The launch of the Ultrabook market is expected to lead to a boom in sales for cache SSDs, with sales of the devices slated to drive the cache SSD market to grow over a hundredfold between 2011 and 2015.
Analyst firm IHS on Thursday reported that it expects cache SSD shipments in 2015 to reach 121.0 million units, up from 881,000 units shipped in 2011. Shipments in 2012 are expected to reach 25.7 million units, a number expected to grow to 68.2 million units, IHS reported.
Unlike typical SSDs, which can serve as the primary storage device in a PC or server in place of a spinning hard drive, cache SSDs are used in conjunction with spinning hard drives.
Cache SSDs can be found in many applications. In servers or storage array, frequently accessed data can be stored on an SSD for fast reads or writes while the bulk of the data is stored on much less costly spinning hard drives. In portable PCs, boot data and certain applications and data can sit on a cache SSD for fast access and quick booting of the PC, with the majority of applications and data running on the spinning hard drive.
The boom in cache SSD sales will be driven by fast-growing sales of Ultrabooks, IHS said. The Ultrabook is a mobile PC form factor designed by Intel which combines the power of a notebook PC and the size and convenience of a tablet PC.
Intel has signed up some of the largest PC makers, including Hewlett Packard, Dell, Lenovo, and Acer to develop Ultrabooks, and last year invested $300 million to help its technology partners develop the necessary components.
IHS expects Ultrabooks to account for about 22 million of the 25.7 million cache SSDs predicted to be sold in 2012. Non-Ultrabook devices will account for the rest.
SSDs have already been accepted in the mobile PC industry as primary storage devices, including Apple's MacBook Air and certain high-end models from other vendors, In addition, in the fast growing tablet PC market, most units include built-in Flash memory as the primary storage devices.
However, given the desire for higher performance but the cost difference between SSDs and spinning hard drives, a cache SSD in conjunction with a spinning drive represents a compromise of performance and capacity that many users might accept in an Ultrabook.
Indeed, IHS said that a typical 120-GB SSD from OCZ might cost about $160, which is about the same price of an Intel 311 Series cache SSD paired with a 500-GB hard drive.
Another alternative to cache SSDs paired with spinning hard drives is the hybrid drive, such as Seagate's Momentus XT, in which a small amount of cache memory is installed inside the same enclosure as the spinning disks to improve storage performance.
Intel's push to promote the Ultrabook concept and its introduction this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) of advanced features expected to be available on Ultrabooks in the future will make the cache SSD a major part of the overall SSD market going forward, wrote Ryan Chien, research associate for memory & storage at IHS, in a research note.
"Intel at CES showed that Ultrabooks have become the centerpiece of its mobile computing strategy," Chien wrote. "Cache SSDs represent a key part of Intel’s Ultrabook specification, providing performance, convenience and power-savings capabilities that play a key role in defining the platform."