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Ultra Fast Disk Drives With No Moving Parts 530

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the shake-it-all-you-want dept.
saccade.com writes "Let's face it, the slowest part of PC's today is the disk drive. Bit Micro has come up with a nifty solution - flash memory based disk drives available in typical disk form-factors. These e-disks are electrically compatible with ATA, SCSI, etc. but run orders of magnitude faster - access times down to 40 usec and transfer rates over 100 MB/sec. What's the catch? Cost. Currently going for just under $1K/G, a 30G model I recently held in my hand was worth much more than my car. However, as flash memory prices drop, so do the price of these drives. Within the decade the spinning hard disk may go the way of the floppy and CRT."
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Ultra Fast Disk Drives With No Moving Parts

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  • Not that new. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Oculus Habent (562837) * <oculus.habent@NosPaM.gmail.com> on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:53AM (#9979801) Journal
    This isn't exactly new [google.com]. They've come down substantially in price and gone up in volume, but these have been around for years. It is my understanding that the most significant use was (is?) laptop drives for extremely rugged, shock-resistant portables.
    • Re:Not that new. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Nos. (179609) <andrew@@@thekerrs...ca> on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:55AM (#9979828) Homepage
      Maybe not, but if they start going a little bit mainstream, we'll start to see the cost go down. I know I've thought about using some sort of flash device for my boot drive just to have extremely fast boots.
      • Why wait? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by 2nd Post! (213333)
        Doesn't the technique of 'sleep to ram' solve your problem entirely?

        The system is 'perpetually' on and a booted system is stored in (low power) ram, mirrored to the hard drive of course in case power goes out, so boot only takes seconds?

        I mean, that's what *I* do. Start up the computer on a daily basis in less than three seconds, most of the time just waiting for the monitor to rez.
    • Re:Not that new. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by essreenim (647659)
      $1K/G,
      Just SAY IT - a whooping 1,000 $ for 1 crappy GB! No thanks I'll stick with my s-ata, and if that gives me any more issues, I'll get rid of that too, and use IDE
      • Re:Not that new. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ianoo (711633)
        When the LCD was released, I'm sure the screens were "1000 $ for one crappy INCH!". No-one is suggesting that normal people on normal salaries go and replace all their hard disks with flash right this moment, but who are we to predict the situation in 5 or 10 years? It's quite possible by then that hard disks will have hit some kind of technology limit making them more expensive for the multi-terabyte capacity we'll have by then, and flash has reduced in price to the point where it's equally as cheap or che
    • Re:Not that new. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bsd4me (759597) on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:59AM (#9979875)

      They also have industrial uses. They get used in places where the gyroscopic effect of a normal drive would be undesirable, or the vibration caused is undesirable.

      Personally, I don't think the price will come down that much. FLASH devices (the actual chips) are used in a ton of places. In the past there have been shortages of the devices, and IIRC the cell phone manufacurers are the largest buyers of them.

      • Re:Not that new. (Score:5, Informative)

        by TMLink (177732) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:15AM (#9980040)
        Prices won't come down? Isn't the widespread usage an incentive for companies to improve their processes to increase the capacity and reduce the cost of making flash memory?
        • Re:Not that new. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by b-baggins (610215) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:33AM (#9980228) Journal
          Not always. Sometimes things are expensive because they are technically difficult to manufacture, or because the raw materials are expensive, or because the environmental regulations are expensive.

          memory chips require many expensive and hazardous chemicals to manufacture like fuming sulfuric acid for dissolving the photoresist inks and hydroflouric acid for etching the circuits. These chemicals have a large environmental regulation cost associated with them that's not going to go down any time in the forseeable future and is entirely outside the control of any manufacturing process.
          • Re:Not that new. (Score:4, Interesting)

            by gfxguy (98788) on Monday August 16, 2004 @11:06AM (#9980681)
            "...and is entirely outside the control of any manufacturing process."

            ANY process? I think that was the point - if someone can come up with a new process, we could reduce costs. The more these are used, the more incentive there is to research new processes.

            As far as I can recall, there ARE people working on alternatives to memory as we know it.

