Booming sales of ultrabooks spurred by strong support from Intel will drive "explosive" growth in the market for cache solid state drives in the coming years, with shipments set to soar more than a hundredfold by the end of 2015, up from less than one million units in 2011, according to an IHS iSuppli Storage Space Market Brief from IT information and analysis provider IHS (NYSE: IHS).
Fueled by rising sales of ultrabooks-the superthin mobile computers launched by chipmaker Intel in 2011--shipments of cache SSD units in 2012 are projected to reach 25.7 million units, up from 881,000 units in 2011 when the technology first appeared, Next year, cache SSD shipments will amount to 68.2 million units, on their way to approximately 121 million units by 2015, according to the company's report.
The majority of cache SSD units will find their way into devices known as ultrabooks, even though non-ultrabook desktops and notebooks also will account for cache SSD use. Of the more than 25 million cache SSDs to be shipped this year, about 22 million units will be present in ultrabooks, up from a mere 500,000 last year.
"Intel is continuing to put its eggs into the ultrabook basket, as indicated by its activities at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week," said Ryan Chien, research associate for memory and storage at IHS. "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."
Chien sad cache SSDs represent a key part of Intel's ultrabook specification, providing performance, convenience and power-savings capabilities that play a key role in defining the platform. A cache SSD looks like a regular solid state drive made up entirely of NAND flash. However, a cache SSD is not an independent storage drive and must run alongside a separate hard drive.
Essentially an ultrabook requirement, cache SSDs make PCs more responsive, allowing faster boot-up times than hard disk drives. Cache SSDs are also less expensive than solid state drives, making them a more economical means to enhance system performance than by the wholesale replacement of hard disk drives with solid state drives. For instance, 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.
The report noted cache SSDs also should prove popular for enterprise notebooks, allowing for more noticeable performance improvements than a top-line microprocessor or additional dynamic random access memory (DRAM). While prices for cache SSDs are still not low enough for widescale mainstream adoption, the next few years will see more pressure coming from ultrabooks, along with even more affordable "smartbooks" that incorporate mobile architectures and low-cost operating systems, IHS projected.
"While cache SSDs had only a small presence in the storage industry in 2011, their impact in the coming years will become increasingly significant," the report concluded. "In particular, the cache drive segment will be the primary reason behind the increased shipment growth of solid state drives, projected to jump to 46 million units this year, up from 17 million in 2011."
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. Both cache and hybrid drives have the option to utilize high densities of multilevel-cell (MLC) NAND, but only cache SSDs have an announced roadmap thus far. Being modular, cache SSD solutions also are inherently more robust and scalable when compared to the novel, one-piece nature of hybrid hard disk drives. The hybrid disk drive is an effort spearheaded by storage giant Seagate Technology, exemplified by its Momentus XT product.