At The Consumer Electronics Show this week, Swiss army knife maker Victorinox introduced a one-terabyte SSD in a form factor similar to a fat Swiss army knife. Yes, that is right – a terabyte of NAND flash in your pocket. The company tells us that the device’s dimensions, including the connector, are a scant 52x18x10mm.
Some of the other features include the use of an eSATA connector (to allow the product to be plugged into either a SATA port or a USB socket), AES256 encryption (any army would like this), and a bi-stable LCD to tell how much free space remains on the device.
But let’s look at the difficulty of building a 1TB flash SSD in such a small space:
Before I start I should explain for anyone new to the digital market that “Gb” stands for “gigabits” and “GB” (with an upper-case “B”) stands for gigabytes, with eight bits to the byte.
Today’s densest chips (128Gb = 16GB) are manufactured by companies that have 8-high die stacking capabilities (Intel & Micron) – that is, eight chips can be ground very thin and squeezed into a standard chip package measuring about 1.5mm in thickness. Unfortunately these 128Gb chips aren’t in production today, although they should be by Victorinox’ mid 2012 production date.
Samsung, which alone has 16-die stacking capability, doesn’t ship anything bigger than a 32Gb (4GB) chips. With a Samsung stack (16x4GB=64GB) you would need 16 packages to get to one terabyte. With Intel or Micron’s 8-die stack (8x16GB=128GB) you would need eight.
I would believe that you could squeeze eight packages into a thick pocketknife-shaped package if you really tried, but I don’t think even Victorinox could fit 16 into such a small space. I have a very strong respect for the Swiss, with their history as precision watchmakers, to miniaturize components and pack them into a small space like nobody else can.
Right now I am upset with myself for not stopping at the Victorinox booth when I was at CES. I guessed that the company would be showing nothing more than simple evolutionary updates to its USB flash drive blades that can be fit into relatively standard pocketknives. Even that is a very big step for a company whose product hasn’t changed all that much over its 125-year history.
Imagine going back in time to Victorinox even only 50 years ago to try and explain to the company’s management of that time that this product would be unveiled in 2012. This is easy for The SSD Guy to imagine, because I lived in Geneva in 1962 and was given my first Swiss army knife for my ninth birthday. In 1962 a computer was a room-filling giant. That year IBM introduced the 1311 disk drive, the first with removable storage. Each disk pack had six disks and weighed about 10 pounds (5kg) storing 4MB (or, as IBM called it: “2 million characters”). Using these disk packs one terabyte would have consumed 250,000 disk packs, for a total weight of about 1,250 tons!
We hear that the suggested retail for these will be about $3,000. This is not a bad price for what you get – a standard 128-256GB SSD in a 2.5″ HDD package costs about $2/GB, so the extra 50% premium for this feat of engineering seems rather reasonable.
That said, I don’t plan to rush out and buy one. Imagine explaining to your boss that the thing had slipped out of your pocket somewhere between here and Geneva!
Prices will come down over time, and a terabyte will cost nothing like $3,000 in only a few years. Those who would like to understand how and when a terabyte will become affordable should read: Understanding the NAND Market, which can be purchased for immediate download at the Objective Analysis website.