            The same thing happened with LCDs, as pointed out - CRTs have a bottom line cost - the cost of the components have a bottom line that means that LCDs should, at some point, be cheaper - the processes are still be refined and improved, and there's not a whole lot of leeway anymore with CRTs.
            • Re:Not that new. (Score:5, Interesting)

              by networkBoy (774728) on Monday August 16, 2004 @11:28AM (#9980965) Homepage Journal
              As far as I can recall, there ARE people working on alternatives to memory as we know it

              Without giving away too much (and getting fired in the process) there is a whole new tech on the horizon. It still uses all the nasty chemicles, but in traditional flash memory, the chip is broken into three major components:

              charge punps (to provide the 9.5-12 volts required to program the chip from the punny 1.8 - 3.3 volt supply

              the control circuitry (basically a mini CPU)

              the flash array
              all these elements are "flat", that is they are one structure deep. This new tech coming up, if someone can perfect it, uses multiple layers to make the flash array several layers deep. Thus you could (in theory) shrink your die size while increasing the memory density.
              -nB

              • Multi-layer devices. (Score:4, Interesting)

                by Christopher Thomas (11717) on Monday August 16, 2004 @02:28PM (#9983103)
                all these elements are "flat", that is they are one structure deep. This new tech coming up, if someone can perfect it, uses multiple layers to make the flash array several layers deep. Thus you could (in theory) shrink your die size while increasing the memory density.

                This turns out not to help much. Multi-layer chips add mask steps roughly in proportion to the number of layers. While you save on the cost of wafer area, your processing steps cost a lot of money too, so you rapidly reach a point of diminishing returns. Building multi-layer devices also requires making transistors on epitaxial silicon layers, which generally have far worse performance properties than the monocrystalline wafer (even SOI processes generally work by building devices on a silicon wafer, and either flipping the chip and back-etching or using a buried oxide layer, as opposed to depositing a silicon film).

                3D chips have been a holy grail for density reasons for decades, but they turn out to be expensive to manufacture and poorly-performing for the reasons noted above, and for microprocessors, at least, they're now a pretty much obsolete solution, as heat generation is what limits chip performance (and a multi-layer chip gives you that much more heat generation per unit area).

                If your company can pull it off in a useful way for storage, they'll deserve kudos, of course.
    • Re:Not that new. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bstone (145356) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:00AM (#9979889)
      I thought the problem with flash was a limited number of write cycles (10,000-100,000?). With this thing rated at up to 25,000 IOPS, is would seem that they might not last all that long (4 seconds?). I don't see any indication of some breakthrough in flash memory itself.

      Also, what's so different from this and just using a standard CF card? You can get 1GB of CF for under $150. It should be fairly simple to put together a "CF-raid" drive for way less than $1K/GB.
      • It should be fairly simple to put together a "CF-raid" drive for way less than $1K/GB.

        But then it's not going to fit into a hard drive form factor, and use a single plain old IDE interface, is it? I'm sure that's worth the extra cost to some people.

      • Re:Not that new. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by swb (14022)
        What if you merged a flash device with a battery-backed RAM drive? Keep all your ordinary I/O interface with the RAM drive and then periodically mirror RAM to flash with a single write cycle?

        It still wouldn't last forever, but it might be a lot more practical for ordinary use; although you might consider just mirroring it to a HDD as well.

      • "Single-level cell" flash memories can manage over 100,000 writes per sector. "Multi-level cell" flash memories, which slightly lead single-level on the density/time curve, can manage only roughly 10,000 writes per sector. Learn more about the difference between single- and multi-level cell flash memory [samsung.com].

        With this thing rated at up to 25,000 IOPS, is would seem that they might not last all that long (4 seconds?).

