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SSD: Marketing Versus Reality

We can read many articles about the pros and cons of Solid State Drives. We may also hear opinions about them – from supporters and opponents of this technology… and can listen to the informational din. We can also leave the technical issues aside and look at it from the perspective of a market. Let’s just say this article won’t provide any answers – it will only ask new questions.

The price and the prestige strategy

There are two issues. The first one is that we have to take into account that any new technology will almost always cost more than it should. Sometimes it is the result of small demand, sometimes of top-down assumptions. In the second case, we can point to it as a kind of marketing strategy – one of market penetration. It is called “creaming” or the “prestige strategy”. The idea is easy to understand – it consists of collecting maximum profits in the short term by setting the highest possible price for the new product. At the beginning it is offered to customers who do not treat a high price as a barrier to purchase – then the price is gradually reduced. Sounds like a conspiracy, doesn’t it? But it is the art of marketing.

The second thing is much simpler and justifies the high price. The value of an SSD should be measured by cost-per-IO not cost-per-Gigabyte. If we look at it from this perspective, the price of SSDs may seem understandable.

Durability and creating needs

The issue of durability is an excellent example how one fact can be interpreted in many ways. SSDs have no moving parts – this is true, the rest can be treated as a confabulation.

An SSD evangelist will say: “They are shock resistant and more robust than HDDs“. Conservative HDD supporters will answer: “So what? SDDs have a limited number of write operations – they wear out when you write to them“. So where’s the truth?  Well, one can say it is where rational thinking starts. Let’s ask ourselves – what do we expect from an SSD? Praised strength is a good argument only in a few cases. Just think, even for notebook computers it is recommended to use an additional HDD (when write operations are often performed) – shock resistance is in decline. As you can see, the supposed advantage of SSDs may be treated in fact as a creation of new needs. SSD endurance is not as important as marketers are trying to persuade us.

On the other hand we have the issue of a limited number of write operations. To avoid accusations of a lack of impartiality, I will act now as the SSD advocate and ask: Do you know what “MTBF” means? It means “Mean Time Between Failures” – it is the predicted elapsed time between inherent failures of a system during operation. Did you know that modern enterprise class SSDs have a higher MTBF than some HDDs – I recommend the comparison of  the Intel 710 SSD and the Ultrastar Hitachi A7K2000.

There is one more thing that affects a limited number of records. It gives the ability to predict a failure. If we know the limits of write operations, we can also monitor the drive life. We can say it is a kind of rationalization of a negative feature of SSDs but, on the other hand, is a very practical rationalization. Especially in the case of data centers, where continuity of a  supply of services has the highest priority.

The speed and hiding inconvenient facts

We cannot hide it – the high speed of SSDs is an undeniable fact. However, one issue (just for sheer curiosity) is worthy of note: the speed of a disk which is filled with data. The reasons for a decrease in operation speed are scatter/gather algorithms and wear leveling. To put the matter simply: the I/O performance will be high at the beginning but it will fall down when write operations must be preceded by an erase. Another thing is that SSDs “don’t like” defragmentation, which does not help to maintain the initial high performance.

Of course, in this case, dips are really low. There are also algorithms that can help to avoid such a situation. Nevertheless, one should know that such a phenomenon exists (but almost nobody speaks about it out loud).

The similarity and the halo effect

There is one more myth that should be mentioned here. It concerns the issue of a similarity of name. It is a big mistake to think about SSDs as one kind of technology. How can we understand it?  Well, in the same way we know there are many kinds of HDD drives.

Why mention it? Consumers must watch out for producers who use the halo effect and put low-budget drives in the same class as  enterprise-class SSDs. Various SSDs represent various purpose, performance and quality. Be careful what you pay for.

Silent but unnecessary

Yes, SSDs are silent – we cannot deny it. But in most cases, think, do annoying sounds come from your old HDD or from fans? And one more thing – what will be cheaper – an SSD drive or a sound-muting case? Indeed, there are very few cases where the purchase of an SSD to mute hardware will make any sense.

Impartial Summary

SSD is a new technology. It is still being developed, and is also still not free of drawbacks. However, have no doubt that in the next few years the price will drop very quickly to a tolerable level, and cheap and efficient SSDs will flood the market. If we take into account the troubles on the HDD drive market – associated with the floods in Thailand – it may happen sooner than we expect. Why? Take a look at your SSD – where it was produced.  Surely, in most cases it will not be the capital of HDD drive production.


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  • cisco lopez

    March 06, 03 2012 10:29:09

    Very helpful article!!

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    • Cuttie

      March 26, 03 2012 02:24:34

      For desktops, there’s a new crop of rbihyd hard drives than offer much higher cache and can preload common programs into a smaller SSD bank. Desktops have a much larger RAM capacity than laptops so the performance jump won’t be an noticeable. Hybrid drives offer a good compromise between capacity and speed. They have them for laptops too btw, but you lose out on the power saving benefits of a full SSD.

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  • Benjamin

    March 26, 03 2012 05:31:34

    Hi Roberto, yes they are more sensitive to ecaltricel damage than regular HDD. But no more than the rest of the computer. So if it will damage the SSD, most likely it will damage other parts of the computer as well.The real-world benefits for laptops far outweigh the disadvantages. Mainly because laptops and mobile computers are subject to physical shock more than ecaltricel surges.You’re more likely to damage your laptop by using it while the disk is spinning, rather than a power spike.

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