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Are Solid-State Memory Drives (SSD) in Your Future?





In today’s computer dependent world, we are always on the lookout for the next "new thing".  Often times, the thing has been a new microprocessor from Intel or AMD.  However, in recent years, the microprocessor is often not the limiting factor with computer performance.









While hard-drive memory capacities have increased significantly in recent years, the access speed has remained relatively constant.  It's an issue/problem fundamental to the technology.  The hard-drive is mechanical, and efforts to improve speed have been receiving diminishing returns. 


A technology that is competing with the conventional hard-drive (HDD) is the solid-state drive (SSD).  An SSD is not mechanical; it is based on "flash memory", the same computer chip technology used to store pictures with your digital camera.  An SSD drive was a novelty only 3 years ago, but no longer. 


§     An SSD can outperform conventional mechanical hard drives because it is 4X smaller and lighter, is up to 50X faster, is more reliable because there are no moving parts, produces less heat, and uses less power.  SSD drive memory capacity has improved and 250 gigabyte SSD drives are now available.  Currently, the main drawback is price.


SSD Drives are still more expensive than conventional HDD. An SSD Drive now costs about $2 per gigabyte while a HDD drive costs less than $1 per gigabyte.  The price of an SSD continues to improve (SSD drives once sold for more than $25 per gigabyte), and with manufacturing volumes anticipated, the price difference should be further reduced.


Flash memory is capable of a finite number of rewrites to each memory cell (so are conventional hard-drives).  Significant improvements to the technology have been made in recent years.  To further minimize this issue, Intel developed "load leveling".  This technique ensures that all of the memory cells on the SSD receive a similar workload.  Most SSD manufacturers now utilize comparable techniques.  An SSD should last 10 years or more for the average user. 


The primary reason for the rosy future of SSD is access speed.  A fast conventional HDD has access times equal to about 5 milliseconds.  It sounds fast, but when the microprocessor is capable of millions of instructions per second (MIPS), 5 milliseconds is a bottleneck.  SSD can have 100 microsecond access times (50X faster).  


An important issue when trying to utilize this SSD speed capability is the potential bottleneck caused by the interface.  There are 3 common interfaces used today with SSD drives. 


The SATA interface is currently the most common interface used for conventional HDD, but a SATA interface has been limited in total throughput, both send and receive, to about 3 Gbps.  This can be too slow for SSD, causing performance disruptions.  Some SSD drives are capable of over 5 Gbps throughput. 


SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) is another alternative.  SAS is a point-to-point technology with at least four channels.  Each channel is capable of throughput of 3 Gbps in each direction (a total of 6 Gbps per channel).


A third alternative is to implement the SSD with a PCI Express interface.  A PCI Express interface has unidirectional data paths, one send and one receive, each at 2.5 Gbps for a throughput of 5 Gbps.


Seagate Technology, in conjunction with AMD, recently announced the Serial ATA 6-Gbps storage interface, also called SATA Revision 3.0, a next-generation technology that is capable of twice the speed of the fastest SATA interface available today.  This technology was demonstrated for conventional hard drives, but has obvious application to the SSD market.


It is possible to maximize the performance advantage of the SSD technology with careful selection of the appropriate interface.


Sun Microsystems Endorses SSD


Sun Microsystems, a leading maker of engineering workstations (very high performance computers), is predictably committing strongly to SSD technology.  Sun can be seen as a bellwether for the PC industry.  If Sun endorses the technology at the current price, as the prices reduce, the technology would logically be utilized by the mainstream PC user.  This pattern has been seen for other new technologies, such as advanced DDR RAM memory.


Sun has said it is adding SSD technology to its systems to increase their performance for I/O intensive applications. Late last year, Sun introduced SSD in its Amber Road product line.  Amber Road is Sun's new line of data storage system.  The Amber Road products are selling exceptionally well.


§     "SSD technology helps customers achieve up to 65 times faster response times, up to eight times better throughput and up to 38 percent less power consumption than servers with traditional spinning hard disk drives.”   Raymond Austin, Sun Microsystems


An SSD drive will be more tolerant for harsh operating environments and will be more reliable.  Computers utilizing SSD drives will experience faster application load times and better overall performance. An SSD drive can emulate a traditional mechanical hard disk drive (HDD). This makes replacing the traditional HDD for an SSD in your current system less complicated.  For most people, an SSD is the most logical upgrade to their system.








 About the Author:


Brian Bradshaw is an InfoComm Certified Technical Specialist (CTS), Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), and CompTIA A+ Computer Technologist.  Areas of expertise include Video, HDTV, Audio, Computation, SATCOM Systems, and Communications.

Website:  http://bradshaw-vacuum-technology.com/