        Yeah, with tens of thousands of writes to the same sector. CF flash memories already perfo

      • Re:Not that new. (Score:3, Informative)

        by photon317 (208409)

        Yes, nonvolatile ram technologies in general have limited write cycles, and this applies to the various forms of nvram used by the various solid-state disk manufacturers (who as the grandparent post pointed out, have been around for ages, this is not news). Most of the modern nvram hdds solve this in the controller logic by evening the write load over the whole drive. The idea is that on a typical hard drive, a relatively small percentage of the sectors get overwritten a lot, while most of them are writte
      • "Also, what's so different from this and just using a standard CF card?"

        surprised no one mentioned that CF read speeds average 3 megabytes vs "transfer rates over 100 MB/sec" from this drive:

        "all Viking and Microtech cards all put in performances of 4 MB/sec or greater (which is seriously fast)." [dpreview.com]
        "Lexar's new 8GB CompactFlash card delivers a 40X speed-rating, signifying a minimum sustained write speed capability of 6MB/s." [dpreview.com]

    • This Canadian retailer: http://www.go-l.com [go-l.com] has Windows XP pre-installed on an in-house flash drive. From what I gather, it boots VERY quickly. AND Yes, the LCD panel on the case is quite sexy. Aye.
    • Re:Not that new. (Score:5, Informative)

      by jtshaw (398319) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:09AM (#9979974) Homepage
      Your right, these aren't new. A company I worked for used them on computers that were controlling a train a few years back.

      One thing worth noting.... flash parts don't last forever. If you write to the disk constantly it will die in a lot less time then the average standard magnetic hard drive.

      However, reading doesn't inflict the wear so feel free to read all you want from your flash part...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:53AM (#9979805)
    Because I'm pretty sure most of us were aware of high cost flash media disks.
    • by gerf (532474)

      My regular-ass IDE 120 gig hdd is worth more than my car. It's seriously a contender for "Pimp My Ride," with a ceiling held up with tacks, dented doors that barely open, rust all over, broken seat belts, bent gas door, scratches, dings, no radio, drivers seat that is so worn it cut holes in my pants...

  • Quality? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nial-in-a-box (588883) on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:54AM (#9979813) Homepage
    I wonder how long you can beat at a device like this in a server environment before it croaks. I'd give it no more than a year life expectancy, but hey, I'm feeling pessimistic.
    • Well, the RAM in your computer works on a similar principle and tolerates an absolute shitload more reads and writes in its lifetime than your hard disk will. And in my experience a hard disk is WAY more likely to fail due to usage than RAM, which tends to either break straight away (i.e. manufacturing defect) or live forever, relatively.
    • I wonder how long you can beat at a device like this in a server environment before it croaks. I'd give it no more than a year life expectancy, but hey, I'm feeling pessimistic.

      You got modded to +3 without giving a single reason why you think it would croak in a server environment, and here I am not using my mod points on this discussion because I feel the need to ask you to elaborate.

    • Re:Quality? (Score:3, Interesting)

      The whole point of this device is to eliminate moving parts from the equation. I've only had one hard drive failure in the last three years on any of my servers. For the most part, all the disk problems are related to the wear and tear on moving parts.

      Get rid of the moving parts, and I'd expect more life expectancy. Not less.
  • End User upgradable (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:54AM (#9979814)
    I need an EE to build an ata interface to a raid series of about 100 flash either (SD or compact). Now allow the end user to plug in how many cards he wishes and just use them. Imaging that if you have a raid 5 setup of say 128 256mb cards costing about $40 each would cost about $5000 1/6th of the $30k and it is end user upgraded and so cool to be able to ad more storage instead of rebuilding a whole computer and drive.
    • I was thinking of rackmounted USB 2.0 hubs, with dozens of USB flash drives... You could call them "Isolinear chips" :)

      Then I realized that so many devices on a single USB bus would run like crap.
  • Life time? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by otisg (92803) on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:54AM (#9979816) Homepage Journal
    I thought Flash memory suffered from a limited/short life time, that you could read/write to it only so many times, after which you can pretty much say bye-bye to your memory. How are these disks going to work then?
    • Re:Life time? (Score:5, Informative)

      by MadRocketScientist (792254) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:14AM (#9980028)
      I dug a bit and found this in the manufacturer's FAQs:

      QUESTION: What is the lifespan of the E-Disk® flash drive if wear-leveling algorithm is not utilized? How much improvement will BiTMICRO's wear-leveling algorithms make to this number?

