256TB SSDs could land before 2026 with a surprisingly low price — but will most likely use a controversial and popular trick borrowed from tape technology

tape storage
(Image credit: Shutterstock / kubais)

ScaleFlux has announced its latest SSD controller in what could be a significant step up for the company.

The SFX 5016, the successor to the SFX 3016, incorporates several design advancements, including an upgrade from PCIe 4.0 to PCIe 5.0, doubling the host interface speed and bandwidth.

The new controller has been designed to support a maximum storage capacity of up to 256TB, a volume which JB Baker, VP of Products at ScaleFlux believes can be achieved sooner than expected, by taking a leaf out of tape technology.

256TBe drives are coming

Reaching 256TB is a big aim for SSD makers, and one that has some challenging hurdles to overcome. For starters, the physical space, determined by the size and form factor of the SSD, dictates how many NAND components it can accommodate. The density of these components also plays a part, with higher densities providing more storage capacity. The SSD's overall capacity can be limited by the controller's ability to handle a certain number of NAND chips and manage them effectively. Additionally, SSDs maintain a "logical to physical map" to track each byte of data stored, typically in DRAM for consistent performance in enterprise SSDs. The amount of DRAM that can fit in the drive can further limit the maximum drive capacity.

For all of those reasons, we likely won’t see a 256TB physical capacity drive arrive until 2026 at the earliest, with pricing expected to come in at around $25,000 each. But there is a solution that’s closer to hand. Baker says a “256T effective through compression drive could arrive by 2025 and cost a fraction of the price."

While offering a 256TB SSD ahead of the competition, and at a lower price point, sounds great, the method of achieving this is not without controversy.

Transparent compression, a feature included in the SFX 5016 and carried forward from the SFX 3016, is a popular trick borrowed from tape technology that allows an SSD to store more data than its physical capacity by compressing it. As Baker explains “a 3.84TB SSD can store 7.68TB of 2:1 compressible data for 'effective capacity'. Storage array vendors pitch the 'TBe' -Terabyte effective - capacity based on achieving a certain data compression ratio.”

Although there’s no firm timescale for it, if Baker is right, it’s possible we'll start seeing the first 256TBe drives late next year.

More from TechRadar Pro

Wayne Williams

Wayne Williams is a freelancer writing news for TechRadar Pro. He has been writing about computers, technology, and the web for 30 years. In that time he wrote for most of the UK’s PC magazines, and launched, edited and published a number of them too.