Two major trends will emerge in the 2014 SSD market, according to DRAMeXchange, a research division of TrendForce. First, PCIe G2 (ie.PCIe Generation 2.0) will replace SATA III as the mainstream item in the high-end SSD market. Second, SATA III TLC SSD will make an impact on the low to mid-end market sectors.
The SATA III interface boasts a maximum transfer speed of 600 MB/s, while the highest speed for PCIe (when using 2 lanes) is 1000 MB/s. In the event that 4 lanes are used, the speed could reach up to as high as 2000 MB/s. According to TrendForce’s senior manager, Alan Chen, the reasons PCIe G2 will replace SATA III as the mainstream in the high-end SSD market (ie. for business or gaming related PC/NBs) are as follows:
First, as the new Macbook Airs released in mid-2013 are already equipped with PCIe G2x2 SSDs, it is highly likely that the 2014 models will upgrade to PCIe G2x4 SSDs. With Apple rapidly incorporating PCIe G2 SSDs into its own PC/NB product lines, other PC brands are likely to follow suit. Second, in 2014, both Microsoft's Windows 8.1 and Intel's Broadwell CPU are expected to provide in-box drivers that are compatible with PCIe G2 SSDs. In addition to bolstering the existing faith in the technology, the Wintel group's aforementioned decision will help lower the threshold for many of the SSD controller chip manufacturers that are hoping to use the PCIe G2 format. The diagram below outlines the various development phases that TrendForce has predicted for the mainstream PC SSD interfaces as well as their corresponding NAND Flash specs. With the price gap between PCIe G2 and SATA III SSDs shrinking, the former has a legitimate chance of becoming the mainstream PC SSD format in 2015.
Notably, PC OEM vendors --not including Apple-- are still deciding on whether to adopt PCIe G2x2 or PCIe G2x4 for 2014. As the major PC OEM SSD vendors are expected to promote products next year that are based on the latter interface, TrendForce projects that the PCIe G2x4 format will ultimately win out. From what the current information from the industry suggests, the Wintel group may only choose to focus on creating drivers that support PCIe G2x2. As these manufacturers generally possess the ability to provide their own driver solutions, their statuses are unlikely to be heavily restricted within the market.
With regard to the SATA III TLC SSDs, given how the C/P value of Samsung’s recent TLC SSD is being widely praised within the market, a number of SSD vendors have begun developing similar products that are geared towards 2014. With concerns looming over the general life span and data retention of TLC SSDs, the PC OEM clients are likely to only apply the component in their lower-end products during the initial phases. Looking at the market, given that TLC SSDs are able to compete effectively against Hybrid HDDs (ie.SSHDs) and SSD Cache solutions (ie.Dual Drive) in the areas of price and efficiency, TrendForce predicts that the competition among the three formats will become a lot more intense in the coming periods.
The major suppliers of PC OEM SSDs —for instance, Samsung, Sandisk, Intel, Toshiba, Liteon, Micron, and SK Hynix— account for nearly 90% of the market, and are known to employ different types of controller chip production strategies. With regard to the SATA III SDD products, Samsung is generally known for producing its chip components in-house, whereas companies such as Intel, Toshiba, Sandisk, and SK Hynix use both the in-house and outsourcing approach. Micron and Liteon, unlike the rest, typically outsource their entire SSD controller chip production to third party manufacturers. The more well known SSD controller IC suppliers currently include LSI, Marvell, Jmicron, Phison, and SMI. LSI and Marvell, in particular, account for over 85% of the market. In the future, TrendForce projects that the rise of the TLC SSD and PCIe G2 SSD markets will encourage PC OEM SSD vendors to raise the proportion of controller chips outsourced and help accelerate the products’ time to market.