Crucial unveils bargain SSDs for older laptops

Crucial today announced a new solid-state drive (SSD) targeted at users who want to upgrade older computer systems with a flash drive that boasts a price well under $1 per gigabyte of capacity.

Crucial's new v4 SSD, which is being manufactured by partner Micron, may not sport top flash-drive speeds. But it outpaces any consumer hard drive by more than twice the performance. The new 128GB SSD sells for $100; a 256GB model can be had for $190.

The price of consumer-class SSDs had been expected to drop to $1 per gigabyte this year. SSD prices further slipped precipitously because of market oversupply. For example, NAND flash memory maker Toshiba recently slashed its production by 30 percent in order to deal with oversupply issues.

Yet, Crucial's pricing still impressed industry analysts. "SSD prices have taken a beating for months," Gartner analyst Joseph Unsworth wrote in an email reply to Computerworld. But Crucial's retail prices "are indeed aggressive prices, because these products are based on 25 [nanometer] NAND, which means that the margin would have to be lean," Unsworth added. "There are other lower-price offerings in the market, depending on the vendor, but also the quality (performance and reliability) can vary."

Unsworth noted that some vendors will offer rebates in order to get low prices—even below Crucial's new v4 models—and that trend will only accelerate for back-to-school specials and deals leading up to the holidays.

For example, on consumer technology retail site Newegg.com, an OCZ Vertex 3 SSD with 120GB of capacity can be purchased for $80 with a mail-in rebate. The Vertex 3 sports peak read/write speeds of 550 MBps and 500 MBps, respectively.

Crucial's new v4 SSD uses the more widely used but older SATA-2, which has the 3 Gbps interface that most pre-2011 computer systems sport for internal drive connectivity. SATA-3 offers 6 Gbps, but only the latest systems (such as the new MacBook Pro) come with it.

Yet, Unsworth said it seems odd to use SATA-2 specs, since Micron has always had a 6 Gbps interface with its joint controller technology partner Marvell. That interface is backward compatible to 3 Gbps.

Crucial said its v4 SSD has sequential read/write speeds of 230 MBps and 190 MBps, respectively. To put that in perspective, a top-of-the-line hard disk drive, such as Western Digital's 7200-rpm Scorpio Black, has maximum read/write speeds of around 104 MBps and 101 MBps.

By comparison, an Intel top-of-the-line 520 Series SSD boasts peak read/write speeds of 550 MBps and 520 MBps, respectively. So the new Crucial SSD rests nicely in the middle.

The v4 SSDs are available in 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB capacities with suggested retail prices of $50, $70, $100, and $190, respectively. The SSDs can be purchased now through global channel partners, or direct through Crucial's website.

"The Crucial v4 SSD boils down to two things: performance and value," Robert Wheadon, senior worldwide product manager for Crucial said in a statement. "Most consumers realize that SSDs help their computers start quicker and run faster, and are a more durable alternative to hard drives, but many don't realize that most SSDs outperform the data transfer capabilities of their SATA-2 machines. With the Crucial v4 SSD, we've come up with a product that's designed to bring the most value out of a SATA-2 system without paying for extra performance that can't be used."

Th Crucial v4 SSD comes with a three-year limited warranty, and is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS X systems.

[Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.]

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