March 1st, 2013 by Brian Beeler
Consumer SSD Market Finally Consolidating - Patriot Memory Phasing Out
The consumer SSD market has for a long time been very much the wild west of technology expansionism. In the early days, everyone wanted in. Western Digital even dabbled in the space for a brief period, albeit with a controller that was more suited for USB than SSD. The former memory and overclocking companies immediately found a home with SSDs, most of them put into business by SandForce. SandForce did more to perpetuate the explosion of consumer SSDs than anyone by providing a reference design and firmware stack. Anyone could take the drive to manufacture, apply a drive sticker and immediately be in the SSD business. While early adopting consumers flocked to the promise of solid state speed, the road was full of bumps.
Fast-forward a few years and a lot has changed. StorageReview made the decision in May of last year to reduce our coverage of SSD vendors. We posted a top 10 SSD brands that matter list, honing in on brands that added value somewhere along the way. Of course there was much hand wringing from the likes of Mushkin, Adata, Transcend, PNY and others who felt somewhat violated by our policy of ignoring them. If we're honest though, reviewing what amounts to another SandForce drive for the 50th time simply isn't compelling to us our readership. Further, many of these companies showed little or no inclination or capacity to support us in our testing, which makes us not want to recommend the brand for consumers. If we can't find someone to help us within the company, how would a consumer get support other than an RMA and drive swap?
Lest anyone think this is an anti-SandForce rant, it's not. SandForce deserves tremendous credit for bringing the technology to market, their goal was to grow a business for financial gain, and as we know how it played out, the strategy worked by selling the company and IP to LSI. LSI SandForce, as it's now branded, certainly still has financial gain as the core of the model. Yet, there's more of an emphasis on quality partners who can order controllers at scale, rather than a hundred vendors making tiny orders. Reducing the vendor profile also reduces the support cost to LSI SandForce and is simply more efficient all the way around.
As is natural in any booming tech space, the herd must be pared back so the quality vendors may survive. SSD vendors with a little limp that start trailing the pack are now starting to give new meaning to NAND die failure. The benefits of owning IP or the possession of other technical advantages are becoming all the more evident now. As stated in our SSD reviews over and over again, the only way to create long-term value is to own your own IP, NAND fab, or provide superior engineering. Most of the nearly 100 vendors that used to exist in the SSD space did not meet any of those criteria, including many that we know of that never employed a single engineer dedicated to the SSD product line. This process is natural though; at one time the hard drive space had over 50 vendors, though only four brands and three companies remain today.
Most SSD vendors that have died out over time did so very quietly with neither fanfare nor funeral dirge. Alas, it appears one of the larger brands has now met its fate with SSDs, somberly yet quietly exiting the business. Patriot Memory, like many other memory-turned-ssd vendors largely leveraged the SandForce platform and initially did well as the SSD market grew - the classic rising tide cliché applies. As the market and technology changed, they dabbled with other controllers and a variety of capacities ending up with an expansive product line, which is generally difficult to maintain. Too many SKUs can spell disaster in terms of selling volumes and support infrastructure. While perhaps a touch early to say they're forever gone from the SSD business, things change, the company has confirmed that they're reduced their exposure in the SSD market but will keep a watchful eye if there's a re-entry point that makes expanding the line a good move.
So now we drop our consumer SSD coverage to nine brands, for the same reasons we stated in May of last year:
To put a finer point on it, there are manufacturers who are innovating or otherwise adding value, and there are those who are simply slapping a brand on an SSD, without providing consumers with much of a support network or adding even incremental value along the way.
In alphabetical order, our updated recommendations include:
The detail behind why each has been selected can be found here: Buying an SSD - The Only Brands That Matter (Consumer Edition)