Thoughts

Predictions about computer drives in the future

72GB SanDisk SSD SATA 1.8"

On 1/16/09, Computer World published an article where the author paints a future full of SSDs. He puts forth the idea that drives will not only be replaced by memory chips, but that these memory chips will be integrated into the motherboard, doing away with the SATA interface. There are a number of things I don’t agree with in that article, and I’m not the only one who’s annoyed. Others have called out the author for his statements as well.

For one thing, let’s remember that computer memory once relied on chips integrated into the central circuits. Going back to that sort of approach would be like going back in time. Weren’t we supposed to progress, not regress? The advantages have to be truly worthwhile, and I’m not convinced.

A claim made in the article is that of increased speed: “By making the drive part of a system’s core architecture — instead of a peripheral device — data I/O performance could initially double, quadruple or more.” I love these nebulous claims, don’t you? It could double, quadruple or more. Hey, why not 8x faster? Maybe 16x faster? Let’s just inflate the numbers, it looks great on paper…

From my experience, I noticed that transfer speeds to flash memory vary tremendously — based on how much used space there is on the memory itself, or the file size. Larger files transfer much faster than smaller ones. Sure, in my experience, there was a SATA or USB interface in the way, but that doesn’t change what happens with the flash memory itself.

We should also keep in mind that flash memory is limited in the number of write operations it can take before it expires. On the other hand, regular hard drives have a much longer life span. I for one don’t want to be in a situation where I have to replace an expensive SSD on my laptop because I’ve saved one too many files and it has just gone belly up.

That brings to mind another issue: will these SSDs be soldered onto the motherboard, or can I pull them out and replace them as needed, like I do with RAM modules? I think you can readily imagine how inconvenient it would be to have to service your computer if its SSD is soldered onto the motherboard.

How about space on the SSD? What do I do if I want to increase the space on my drive? Do I have to buy another full SSD? I’d much prefer we had SSD bays, like RAM bays, where I could stick additional SSD modules to automatically increase the space, just like it works with RAM. A partitioning tool integrated within the OS should then allow me to resize my existing partitions and spread them over the newly available space, or to create another partition out of that space.

I keep hearing people say that 250GB or 160GB is plenty of space for your laptop. That’s nonsense. I’m always maxing out my laptop’s hard drive when I go on trips, because I fill it with photographs and videos which I then unload to my external storage when I get home.

I find that for my needs, a 500GB or 1TB laptop hard drive is what I need right now. At some point in the future, I may need more. I haven’t started working with HD video for example. I know that’s a tremendous space hog. I think a 1TB drive would be the minimum I would need if I started to work in that arena.

With SSDs, price is still an issue, and so is space, at least for now. I just don’t find it practical to spend money on SSDs at the moment, and I don’t think my opinion will change unless their prices and storage specs start to match those of regular hard drives.While we’re on the subject of price, where in the world did Gartner get their figure of 38 cents per gigabyte? That’s the figure quoted in the article. I’m sorry, Gartner, but you folks need to check your math. I came up with 9 cents per gigabyte recently.

On the other hand, I do understand that the additional interface between the motherboard and the hard drive is a bottleneck. If we can do something to speed that up, I’m all for it. But you’ve got to prove to me (and to other consumers out there) that your technology is affordable and reliable and offers tangible benefits other than tech media hype.

I’m also excited about the possibility of increasing drive space on a modular basis, where I simply put in more SSD modules in expansion bays on the motherboard, like I do with RAM. But there’s no indication that we’re heading in that direction from the article itself. Until we get to that point, I’ll still continue to think that SSDs are aimed at the wrong market segment. Not everyone is a MacBook Air-toting management type. The bulk of computer users out there need affordable technology with plenty of storage, well made, and reliable over 3-4 years or more. SSDs just aren’t there yet.

Image used courtesy of SanDisk Corporation.

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3 thoughts on “Predictions about computer drives in the future

  1. Alex says:

    I find it somewhat ironic, but we are indeed at another plateau in computing, where data (information) exceeds the capacity of the hardware.

    I have 8TB of drives interally in my PC spinning away, about 70% full. My new MBP shipped with a 250GB 5400 RPM drive which was promptly replaced with a 320GB 7200 RPM drive and then filled over a weekend with iTunesU and Podcasts.

    I’d love to add larger drives to both systems, but at this point the drives either don’t exist or are unreliable.

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    • I hear you. The most you can get nowadays is 2 TB in a 3.5″ drive, and I’m not sure when they’ll come out with a bigger drive. I need bigger and cheaper drives for my Drobos, so I can store more data on a single device or a single drive. It would simplify my data storage needs (and my travel needs). It’s fairly inconvenient to travel around with two or more external storage devices when I go on extended trips, yet that’s what I have to do these days in order to ferry about all the data I need to work with.

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  2. Alexander Jenner says:

    I agree about laptop drive space being generally insufficient. I have a MBP with a 250GB HDD and it just isn’t enough. External drives are not ideal either. I am waiting until something larger than a 500GB drive becomes available and then upgrading it myself. Hard Disk space is the one area in computing which frankly falls below consumers needs and expectations.

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