Are SSDs ready for prime time?

Are SSDs ready for prime time?

Summary: A couple of colleagues and I got to talking about Solid State Disks (SSDs) recently. It went something like this:I'm contemplating swapping out the hard drive on a new MBP with an SSD.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Hardware
21

Sandisk 32GB SSDA couple of colleagues and I got to talking about Solid State Disks (SSDs) recently. It went something like this:

I'm contemplating swapping out the hard drive on a new MBP with an SSD. Space isn't a big issue for me - I'm only using 31GB on my current laptop drive, and that's without even trying to pare it down - but speed and power savings are sexy in my book. Thus the interest in the SSD.

I could probably drop below 31GB without breaking a sweat, since I keep most of my things on a server, and all my music/pics/etc. live on my desktop machine. If I got a 64 gig drive I'd have plenty of room to spare

The general consensus was that it doesn't make sense to replace a hard drive with an SSD yet just because they're; a) insanely expensive, and b) small in capacity.

SSD isn't a new technology, its been around for a while, its just always been very expensive because it's levered to the component price of NAND flash memory.

Transcend makes a 32GB model (MSRP US$509), Lexar makes a 16GB model (MSRP US$299) but they're SSD ExpressCards, which I don't really get the point of. If you're not booting from it, can't you just connect an eSATA hard drive (or iPod for that matter) and pretty much get the same thing? (Note: Lexar.com is down at press time.)

There are obvious concerns about jumping into a technology too early and paying a heavy early adopter tax. And what about real-world performance? For example, will there be significant power savings and performance gains with SSD?

Most of these questions remain unanswered because of lack of availability, but Samsung is talking a pretty good game about their SSDs:

The Samsung SSD looks like a hard disk drive, but it doesn't act like one. That's due to the NAND Flash inside. Flash is known for its reliability, impact resistance, blazing speed and low power consumption. It's also dense, packing a lot of storage capacity into a little space.

And their comparison between SSD and HDD is worth noting:

SSD and HDD comparison chart

Note that Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) number above. Two million hours is 83,333 bays or 228 years whereas HDD MTBF is 34 years. My experience has been to stop trusting an HDD after three years which is one-tenth of the MTBF quoted above. If I apply the same correction factor to SSD, even though solid state will last much longer than anything that moves, it would last an impressive 23 years.

If you're looking for a proper 2.5-inch SSD "disk" that could be used as an HDD replacement in a modern notebook you'll need something with an eSATA connector on it.

The 32GB, 2.5-inch SanDisk SSD is available now to computer manufacturers, with initial pricing of US$350 for large volume orders. They're also working on a 64GB model, which is getting closer to the mark.

Average end-user price on a 64GB SSD is ~US$3,500 and a 32GB will you around US$2,000 from what I can find (despite what Sammy claims are their OEM prices for "large" orders.) It will probably take 64-128GB SSDs that are in the US$500-1000 price range to reach critical mass.

(Thanks Emory and Steve)

Topic: Hardware

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

21 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • what about...

    other metrics, both of which are near
    and dear to most peoples' wallets?

    - capacity, in which HDDs have at least a 20:1
    advantage. 64 MB is not enough in the days of 160 GB
    iPods and 1 TB desktop HDDs.

    - $ for the device (not mentioned in the slide, but
    mentioned in the article).

    - $/MB

    Unless SSDs can be in the ballpark with HDDs, they'll
    remain a niche item, much like Tablet PCs. Put another way,
    the $ premium for SSDs over a comparably sized HDD can't be
    more than 100% IMHO, if that.
    rosanlo
    • I would add

      How much space would SSD drives take to make up the same storage as HDD's? That is, to get 160G storage, how much space can that be done in using SSD?

      Also, it'd be interesting to see this discussion developed further with regard to the nanowire possibility. All in all cool stuff is happening, and I'd like to see more on this/these topics.
      zkiwi
    • Agreed

      Agreed. HDDs are continuing to grow in capacity, and more people are finding ways to fill that capacity - music and videos are very popular, and if the trend to get rid of DRM continues, I'm willing to bet that the trend to fill harddrives with audio and visual content will also continue.
      CobraA1
    • Hybrid Drives

      That's why hybrid drives sound so appealing.

      Put the OS, page file, etc on solid state and all other files accessed less frequently on HDD.
      rkuhn040172@...
      • Yes

        I don't know exactly what designs are being contemplated for hybrid drives, but putting 1GB - 4GB of flash cache on a drive would be a huge improvement over the 16MB DRAM caches we have now. Since the flash cache is nonvolatile, the drive could do write-through at its leisure.
        sburson
  • For those with screen readers...

    What the image is showing is a comparison chart.

    At the top of the chart is SSD (Solid State Drive) to the left and HDD (Hard Disk Drive) to the right. Because screen readers can't read the text from an image, I will write this out for you, starting from top-to-bottom (note that the data for SSD is to the left, row headers are in the middle of the chart, and the data for the HDD is to the right).

    Mechanism Type:

    SSD: Solid NAND Flash-based
    HDD: Magnetic Rotating Platters

    Weight (2.5")

    SSD: 47 grams
    HDD: 100 grams

    Endurance:

    SSD: MTBF > 2 Million Hours
    HDD: MTBF < 300,000 Hours

    Shock Resistance

    SSD: 1,500G/0.5ms
    HDD: 300G/2.0ms; 160G/1.0ms

    Operating Temperature

    SSD: -25 degree Celcius to 85 degree Celcius
    HDD: 5 degree Celcius to 55 degree Celcius

    Active Power Consumption

    SSD: 0.5 watts
    HDD: 2.1 watts

    System Bootup Time

    SSD: 0 minutes 36 and seconds
    HDD: 1 minute and 3 seconds

    That's all there is in the image. I hope this will be of help to anyone, especially for those who are blind or visually impaired.

