Solid State Drives, Not Just All Talk.

Last year Intel made headlines by releasing the X25-E, an amazing piece of hardware that showed everyone that it was possible to get a large amount of flash and use it as a main disk drive without having to spend thousands of dollars on custom hardware. Even though the price tag was even outside most enthusiasts price ranges it still came out as the piece of hardware that everyone wanted and dreamed about.

Fast forward a year and several other players have entered the SSD market space. Competition is always a good thing as it will lead to companies fighting it out by offering products at varying price points in order to entice people into the market. However, although there appeared to be competition on the outside a deeper look into most of the other drives showed that they shared a controller (from JMicron, the JMF602B MLC) except for Samsung and Intel. Unfortunately these drives focused on sequential throughput (transferring big files and the like) at the cost of random write performance. This in turn made all operating systems that were installed on them appeared to freeze for seconds at a time, since any Operating System is constantly writing small things to disk in the background.

However, thanks to a recent AnandTech reviewer, one company has stepped up to the plate and addressed these issues, giving a low cost option (circa $400 for a 60GB drive, as oppose to Intel’s $900 for 32GB) for people wanting to try SSDs but not put up with a freezing computer. One of my tech friends just informed me that a recent update to the firmware of the drive saw improvements up to 3~4 times that of the original drive, an amazing improvement by any metric.

So are these things worth the money? Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to believe they are. These things really aren’t meant to be your main storage drive and once the paradigm shifts from disks being slow I believe you’ll see many more systems built around a tiered storage arrangement. Have your OS and favourite applications on the SSD and keep your giant lumbering magnetic disks trundling along in the background holding all your photos, music and the like. There’s always been a strong disconnect between the blistering fast memory of your computer when compared to the slow crawl of the hard disk and it would seem that SSDs will bridge that gap, making the modern PC a much more usable device.

I am fortunate enough to be working with some of the latest gear from HP which includes solid state drives (for work, of course! :)). For the hardware geeks out there we’ve just taken delivery of 2 HP C7000 Blade Chassis, 4 BL495c FLEX10 blades with 32GB of memory and dual 32GB SSD drives (they’re Samsung SLC drives) and all the bibs and bobs that are needed to hook all this up as our new VMware environment. It is a pity that they won’t let me put them together myself (How dare they tempt a geek with a myriad of boxes of components!) but I can understand my boss’ requirements of having someone else do it, just so we can blame them should anything go wrong.

So we’ve seen what SSDs can do for the consumer market, I’ll let you know how they go in the corporate world 🙂

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