Articles: Storage

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About a year ago flash memory could only be used as the main storage by PC enthusiasts or in specialized industrial computers. There were many reasons for that: low capacity, low speed of linear operations, a very high cost of storage (in comparison with hard disk drives), and an inconvenient interface (Compact Flash cards were connected to a PC as PATA drives via adapters). However, the sudden reduction of prices for flash memory had led to an explosive production of solid state drives designed in the same form-factor as standard 2.5-inch HDDs and equipped with a SATA interface.

What is the reason for this enormous popularity? Flash memory based storage has very appealing advantages in comparison with ordinary hard disks that store data on magnetic platters. Here are some of them:

  • Very low data access speed
  • Constant speed irrespective of the order the data is fetched in because every flash memory cell has the same access time; the drive’s random read speed is comparable to its sequential read speed as the consequence
  • No moving parts and, accordingly, zero noise level
  • High tolerance to vibrations
  • Low power consumption

Of course, there are no ideal things in this imperfect world, and SSDs have drawbacks as well, particularly:

  • Low speed of linear operations (in comparison with hard disks)
  • High cost of storage
  • Service life is limited to a certain number of rewrite cycles

Half a year ago, when we were testing early SSDs from Samsung and talking about the highs and lows of this type of storage in comparison with other types, there was virtually no SSD market at all (for details see our article called SSD, i-RAM and Traditional Hard Disk Drives). There were but a few early models available. The choice got broader in the summer, but there were too many small makers and no big players. It was at the August IDF that Intel declared its far-reaching plans on producing solid state drives. The company declared both quick models for the server market and mass models for home/office applications. Voiced by such a reputable company as Intel, the plans had to be taken seriously especially as the industry giant had long had a joint venture with Micron on producing NAND-type flash memory. The declared specs were astonishing: a read speed of 250MBps and a write speed of 70MBps even for the cheaper and slower multi-level-cell memory! The arrival of big players with enticing offers into a sector of rapidly developing and perspective products might have been predicted. We can only feel for smaller companies as there is going to be a war for survival like many wars in the past of the computer world. You can recall the history of hard disk drives or the time of the active development of desktop processors. We guess only large companies with their own manufacture of flash memory (such as Intel, Samsung, Toshiba) will stay on the market while the others will be ousted into narrow segments such as entry-level or specialized products. The end-user will benefit from this war because it will surely lead to price cuts.

We didn’t have to wait long for Intel to fulfill its promise. And now we have a device called Intel X25-M in our hands. It is a mass-produced solid-state drive of 2.5-inch form-factor with a storage capacity of 80 gigabytes.

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