What is happening in the world of SSDs?

by | Mar 19, 2009 08:00 AM ET

Solid State Disks (SSDs) are fast, but this week the speed reached a whole new level:

Fusion-io touts 'fastest' solid-state drive

The drive is able to shovel 1.5 gigabytes of data per second in read mode, and 1.4 gigabytes per second in write mode. For comparison, a typical spinning disk in a typical desktop machine today might be doing 50 megabytes per second, and a typical consumer SSD might be doing 100 or 150 megabytes per second.

This new SSD is so fast that it connects directly to the system bus as an add-in card, rather than using the normal SATA connection scheme for hard disks. SATA can only move 3 gigabits per second - not nearly fast enough to keep up with this drive.

Capacities start at 160 GB and should increase to 1.2 TB shortly.

Obviously this kind of speed is expensive. It goes for about $30/GB. A 500 GB drive would therefore cost $15,000. The good news is that in two or three years, we will probably be able to buy speed like that for a reasonable price.

As we saw in the post on Six screaming fast terabytes, that kind of speed totally transforms a computer. Boot times, application load times and file copy times become almost immediate.

So what else is happening in the world of SSDs? Samsung is predicting that the price of SSDs will match that of spinning hard disks in the not-too-distant future:

Samsung: Solid state will match hard-drive price

The article also explains why there is such a premium today, especially on large SSDs:

"The difference in cost is fundamentally very different. A hard drive has a fixed cost of $40 or $50 for the spindle, the motors, the PCB (printed circuit board), the cables," he said. "To make the hard drive spin faster (increase speed) or to add capacity doesn't really add a lot of incremental cost to the drive." (The price for most laptop-class hard-disk drives on the market is between $60 and $100 at retail, Beard said.)
"When you contrast this with SSDs, they also have a fixed cost for the PCB and the case and the controller, which is lower than the fixed cost of a hard drive," according to Beard. "But as you scale the capacity of the SSD up, the cost scales linearly. For example, if the spot price of the flash chip itself is $2, a 64GB drive is going to cost $128 just for the flash and then you would add the fixed cost of the PCB and the case, he said. So, the cost will double as you double the capacity, according to Beard.

The premium price isn't stopping some people from buying large drives. For example, ASUS offers a laptop with a 1 TB SSD:

Asus Lamborghini VX5 laptop world first with 1TB SSD

No price is set, but that could easily be a $5,000 laptop.

With all of these SSDs coming out from hundreds of manufacturers, is there anything you need to look for or avoid or worry about? Yes. Some of them are junk:

The SSD Anthology: Understanding SSDs and New Drives from OCZ

From the article:

Random write performance is quite possibly the most important performance metric for SSDs these days. It's what separates the drives that are worth buying from those that aren't. All SSDs at this point are luxury items, their cost per GB is much higher than that of conventional hard drives. And when you're buying a luxury anything, you don't want to buy a lame one.

The article shows you how huge the difference in random write performance can be. You definitely want to check this performance before buying an SSD.

More SSD news that is interesting:

1) Does Power-Saving Technology Kill SSD Performance? : Flash SSDs Can Suffer From Power Saving Features - If you buy an SSD, make sure your power saving features don't slow it down.

2) Sun hammering away at solid-state market, system bottlenecks - shows how Sun is combining SSDs and spinning disks to create huge drives with low cost and great performance.

3) Aligning filesystems to an SSD's erase block size

4) SATA CUBE - Shows that SATA SSDs can be tiny

This video shows the size of the SSD in a Dell Mini 9 Netbook (also tiny):

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