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SanDisk UltraPlus 256 GB SSD: An idea whose time has come


Anand Parthasarathy goes into a bit of PC history to explain why he is excited by the SanDisk Ultra Plus Solid State drive.

Solid state flash drive leader SanDisk is slowly but surely edging into the hitherto exclusive territory of hard drive storage for notebooks, laptops and small form factor PCs. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year, the company launched a 256 GB solid state challenger to SATA hard drives – in a very small form factor.

With no moving parts and read /write speeds of 530 MBPS and 445 MBPS respectively, the SanDisk Ultra Plus SSD is able to achieve very superior boot up, shut down, application launch or data transfer speeds – which may be an important consideration in these times.

PC system  makers and by this I mean the usual suspects like Intel on the hardware/processor side and Microsoft on the software/operating system side, have put their mutual interests above those of their paying customer -- and have jointly ensured that with every iteration of the OS, the start-up time and shut-down times, improve, if at all, in homoeopathic doses. There is no real technical reason for example, why Intel as the undisputed PC chip leader, cannot provide a cache on its silicon real estate – similar to a ROM -- which will make the device start-up or shut-down as fast as turning a switch on or off. Indeed I remember seeing the then Intel CEO Dr Craig Barrett proudly demonstrating this to the media at the company’s Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in Taipei in 1998. They had the technology then and they have it now – but a cosy relationship with Microsoft ensures that the hardware guy is content to keep his innovation in cold storage for a decade and a half . so that the key operations of a PC continue to be performed less efficiently by software (guess who’s!).

As this  situation is unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future, we have to look elsewhere to experience operational efficiencies in our computing, a task made even more difficult because in  the quest  for energy efficiency, companies like Intel seem to under-power their new generation processors for Net books, tablets and the like ( Think Atom versus Pentium) which makes OS-based booting and shut down even slower. Solid state storage may be one way, (hopefully the first of others), to improve PC performance even when shackled with “Wintel”.

We have known for a decade now, that NAND Flash based storage was always a better option than hard drives with their plethora of moving parts. The problem was ratcheting up the storage size of solid state storage without taking the asking price beyond the region of the affordable. With three sizes 64 GBG, 128 GB and 256 GB, theUltra Plus has answered the need for reasonable size. A 256 GB storage will do very nicely for my Net Book or laptop, thank you!

Which is why I think the SanDisk Ultra SSD is an exciting product development. SanDisk has interestingly thrown 128 MB of DRAM as a cache on the SSD – which is expected to further improve the read/write times.

The Ultra Plus is compatible with SATA Revision 3.0 (6Gb/s) interfaces and is backwards compatible with SATA Revision 2.0 (3Gb/s) and SATA Revision 1.0 (1.5GB/s) .Energy–wise too, the SSD alternative to hard drives wins -- the makers claim it consumes only .08 Watts during 'Slumber’ and 0.12 Watts during active use.

If there is a downside it is the asking price: The official prices of the 64GB, 128GB and 256GB2 capacities are Rs 10,558; Rs 15,486 and Rs 30,973 respectively. This may be a bit like the tail wagging the dog: you may end up paying more for your SSD storage than the cost of your computing device. But experience tell us this this is more a matter of supply and demand. If more customers vote for the improved reliability, speed and energy-efficiency of SSDs, SanDisk and their competitors will be dropping prices as their order books hit millions. 

You can’t keep a good idea down ( even if “Wintel” may seem like one can) – and solid state PC drives are an idea whose time has come. When canny Indians judge that these are paisa vasool or money’s worth, they will go for it. Meanwhile if you can afford it, try it. You can tell tales of your brave deeds in storage purchase decisions to your grand children. More information here