers, IHS said.
Cache SSDs also should prove popular for enterprise notebooks, allowing for more noticeable performance improvements than a top-line microprocessor or additional DRAM, according to IHS.
Prices for cache SSDs are still too high to encourage widespread mainstream adoption, but pressure from Ultrabooks and more affordable "smartbooks" over the next few years will contribute to lowering the price of cache SSDs, according to IHS.
A rival to cache SSD is the hybrid hard disk drive, which looks like a regular hard disk drive but uses embedded NAND as a cache on top of the usual DRAM cache, according to IHS. Both cache and hybrid drives have the option to utilize high densities of multilevel-cell NAND, but only cache SSDs have an announced roadmap thus far, IHS said.
While cache SSDs had only a small presence in the storage industry in 2011, their impact in the coming years will become increasingly significant, according to IHS. The cache drive segment will be the primary reason behind the increased shipment growth of SSDs, projected to jump to 46 million units this year, up from 17 million in 2011, according to the firm.