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The OS and application data are continually becoming easier to fit on today's platters - why not move it to NAND? - Image courtesy Samsung
Do you need a solid-state drive? Samsung says you do, and here's why

DailyTech recently had the opportunity to sit down with Don Barnetson, Samsung's director of flash marketing, to chat about the future of NAND devices.  Specifically, we picked Barnetson's brain about solid-state drives and future NAND storage.

Over the past few months, we've seen dozens of announcements about solid-state hard drives.  PQI has already announced a 64GB flash drive (which coincidentally, is based on Samsung NAND), which ASUS, Fujitsu, Samsung and Sandisk have all announced products based on solid-state hard drives. Given the fact that the hard drive has been the bottleneck on PC performance for years, the question has to be asked is solid-state technology ready to take us out of the dark ages of storage? 

In the 90s, the largest advocate of more storage was Microsoft.  The company insisted we have larger hard drives for Windows 95, then Windows 98.  Then the next largest proponent for more storage became the application designers, pleading users to get larger hard drives for image manipulation or games.  But today, I can fit Vista, Outlook (and all of those 2GB PST files) and even a few games in less than 1/10th of my 250GB hard drive.  The other 100-odd gigabytes is mainly composed of MP3s and a few DVD rips.  I am the prime candidate for a solid-state hard drive.

Most business users claim only a fraction of the hard drive space provided for them, especially considering most unique data gets written to a network anyway.  The operating system and applications can all fit in less than 10GB of space, which is well within the sizes of solid-state hard drives today.  Barnetson's group has calculated that during an 8-hour day the average hard drive:
  • Has about a 1% chance of failure per year
  • Consumes 9W
  • Loses about 7 to 15 minutes per day in productivity
The fact that we lose so much time alone due to hard drive spin-ups and seeks is alone appalling, but the decreased power consumption is what is driving solid-state adoption today. A NAND device uses less than 200 milliwatts during read/writes, and 0 watts when not being accessed.  On the desktop this is relatively unimportant, but on a notebook the hard drive accounts for 10% of the total power draw.  Cutting this number down to less than 1% means an extra 12 minutes of usage on my 2 hour battery.

When asked about the reliability of NAND-based hard drives, Barnetson had no problem shrugging off fears of write corruption of failure.  "Samsung's solid-state devices have a MTBF of approximately 1 to 2 million hours."  Typical disk-based hard drives have a mean-time between failures of approximately 100,000 to 200,000 hours.  Since there are no moving parts, the only real point of failure is for something to come unsoldered or a problem with the physical bit during a write.

Obviously, write-errors are a huge concern for those who have used flash products in the past.  Only a few years ago the highest-end flash media was only useable for 1,000 or so writes.  At that point the physical bits would "burnout" and could no longer be flipped. Today's single-level cell (SLC, memory that stores one bit per cell) is rated in excess of 100,000 writes before burnout.  Multi-level cell flash, memory that stores multiple bits per cell, is significantly cheaper but even then is still rated at over 10,000 writes before burnout. 

Is 10,000 writes enough?  Absolutely, assures Barnetson.  Samsung memory uses a technique called "wear leveling" to distribute the writes on a media through as many groups of cells as possible. The idea behind wear leveling is that all of the cells have approximately the same amount of writes to them, maximizing the life of the device.  Consider a typical computer that writes 120 megabytes per hour to the hard drive.  On a 32GB solid-state NAND drive, wear leveling would distribute this data over the entire drive -- it would take 267 hours to fill the device once. Even on a multi-cell flash device, at this rate it would take no less than 150 years to burnout all the bits on the SSD.  Single-cell drives are capable of ten times as many writes.

Even so, Samsung's initial solid-state drives are all single-cell designs.  This first generation of SSDs are prohibitively expensive for most, but Samsung's SSD roadmap already has plans for multi-cell level drives as early as next year, which should bring the cost down considerably.  Additionally, Samsung anticipates announcing drives in capacities of up to 128GB in early 2008. 

Solid-state memory will not entirely replace disk drives.  The fact is, media is more and more prevalent each day.  5 years ago, a fringe enthusiast may have had as much as 1GB of MP3s on his hard drive.  Today even the average user may have 100GB of just Lost episodes on their hard drive.  As an intermediate step hybrid hard drive, hard drives with multi-gigabyte NAND caches, will provide the 2007 stopgap before really big SSDs get cheap.  These drives can load the entire operating system, some applications and even a little bit of user data (like Outlook PST files) onto the NAND.

