Competition in the SSD market helped drive lower prices and innovations for the past decade, but you wouldn't know it to look at current SSD prices. Increased demand from the smartphone sector coupled with limited NAND supply has been blamed for last year's price hikes, where we saw the cheapest SSDs go from $90 for 480GB to a starting price of $150 late last. Thankfully, 2018 is expected to reverse that trend, and there are signs that's already happening, with 480GB drives now back to $130.
Into the high demand market, Toshiba is announcing its new retail RC100 drives (opens in new tab), which have already been used in the OEM sector. The RC100 uses BiCS Flash memory, which is Toshiba's brand name for 3D NAND. The RC100 will use 64-layer TLC NAND, with an in-house controller that doesn't require onboard DRAM. The drives boast read/write speeds of up to 1620/1130 MB/s, with 160K/120K IOPS—roughly two to three times the performance of a top SATA drive.
Toshiba gets around the normal DRAM requirement for high-speed SSDs by using the NVMe protocol's HMB (Host Memory Buffer) feature, which sets aside a chunk of system RAM for caching purposes. Toshiba says the drive only needs a 32MB buffer to run at near optimal performance levels. Toshiba also opts for the far more compact M.2 2242 form factor (as opposed to the more typical M.2 2280 format), thanks to the integration of the controller into the same package as the NAND.
Pricing is expected to be 'competitive' with the least expensive NVMe drives, with performance that also falls in a similar range. That means we're looking at the Intel 600p and WD Black as the primary alternatives, both of which currently sell for around $200 for the 512GB model.
The drives will initially launch in 120/240/480GB capacities in early Q2. Hopefully the prices will come in closer to $150 than $200 for the 480GB model, and if NAND supplies improve that shouldn't be too difficult.
Toshiba also announced a new external USB 3.0 SSD, the XS700, which will initially launch with a 240GB capacity and read/write speeds of up to 530/480 MB/s. The XS700 is intended for users that want fast access to increasingly large amounts of external storage, though the 240GB capacity seems a bit limited compared to the competition. There's no word on pricing yet, but the external drives all currently use SATA SSDs, as there are not yet any NVMe to USB controllers. Availability is also expected in Q2.