SanDisk won't specify Vista SSD problems, but is 'working with Microsoft'

Amid complaints that Windows Vista is hurting the development of solid state drives, SanDisk now says it is working with Microsoft to optimize SSDs for "the Windows experience." But the company refused to provide details of Vista's problem, and Microsoft seemed unaware of the collaboration.

In a statement to BetaNews today, Richard Heyes, who heads up SanDisk's SSD Business Unit, didn't elaborate on the areas of optimization, although he did talk about SSD performance on "full-featured" operating systems such as Windows Vista vs. "simple" systems such as XP Starter Edition -- and he predicted that operating systems in general will become more "SSD aware" in the future.

Heyes' e-mail came in response to a request from BetaNews for more information about complaints raised by SanDisk Chairman and CEO Eli Harari during the company's second-quarter earnings call on Monday.

As reported by BetaNews on Tuesday, Harari criticized Microsoft's Vista for slowing down the progress -- and, in turn, adoption -- of SSDs.

"Unfortunately, [SSD] performance in the Vista environment falls short of what the market really needs and that is why we need to develop the next generation, which we'll start sampling end of this year, early next year," Harari said without providing any technical explanation.

But although high capacity SSDs on Vista machines require manufacturers to develop "sophisticated" controllers, the same is not true for lower capacity SSDs on "very low-cost PCs, " according to the CEO.

In his response to BetaNews today, Heyes drew distinctions between the demands placed on SSDs by "simple OS" such as XP Starter Edition or Linux that run on "netbooks," and "full-featured operating systems such as Vista" running on commercial notebooks.

Beyond that, Heyes made further distinctions between the performance of the current crop of notebook SSDs and the upcoming "second generation" SSDs, which are slated to use less costly multilevel cell (MLC) technology.

"For netbooks or ULCPCs, the primary purpose of the device is to get the user online via a Web browser. These systems thus employ a simple OS such as Linux or Windows XP Starter Edition that place modest demands on the storage device, which can be either a solid state drive (SSD) or hard disk drive (HDD)," said Heyes.

"For commercial notebooks running a full-featured operating system such as Vista, first generation SSDs showed performance improvements in specific areas including boot-up and application launch, but they were not consistently faster than HDDs in all parameters. Second generation SSDs, such as those shipping in 2008, offer nearly twice the speed of first generation products. Furthermore, they show performance that at least matches HDD performance and provides a very satisfying Vista experience," BetaNews was told.

"In 2009, SSDs will begin to shine as performance further improves beyond that of HDDs. Other opportunities for improvement will develop as operating systems become SSD aware and begin to treat SSDs in a more optimal manner than HDDs," Heyes maintained.

In answer to a question about how Microsoft and Sandisk are addressing SSD issues, Heyes said the companies have been working together in that vein. "We are continuing our work with Microsoft to identify opportunities for optimizing SSDs for the Windows experience," he said.

But Heyes did not answer a request from BetaNews to pinpoint the so-called "limitations" of Vista for SSD support, mentioned by Harari during Monday's conference call.

Also today, BetaNews provided Microsoft with an opportunity to comment on the SSD issues raised by Harari and Heyes -- asking Microsoft, too, for information about any plans around greater "SSD awareness" in either Vista or the forthcoming Windows 7. But by the end of the day, the company was still investigating the matter.

"We are still looking into this, and we will be back in touch whenever we have anything to share about it. Thank you for your patience," a Microsoft spokesperson told BetaNews.

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