Date: Wednesday, July 03, 2013
Toshiba is no stranger to NAND flash; it actually invented NAND back in 1989. A Toshiba engineer observing the erase procedure under a microscope noted that it erased in a "flash," and thus the world came to know of NAND as 'flash' memory.
A scant 24 years later and flash memory powers the world around us. It is found in everything from cars to mobile phones, cameras, tablets, and desktop computers, to name a very few. Flash has revolutionized mobile data storage with a small physical size that allows small devices to handle relatively large amounts of data. Toshiba has helped to usher in the NAND revolution, but many aren't even aware of Toshiba's deep penetration in the SSD space.
Today's evaluation of the Toshiba THNSNH (HG5d) 256GB SSD isn't the standard fare for our SSD reviews. The Toshiba THNSNH is an OEM SSD that has sparse public availability, yet is integrated into many of the top-selling Ultrabooks and Macs on the market today. Toshiba focuses on the OEM market almost exclusively which places it in an enviable position as the SSD market nears commoditization.
Commoditization merely means that a technology has advanced to the point of reliability and acceptable price points that are appealing to the mainstream market. Once a new technology has reached this 'ready for prime time' status we begin to see it installed into the base models of computers and laptops as a general feature.
The continuing assault on typical computing platforms from mobile devices has dictated a massive switch in the priorities of the large computer manufacturers. The always-on, instant power-up and resume characteristics of mobile devices has left consumers with the growing impression that most legacy computers are slow. The remarkable aspect is that the long battery life and responsiveness of mobile phones and other devices is largely brought to you by NAND flash.
Alleviating the slow response times of HDDs is the driving factor behind the speedy new mobile devices, and in order to compete desktop computers and laptops are in the middle of the progression to the same type of storage technology. The driving force behind Haswell and the Ultrabook initiative is to compete with new mobile products with superior battery life and responsiveness, a role perfectly suited for SSDs.
The exorbitant price has kept NAND flash from being a viable alternative for primary data storage in desktop and laptop computers. Oddly enough, the incursion of mobile devices has jumpstarted the widespread use of NAND flash enough that economies of scale and mass production have allowed SSDs to begin to reach competitive price points for general data storage. The very product that has largely enabled the mobile explosion is coming full circle to benefit the resurgence of desktop and mobile computing.
Toshiba's focus on the OEM market for its SSD products has given it familiarity with OEMs and long product qualification cycles. In many cases, the qualification cycle for an OEM SSD can take up to a year of extensive reliability and interoperability testing. This long process places reliability and durability ahead of performance considerations, but the prize for developing this class of SSDs can deliver more sales over the long term than the consumer market. Integration into the latest Dell or Mac line of laptops, desktops, or tablets guarantees a large number of units sold.
Toshiba has a partnership with SanDisk to produce flash memory. This joint venture, dubbed 'Flash Forward', produces a large amount of the world's NAND. While Samsung is the largest NAND producer in the world with 38.7 percent of the market Toshiba isn't far behind with 27.6 percent of NAND production, more than double that of the next nearest competitor. NAND manufacturing capability provides Toshiba with a clear advantage over many of its competitors, who simply purchase NAND and combine it with a SSD controller.
The only component Toshiba lacks for its SSDs is an in-house SSD controller. This final piece of the puzzle for Toshiba is currently being supplied by Marvell, but with extensive use of its own firmware and engineering Toshiba has developed a radical implementation of the Marvell controller that provides distinctly different performance than other SSDs on the market.
In many ways, the Toshiba THNSNH SSD gives us a peek into the future of SSDs as these hurtle towards commoditization. Let's take a look and see how the THNSNH stacks up against the current crop of enthusiast-class consumer SSDs.