Notebook SSDs disappoint

Summary:An unsourced Engadget report says. . . flash-based laptops are being returned at a rate of 10 to 20 percent for technical failure, compared to the 1 to 2 percent of regular laptop returns due to HDD issues.

An unsourced Engadget report says

. . . flash-based laptops are being returned at a rate of 10 to 20 percent for technical failure, compared to the 1 to 2 percent of regular laptop returns due to HDD issues. . . . Other consumers are sending 'em back just due to lackluster performance -- particular applications like streaming video and, strangely, Microsoft Outlook . . . .

Low-end suckage? The high rate of failure is surprising, since millions of flash chips get wave-soldered on PCBs every day. Likely problem: the flash translation layer chip isn't fully compatible with notoriously finicky disk drivers.

The lackluster performance problem is well known to regular Storage Bits readers - search on Solid State Disk if you aren't. I'm still working on unraveling the issues in detail, but the basic problem is that flash was never intended for frequent small random writes.

Can the low-end flash drive be saved? High-end flash drives - the kind that cost $10,000 a copy - throw money at the problem. DRAM buffers, fancy pre-erase algorithms, multiple data paths and smaller block sizes all play a role.

But for your cheapie $1,000 64 GB flash drive, fuhgeddaboutit. Those drool-worthy performance specs are all large-block transfers on a virgin drive - not a crowded, fragmented drive. Vendors aren't lying. You'll just never see those numbers after a couple of weeks.

Your PC OS throws small random writes around like confetti. Open a file and get 2 writes: update the file metadata and the journal. Since the flash controller can only handle so much I/O even your nominally fast random reads get slow-w-w.

The Storage Bits take High-end flash drives seem likely to improve mid-range and high-end storage arrays, where money is not much of an issue.

But consumers face a rocky road. Even at 10x-20x the GB cost, consumer flash drives just aren't delivering the goods. Without high volumes they probably never will. Unless a deep-pocketed company steps up with aggressive forward pricing, those volumes won't materialize.

Net-net: don't hold your breathe waiting for high-performance, affordable notebook flash drives. They may never arrive.

Comments welcome, as always. Looks like the hard drive industry is gutting yet another potential competitor.

Topics: Laptops, CXO, Hardware, IT Employment, Mobility, Storage

About

Harris has been working with computers for over 35 years and selling and marketing data storage for over 30 in companies large and small. He introduced a couple of multi-billion dollar storage products (DLT, the first Fibre Channel array) to market, as well as a many smaller ones. Earlier he spent 10 years marketing servers and networks.... Full Bio

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