    The reason why I wrote this is when I read the news article, I read the news until I approach the image, so then I stopped there. Like I've done here, I had to type this chart in plain text because screen readers can't read text that is in an image. After I post this to the Talkback, I can finish off reading the article and comment in about the article in Talkback.
    Grayson Peddie
    • Please note the mistakes.

      I am using ZoomText (www.zoomtext.com) with AppReader, which reads documents, web pages, etc.

      Due note that I didn't proof-read before I submit my post to TalkBack. For example, I put an "and" between "36" and "minutes." It should be "and 36 seconds" instead of "36 and seconds." (Oops!)
      Grayson Peddie
  • Max read/write cycles?

    Are there any maxiumum read/write cycle limits for NAND technology and SSDs? I read somewhere that this limit would reduce the SSD product life in a typical laptop or desktop environment, compared to a standard HDD (i.e., constant reads and writes to the HD device by the OS and applications - like pagefile, temp files and browser cache, not to mention data files). Is this true?
    Vandy-SJ
    • Yep...

      Have a look at http://www.bitmicro.com/press_resources_flash_ssd.php for a discussion of the issues.

      However, part of the argument for SSD seems to be that they will have a mean time before failure that is much better than that of a hard drive. Some people also think that when failure happens it might be more manageable than for a regular HDD.
      zkiwi
  • Probably not.

    You won't notice the 2 oz. weight loss, nor the additional 20-30 minutes of
    battery life (assuming you keep your disk spinning all the time - a lot less if you
    don't) on an MBP. <br>
    <br>
    Nor do the specs tell you what you really want to know: small random write
    performance. Default Mac file system is journaled, which means that most reads
    turn into two writes - one to update metadata, the other to the journal - and that
    is where flash-based SSDs fall down.<br>
    <br>
    Check out my articles on SSDs at <a href="http://blogs.zdnet.com/storage/"
    target="_blank">Storage Bits</a> for more info on these issues.<br>
    <br>
    Robin
    R Harris
  • Another level in the storage hierarchy

    Hybrid drives are one idea, but another is to use flash as a completely new level in the storage hierarchy, between DRAM and disc. This would require OS support, but the benefits for storage-intensive applications could be huge.
    sburson
  • Why not a 2-drive JBOD setup?

    Just having a 4 or 8 gb drive on your computer could be very useful - having operating system files installed there and whatever else will fit. That combined with a regular hard drive, using a JBOD arrangement, could be highly beneficial without much cost...
    stormculture
  • If MTBF rate is so high...

    Why does my flash drive (2GB Sandisk Cruzer Mini) keep losing it's format? One episode of static electricity and BAM bye bye data.

    I'll stick to disk for now...
    IMHOYAAAH
  • RE: Are SSDs ready for prime time?

    Hmmm. A large flash drive has a limited lifespan; 100k writes (give or take) before it goes kaput.

    These hybrid drives, if I understand them correctly, are flash combined with mechanical platters. And as flash is slower than RAM, combined with the limited lifespan, it seems a waste.
    HypnoToad72
    • Wear leveling

      I guess you haven't heard of wear leveling. The flash controller remaps the logical block to a different physical block after it has been written some number of times. This spreads the wear around so that single blocks don't wear out so fast. This technique increases the MTBF of flash drives to the point where it is no longer a problem (years).

      Besides, even if a block does go bad, you don't lose the whole volume, any more than you do with a bad block on a disc.
      sburson
  • Not ready for prime time - but this is the future

    I don't think that this technology is ready for prime time yet. For one, price is a huge obstacle. And size is still an issue. But I don't think anyone will be buying HDD's as we know them in 10 years, or at least not for home PC's. Platters will be a thing of the past. I personally expect that in 15 years data centers will have ditched most of the disk drives in favor of some sort of solid state memory. Think of the power savings alone. Plus space. Disk enclosurs for SANS take up so much space now and produce so much heat. Imagin replacing 4 towers of enclosures with one that is faster, cooler, and results in fewer failures.
    mgrubb@...
  • NEWEGG

    Go to newegg.com. There are SSDs there. 64GB for about $1000 less than mentioned in the article above. But even still... that's DAMN expensive.
    Steve Goldman
    • Expense.

      [b]64GB for about $1000 less than mentioned in the article above. But even still... that's DAMN expensive.[/b]

      Of course new technology is always expensive: I remember the time we bought an external 100MB disc drive for ?1000 sterling (about US$2500 at the time). This was about 15 or 16 years ago. Now the 32GB SSD is around the same price!
      SSD will make it into the mainstream just as soon as the perceived advantages outweigh the cost disadvantage. Soon come!
      timpin1@...
  • Just wait 6 months and SSD will be affordable

    If the technical aspects of SSD are stable and working as advertised, the price will fall in the next 12 months just as the price of other electronics. 3 Years ago I paid $3000 for a Toshiba notebook with Centrino chip. Today it is less than $1000 and has more memory, larger hard drive, larger screen and faster CPU.
    hrosita@...
  • Untapped Market

    One market that would not balk at $1000 premium for fast storage - servers. I would gladly pay that price for DAS to offload swap files from my SAN or hard drive based DAS. Its cheaper than PCI based RAM drive options and safer if there is a power interruption.
    JScarfe