Storage Soup

Aug 26 2009   8:33PM GMT

Could simpler QA testing bring down the cost of SSDs?

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

The Holy Grail for SSDs is to make SLC performance cost as much as MLC, or, even better, as much as hard disk drives. The CTO of SSD manufacturer STEC says it won’t happen, pointing out that every advance in SLC density will have manifold benefits in MLC. Anyone who’s bought the newest iPhone or iPod knows older technology will almost always be cheaper, so SLC or MLC at the price point of HDD seems an even more far-fetched concept.

However, the CEO of Flexstar Technology, a manufacturer of hard drive, SSD and optical media testing equipment for storage vendors and OEMs, says SSDs do have one cost advantage over spinning media: a less complex, potentially more cost-effective quality testing process.

Currently storage OEMs and manufacturers have to put spinning media through extensive QA tests to make sure they stand up against environmental factors from rotational vibration, shock, ambient temperatures and humidity, according to FlexStar President and CEO Tony Lavia. “It’s not enough to test the drives in a clinically clean environment–each vendor needs to know that the drive will work inside their unique cabinet environments.” This means each vendor has to do its own custom testing and qualification process for spinning media.

From Lavia’s perspective, SSDs, with fewer moving parts, will change that picture. “You don’t have to do custom testing,: he said. “Instead OEMs can tell the drive manufacturers to do testing and only send them the drives that pass.” It also opens the door, Lavia said, to third-party testing companies (like, say, FlexStar).

IDC analyst Jeff Janukowicz said Lavia’s reasoning makes sense. “There are close to 100 SSD companies right now, and they don’t all necessarily have the resources to go out and buy their own testing equipment,” he said. “If those companies don’t require extra capital for testing, they could offer cheaper solutions [to end users].”

But least one emerging SSD vendor disagrees with the “no custom testing” idea. “Not all NAND is created equal,” said Pliant Technology’s vice president of marketing Greg Goelz. “We test rigorously using proprietary tools.”

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