Articles: Storage

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First of all, we would like to say a few words about the Gigabyte i-RAM. We guess it is a superb device for boosting the performance of your PC if you’ve got applications requiring high disk performance but needing no more than 4 gigabytes of storage space. We can think of such applications as Windows’ page file or Photoshop’s swap file. Small databases in servers that require a quick disk response can also be counted in. It is sad there is no i-RAM device that would support a larger amount of memory (preferably DDR2 instead of the outdated and expensive DDR) and the SATA II interface. The i-RAM delivers superb performance under any type of load. The other drives could but seldom compare with it, let alone beat it, in our tests. The form-factor of this device – a full-size expansion card – is not suitable for servers, though. Its applications are thus limited to workstations and entry-level servers. The maximum capacity of 4 gigabytes is unserious, too. Today, modern server platforms allow installing 64 gigabytes of memory and dedicate some of it for a virtual disk that is absolutely free from the interface bandwidth limitations. The lack of support for memory modules with error correction doesn’t allow to use the i-RAM in vitally important applications where every error may be crucial.

Leaving the i-RAM at that, we can proceed to the main subject of this test session, i.e. to the place of Solid State Drives in the modern computer world. To begin with, let’s make it clear what position they take with respect to hard disk drives. If compared with 2.5” HDDs, which were represented in this review by one of the fastest models available, the Hitachi 7K200, Solid State Drives are generally slower in synthetic benchmarks but faster in every version of PCMark (by the way, this proves again that synthetic benchmarks cannot be the only tool for measuring performance). In real-life applications SSDs are going to be faster than 2.5” HDDs with a spindle rotation speed of 5400rpm unless the manufacturer installs very slow chips of flash memory into them.

SSDs are also considerably faster than 3.5” HDDs in terms of random reading but slower at sequential reading. The specific type of load must be taken into account for the latter: HDDs slow down at multi-threaded reading and are overtaken by SSDs. Flash-based drives have lower speeds of writing than modern HDDs, of course.

And finally, ultra-fast HDDs with a SAS interface and a spindle rotation speed of 15,000rpm – the elite of hard disk drives – are only inferior to SSDs under loads with a predominance of random-address read requests. SSDs cannot compete with such HDDs at sequential reading and at writing operations.

So, what would be the most suitable application for Solid State Drives? First of all, it is industrial computers and robust notebooks. In these devices the highest tolerance of flash memory to vibrations would be called for. As a matter of fact, they don’t have serious competitors in this market sector while the increased speed and capacity will allow the user to do a wide range of tasks on such computers.

Second, SSDs are going to be widely used in small notebooks which currently employ very slow HDDs of 1.8” form-factor with a spindle rotation speed of 4200rpm. As you could see in our tests, modern SSDs are quite competitive even to 2.5” HDDs in terms of speed and should easily beat 1.8” ones. The power consumption factor is unclear. We didn’t find SSDs to be more economical, but the difference is small. It won’t affect the battery life much (for example, the replacement of the screen backlight from fluorescent lamps to LEDs will have a much greater effect). We’ll discuss this problem in more detail in our upcoming reviews.

SSDs can also find a place in a small home system where they can show such qualities as zero noise level, small size, and low heat dissipation.

Finally, SSDs are going to be perfect for servers that mostly do random reading. As we’ve seen in the tests, even very fast HDDs with a SAS interface and a spindle rotation speed of 15,000rpm are no match to SSDs in this application. The capacity of SSDs has grown large enough while their low power consumption and small size may be the decisive factors for using in modern slim servers with high component density.

The price factor should be discussed, too. Currently, SSDs have a higher cost of storage than any HDD. Of course, there is the question if such drives can get cheaper except for the steady progress towards larger capacities and lower prices. Well, you can find USB flash drives with a capacity of 16GB costing about $70. Multiply by four and you have $280 for 64 gigabytes of flash memory. When you take 8GB flash drives, the cost of 64 gigabytes is lower at $250. And the size of an SSD allows using several chips of not-the-largest capacity. Thus, we don’t see why a 64GB SSD can’t cost about $250. It would be nice to have slower but cheaper, and faster but more expensive models, for example, if the speed of the chips makes the drive more expensive to make.

So, hard disk drives still remain the best choice in terms of price, capacity and speed combined when it comes to the disk subsystem of a workstation, file server and write operations-oriented server. You just have to understand what your requirements to your disk subsystem are and build the latter accordingly.

As for our requirements to the next generation of SSDs, we’d like to see them larger and faster, of course. Besides, we’d want them to have buffer memory and multi-channel access to the flash memory. Perhaps we won’t have to wait long for such SSDs to come out considering the high development rate of flash memory and devices based on it.

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