      ANSWER:
      The wear-out life of an E-Disk® flash drive is directly proportional to the number of flash memory physical blocks in the device. The greater the number of flash memory blocks in the flash drive (and therefore total capacity), the longer the wear-out life of the device. As an example, arithmetic computation will show that a 34GB E-Disk flash drive fitted with flash chips rated at an endurance limit of 1 million erase/write cycles will have an endurance life of 1,024,000,000 seconds (or 32.47 years) when written continuously at 34MB/sec (or 2,937.6GB Erase/Write per day). This is the worst possible scenario where all I/O is 100% write and caching is disabled. E-Disk erase/write endurance can be more than 15 times the computed value if the multiplier effects of full associative caching and the results of BiTMICRO's accelerated erase/write endurance verification and testing are included.
  • Yet again (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gottschalk (100576) on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:54AM (#9979820)
    SSD (Solid State Disk) has been around for over 30 years. Every so often it is billed as the "spinning-rust"-killer which has yet to be borne out. It's a great idea but so far rotating media has managed to improve enough to make SSD uneconomical.
  • Limited lifetime? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tet (2721) * <slashdot&astradyne,co,uk> on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:54AM (#9979824) Homepage Journal
    The problem with this is the lifetime of flash memory. Typical flash memory is only guaranteed for around 10,000 erase/rewrite cycles. A normal desktop machine with a standard filesystem will reach that very quickly. In order to ensure you reach even that low target, you'd need to use a wear levelling filesystem, which is somewhat less efficient than a convention filesystem, and that goes some way towards reducing the speed benefits you get from flash devices, and the shorter lifespan rules them out for many uses. Don't get me wrong, flash based drives like this certainly have their place, but (at least for now), they're not ready to replace conventional hard drives for mainstream use.

    Within the decade the spinning hard disk may go the way of the floppy and CRT

    As an aside, my CRT is still firmly wedded to my desktop, and won't budge until flat screen technology has caught up. It's come a long way, and may be good enough for less demanding applications, but it's got a way to go before I have a flat screen on my desk...

    • Re:Limited lifetime? (Score:3, Informative)

      by TopShelf (92521)
      Gotta agree about the CRT - and one nice development is that since flat screens are all the rage, CRT prices have plummeted...
    • Besides a wear-leveling filesystem (which means you can't use ext3 or Reiser) these devices have error correcting code chips. As the bits wear out, the ECC detects it & segments are marked bad; the capacity declines as the flash cells wear out.

      These days you can get your flash any way you want it. Flash that looks like memory, flash that looks like a disk (but is in a chip package), flash that plugs on an IDE cable, flash that plugs onto your motherboard's USB header. Great for certain embedded desi

    • Re:Limited lifetime? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Gr8Apes (679165)
      I have both a CRT and a flat screen. I use the flat screen for a lot more stuff than the CRT, mainly because most of what I do these days is programming or email. And since that comprises hours and hours of time, it's a lot easier on my eyes than staring into a CRT's radiation field.

      If I were to do picture/video editing or action gaming, then I'd switch to the CRT, as the resolution/refresh performance is much better on the CRT. If money is your primary motivator (ie, spending $150) then CRTs are definite
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:56AM (#9979831)
    ...to store data by etching bits with a stylus into Faberge Eggs.
  • Floppies are dead? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by smooth wombat (796938) on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:56AM (#9979832) Homepage Journal
    Within the decade the spinning hard disk may go the way of the floppy and CRT."

    Are we done yet with the whole 'floppies are dead' stories? I regularly use floppies because it's easier to plop in a floppy, copy one file and pop out the floppy than it is to put in a USB drive, wait for your pc to recognize it (don't know about Macs), copy the file then have to correctly disconnect the USB drive

    What about those machines which don't have USB drives or who aren't on a network? What then? Floppies will be around much longer than anyone thinks and for good reason.

    • As with a lot of things in the IT world its nothing to do with whether people use or want them or not , its to do with the manufacturers wanting to save money not including them and the IT press only wanting to talk about the latest "kool kit". Floppies cost money and arn't cutting edge so as far as the above 2 groups are concerned you can go hang. I agree though , they're damn useful.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      What about those machines which don't have USB drives or who aren't on a network? What then? Floppies will be around much longer than anyone thinks and for good reason.

      What about those machines which don't have floppies?

      Seriously, I haven't put a floppy into a machine in the last 6 years. They're totally unnecessary nowadays. They're about useless for transporting documents for the simple reason that the majority of useful documents exceed the size of the floppy nowadays.

