Episode #3

Ushering in the era of consumer SSDs

Welcome to part three of our in-depth series exploring landmark moments from Samsung’s history of flash memory innovation.

In part two, we examined how Samsung’s commercialization of the first solid-state drive (SSD) kicked off a brand-new era in PC storage. Here, we’ll take a look at how the SSD transitioned from a technology mainly used for server and enterprise applications into a device that consumers rely on every day.

Samsung’s journey toward popularizing consumer SSDs

An illustrative image of popilarizing consumer SSD.

Since commercializing their first SSD back in 2006, Samsung has continuously expanded applications for the technology in the enterprise server market by taking advantage of SSDs’ fast data access speeds and power efficiency. The launch of the premium laptop market has also resulted in more SSDs being installed on personal computers.

With an eye toward making consumer SSDs common, in 2010, Samsung officially launched its 470 series of SATA consumer SSDs, which was followed by the 830 series in 2011. The latter would go on to sell more than 10,000 units within the first two months of its launch, confirming Samsung’s belief that demand for consumer SSDs was real.

In 2011, Samsung sold its HDD business to the U.S.-based Seagate Technology, having chosen to focus its efforts and resources on advancing SSDs. The goal: to develop a wide variety of SSD offerings that catered to consumers’ diverse needs, and presented them with more choices.

Leveraging industry-leading NAND technology to kickstart the era of terabyte SSDs

Samsung was also the first to mass produce three-dimensional vertical NAND (3D V-NAND) technology, which has become key to offering high-performance, high-capacity consumer SSDs at reasonable prices.

An illustrative image of leveraging industry-leading NAND technology to kickstart the era of terabyte SSDs.

A simple way to understand the architecture of a memory cell is to imagine the cell as a house and data as its residents. In the beginning, these little ‘neighborhoods’ got along well. There weren’t that many houses, so there was plenty of space for everyone. As time went by, however, populations increased, more houses were built, and the gaps between houses grew smaller and smaller. Unfortunately for both our residents and the data they represent, cramped quarters inevitably makes noise (and interference) a pressing issue.

Samsung solved this issue by replacing single-story (2D planar) houses with first-of-their-kind, three-dimensional ‘skyscrapers’ (3D V-NAND). The company’s official introductions of 24-layer V-NAND in 2013, 32-layer V-NAND in 2014, 48-layer V-NAND in 2015, 64-layer V-NAND in 2016, 9x-layer V-NAND in 2016, and 1xx-layer V-NAND in 2019, helped pave the way for a new era of terabyte-class SSDs.

An illustrative image of Consumer SSD History.

By applying multi-bit NAND and first-of-its-kind V-NAND to SSDs, Samsung managed to address two of the biggest obstacles to the growth of the consumer SSD market: capacity and price. Leveraging its best-in-class NAND technology, the company introduced the first 3-bit MLC SSD (the 840 series) in October of 2012, and the first 3D V-NAND-installed SSD (the 850 PRO) in July of 2014.

Upgrading from HDDs to Samsung SSDs has allowed consumers to enjoy a more comfortable and convenient computing experience. This includes both general computing – everything from booting up to transferring files and running applications – as well as high-performance tasks like gaming and editing high-definition videos.

Today, laptop usage has become virtually universal. The amount of data we’re creating continues to increase, which in turn increases the demand for speedy and portable storage devices. Samsung’s lineup of portable SSDs was created to satisfy consumers’ multifarious needs by offering them external storage solutions that are faster and lighter than traditional HDDs, and ensure high data reliability.

In January of 2015, Samsung officially debuted its premium 3D V-NAND-applied portable SSD, the T1. Smaller than a business card and weighing in at roughly 30 grams, the T1 slips easily into a pocket or bag. The T1 was followed by the T3 in February of 2016, and the T5 in August of 2017. The following year, the company officially introduced its X series of portable SSDs. Built with the NVMe™ interface and Thunderbolt™ 3 support, the X series achieved new heights of performance and marked the beginning of a new frontier for external storage solutions.

NVMe™ (Non-Volatile Memory Express): A host controller interface for SSDs that utilizes the Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) protocol to maximize storage performance.
Thunderbolt™ 3: A hardware interface developed by Intel that utilizes a USB-C connection and enables data transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps.

Samsung’s most recent release is the T7 Touch – a portable SSD that combines high performance with stalwart security. The device features a built-in fingerprint sensor that’s similar to those of flagship smartphones, and it’s exceptionally quick, thanks in part to fifth-generation 512Gb V-NAND and an ultra-fast NVMe™ controller.

Maximizing performance with the PCIe-based NVMe™ interface

When SSDs first appeared on the market, consumers’ purchasing decisions were largely driven by price. As time went by and more consumers began to prioritize capacity and performance, Samsung raised the bar for SSD speed once again by innovating with the PCIe-based NVMe™ interface.

If you imagine the bandwidth of SATA, the most commonly used interface for transferring data, as a one-lane road, PCIe would be a six-lane highway. Offering larger bandwidth and faster response speeds than SATA, PCIe-based NVMe™ SSDs take data transfers to the next level.

Samsung was the first to apply the PCIe-based NVMe™ interface to enterprise and consumer SSDs, beginning with the industry’s first 2.5-inch NVMe™ enterprise SSD in 2013, followed by the groundbreaking 950 PRO consumer NVMe™ SSD. The company solidified its consumer SSD leadership with the releases of the 960 series in 2016, and the 970 series and Portable SSD X5 in 2018.

By ushering in a new era of high-performance SSDs built not just for server and enterprise use but for consumers as well, the world’s leading flash memory manufacturer continues to blaze a trail for flash memory technology to move forward.