Our insatiable appetite for media cannot be even remotely matched with the production of NAND memory right now, but for games and operating systems, solid-state devices are here and ready to go.

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the age of consumer ssd
By fc1204 on 11/16/2006 9:38:36 AM , Rating: 4
I am very excited to see all the comments about this article. Yet I am a bit disappointed that so many of the HDD fans have not looked into the current applications of SSD and how an advanced technology is so poorly understood.
If you piloted a current US Air Force jet plane... your data recorder is at least one SSD, the USAF does not want their pilots losing the most important information- and probably the pilot and the plane- due to HDD failure. Boeing and Airbus, the planes that most of the people in the western civilization fly in, uses SSDs as the data recorder. Why? Since they fail less.
In fact, the only reason why your notebook PC does not have SSD inside instead of your HDD, is because most people can't afford the SSD technology.
The endurance rating of 100,000 write/erase cycles for SLC flash is each bit. The MTBF and FIT information can be gotten from some of the industrial SSD makers' websites- SiliconSystems has some decent White Papers.
There really has to be a reason why Industrial PC's have been using SSDs as well. I mean, it's really all about how much safer data is stored in solid-state drives rather than a fragile mechanical-based device. Where do you think the most important data- the BIOS- in your computer is stored? A relative of Flash memory not a relative of HDD. As a matter of fact, Intel is expanding that idea with Robson.
Don't get me wrong, I use HDDs, they store massive amounts of information, but I normally do not store them all in my notebook. The spinning of the HDD kills my usage time, which is one reason you probably don't own a 1" or less micro-drive for your MP3 or DSC or cell phone- the drain will eat up your mAH battery.
Taking SSD seriously is the only way for those of you that always wanted a laptop to last more than 3 hours free of the power cord- that or you use the 3rd world laptops with the crank.
I sincerely hope all of you will get excited about this consumer SSD idea, since the only way I will ever get to buy a laptop that can be both mobile and productive depends on all of you.

RE: the age of consumer ssd
By Xietsu on 11/16/06, Rating: -1
RE: the age of consumer ssd
By sxr7171 on 11/16/2006 11:39:09 AM , Rating: 2
No, he's right. You simply cannot see beyond your nose.

Hybrid drives and Robson technology is really the way of the future especially for ultraportable laptop users like myself. I want fast loading and the ability to use the laptop without HDD spinup for hours while I am doing basic editing of Office files. That battery will last for 10-12 hours and perform well without any lag.

RE: the age of consumer ssd
By sxr7171 on 11/16/2006 11:39:52 AM , Rating: 2
I mean "are."

RE: the age of consumer ssd
By mindless1 on 11/24/2006 3:44:58 AM , Rating: 2
You are deluded and spewing nonsense.

If you had some, oh, facts, you'd realize the HDD is already consuming far less power than you seem to think it is, and if you are doing basic editing and have set your HDD to continue spinning, you are your own cause for the problem you pretend SSD drives would solve.

10-12 hours runtime has nothing to do with a HDD, except as a minor consumer of power in an entire platform. Consumers could have chosen the least power hungry CPUs, chipsets, etc, and smaller screens, but did they? Performance drives the market and causes your battery to last only 4 hours or so, not the hard drive.

RE: the age of consumer ssd
By hadifa on 11/16/2006 7:42:42 PM , Rating: 2
You are right and wrong. There are applications where SSD are much better. It depends on the nature of the application. Storing songs, recording data where there are motion and disturbance etc... are great usage for SSDs, but this do not translates to every application in every scenario. The every day usage of a HDD can be a world different from those applications. If we needed the HDDs just to record data with minimal updating - similar to examples- then SSDs are very reliable and can easily exceed the HDDs when there is movement involved as well.

There are many applications that need to change the previously written data. In these cases the SSDs will perform very poorly. You cannot generalize based on your examples.

RE: the age of consumer ssd
By fc1204 on 11/17/2006 12:02:53 AM , Rating: 2
Well, that's one of the reason why people need to read up on the technology available.

There are SSDs based on DRAM and SSDs based on Flash. And then Flash can be broken down to NOR, NAND, and AND/AG AND. So this is similar in part to the HDD coming of age in the early 80's where there are 20-30 makers.

I think that every company that has access to DRAM and Flash will be coming out with their version of the SSD- based on their own vision of the future and it is the consumers that will ultimately determine which companies come out with the best solution.

The more educated we are, the better choices we make.

"Spreading the rumors, it's very easy because the people who write about Apple want that story, and you can claim its credible because you spoke to someone at Apple." -- Investment guru Jim Cramer
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