June 11th, 2014 by Brian Beeler
It's Game Over for Most Consumer SSD Companies
At StorageReview we made the conscious decision some time ago to stop talking about all the tiny SSD brands running around in the marketplace with a SandForce reference design drive, or an SSD more or less made for them by one of the leaders in the space. The drives are generally poorly supported and have no cost advantage. Aside from brand loyalty, there's really no reason to buy them. The only consumer SSDs worth buying are from companies that have the intellectual property and ability to not only make the drives, but to support them long-term. For everyone else in the consumer SSD space, the game is over and the market will continue to consolidate.
Let's just get it out there so there's no confusion. Consumers should only be buying SSDs from Samsung, Crucial/Micron, OCZ (Toshiba), SanDisk and Intel. Outside of fringe use cases, you're wasting your time (and money) thinking about anyone else. Seagate goes on that list too once the LSI deal closes and they take over the SandForce IP. As an aside, it will be really interesting to see if Seagate decides to hold that to themselves and cut off much of the copycat industry at its knees, or continue to facilitate the masses. Either way, with a controller in-hand and enough capital to buy NAND at scale, they're relevant, even if they haven't made the steps they need to in terms of investing seriously in NAND.
Each of the companies listed above has a material technical advantage over the rest of the market. They use this advantage in different ways, the last few weeks have highlighted many of them. SanDisk for instance dropped a 10 year warranty on their new enthusiast SSD. 10 years is 2-3X longer than anyone else in the space, including enterprise SSDs. Samsung and Micron have continued eviscerating the market by fighting for the lowest cost per GB. Meanwhile, the Samsung 840 EVO and Crucial (Micron) MX100 perform very well and the latter ups the ante with superb features like power fail protection. OCZ with new parent Toshiba, continues to pop out compelling product to address both performance and price use cases. Lastly Intel continues to build a brand based on quality, even if their latest enthusiast drive was a flop.
Meanwhile, what are the "other guys" doing? ADATA essentially got a copy of the Micron M550 in an attempt to undercut by $10 per drive with lower performance and less support. Kingston struggles to find a market and punches out an array of SSDs with controllers from the likes of performance basement dwellers like Phison and JMicron, the same goes for Corsair's latest release with Silicon Motion. Other brands like Mushkin, PNY and Plextor are equally irrelevant in the space for a variety of reasons. Then we have the hard drive guys; WD has the monstrosity Black2 combo drive in market that should have never seen the light of day, and HGST who has no play in the consumer space. Toshiba has picked up OCZ to drive the consumer SSD business.
The bottom line is this; now more than ever, there are five companies (soon to be six) that deserve consumers' hard earned dollars for an SSD. The market is consolidating as the tier-2 guys struggle to hold on and find niches where they can add value. The game for them is almost over, and there's almost no reason to invest outside of this core list. It remains to be seen if Seagate and WD (HGST) are capable of redefining their consumer drive businesses, for that we'll have to keep waiting.