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SSD: Hard Drives With No Moving Parts

July 30th, 2008 16:03 pm | by Ed |

Anybody with even a slight understanding of how a hard drive operates knows that there are some problems that go along with it. Because many of the parts require high precision alignment it's entirely too easy to mess that up. Just ask the guy who bought a new hard drive and dropped it on the way home (there's almost certainly somebody in any area that's done this at least once). The impact from dropping it can destroy the delicate alignment required.

Because there's moving parts and a motor, there's a noise problem. I have an old IBM 20GB drive that I stopped using a long time ago because it made this really high pitch whine when it was running. Because of my hearing loss *I* was not able to hear it but it drove my wife nuts.

The read / write heads need to move across the surface of the disk to access all of the sectors that hold pieces of the file. This not only limits access time considerably because physical mechanisms just can't move as fast as the signals they're carrying, it also means that fragmentation (a file broken up into many pieces stored in different areas of the disk) is also a problem with conventional hard drives because of that access time issue.

SSD's today are made with the same kind of technology that flash memory is. They're basically large blocks of Flash Memory that's designed to act like a conventional hard drive. They have much faster read times than the one's that are made with SDRAM or DRAM.

Because there are no moving parts, read times are very fast. You don't have to wait for it to spin up to operating speed before you can read or write data. No motors mean they run completely quiet. Read times can be a LOT faster.

One of the biggest drawbacks to flash based Solid State Drives is the fact that they have a really huge, but limited number of read / write cycles and an active computer could probably reach that limit eventually. Once a particular block of flash has reached it's write cycle limit it becomes unreliable and must be replaced. Typical flash SSDs today have a limit that ranges from 1 to 5 million write cycles. An active computer can conceivably reach this limit in a year or less.

I don't think that given the write cycle limitation that flash based SSD's are quite ready for prime time. If I shell out hard coin for mass storage, I want something that's got a reasonable shot of still being functional five or ten years down the line. I suppose that sounds like an unreasonable expectation but there you are.

My recommendation is to NOT run out and switch to them just yet. Flash based SSD's DO have a lot of potential but I'd like to see development go farther before trusting them with my data.

Technorati Tags: solid state drive, hard drive, write cycle limit, flash memory, hardware, ram

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