      And USB drives are much cooler t
    • They should be! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hndrcks (39873)
      Until last year, I would have an employee come to me every 6-8 weeks with a beatup floppy containing their sole copy of some critical spreadsheet or database file... the floppies were clipped to a clipboard or had been flopping around in the bottom of someone's purse - the data was almost always unrecoverable. And despite my warnings, never a backup.

      Our solution - new 'legacy free' PCs with no floppy drives. There was initial complaint, but now the users have discovered other ways to tote data around - and
    • by SlashdotMeNow (799901) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:48AM (#9980433)
      What about those machines which don't have USB drives or who aren't on a network?

      What country do you live in? Machines without USB? Not on a network??? You're not making any sense here man! I have something hectic to tell you: The year is not 1994. It's actually 2004. Yes, you've been in a coma for 10 years.
    • by Kombat (93720) <kombat@kombat.org> on Monday August 16, 2004 @11:21AM (#9980875) Homepage
      I regularly use floppies because it's easier to plop in a floppy, copy one file and pop out the floppy than it is to put in a USB drive, wait for your pc to recognize it (don't know about Macs), copy the file then have to correctly disconnect the USB drive

      1. Time It takes my WinXP Pro laptop about 5 seconds to recognize the USB drive and allow me to explore its contents. Likewise, "Safely removing the hardware" takes 5 seconds, tops. So we're talking 10 seconds total for mounting/unmounting. Floppies take at least 2 seconds to be recognized, though granted dismounting is instantaneous. Advantage: floppy, by 8 seconds.

      However, there is another huge issue I think you are neglecting:

      2. Size While that floppy might be 8 seconds faster, I hope whatever you're planning on transporting is less than 1.44 MB. Nowadays, there is very little I transport that would fit on such an incredibly small storage medium. A 256 MB USB key can hold as much data as 178 floppy disks, and fits on my keychain.

      Finally, a caveat regarding your "time" complaints about USB: it takes much longer to write 1.44 MB to a floppy disk than it does to write that same 1.44 MB to a USB drive. So your 8 second mounting/unmounting delta is rendered utterly moot.
    • I regularly use floppies because it's easier to plop in a floppy, copy one file and pop out the floppy

      Remember, kids, Don't Copy That Floppy!
  • Funny (Score:5, Funny)

    by drix (4602) on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:56AM (#9979838) Homepage
    And here I thought you had to pay to run an ad on Slashdot...
  • by wamatt (782485)
    Seriously fella, no gangster TLA speak, just give it to me straight :)
  • by handy_vandal (606174) on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:57AM (#9979852) Homepage Journal
    The slowest part of PC's today is the disk drive.

    No, the slowest part of PC's today is the user interface. The rate at which a user enters data (via keyboard/mouse) is a fraction of the rate at which a user thinks. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)

    -kgj
    • ManI write sooooo muhc fastr then think!
    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:05AM (#9979939) Homepage Journal
      Some users seem to enter data orders of magnitude faster than they think.
    • by Lispy (136512)
      Depends on the human. Usually I think "open Openoffice.org", then I click (within the same second) and then I wait 18-20 seconds until I can start typing. Sorry, but the HD is by far the bottleneck.
      • Wrong again. Even if the essential code in OO is 50 megs (is it?) it wouldn't take more than 3-4 seconds to read it out into ram. It's plain old software asshattery. Not that we can blame Open Office, after all, this 18-20 second delay you speak of, is just their inferior imitation of the 30-45 second wait most MS Office users experience...

        Next time, open up vi or emacs, or even for god's sake pico, and print from there. If your boss doesn't like plain fonts, then get a new job.

        Spreadsheet? sc. 'Nuff said
  • by julesh (229690) on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:58AM (#9979859)
    Within the decade the spinning hard disk may go the way of the floppy and CRT.

    You mean it'll still be the default option on most new PCs and in use by ~90% of PC users?
    • Within the decade the spinning hard disk may go the way of the floppy and CRT.

      You mean it'll still be the default option on most new PCs and in use by ~90% of PC users?


      awwww...I was going to say that, but with more blood dripping evil sarcasm.

      I still wonder why we can't move away from floppies. I mean we made the switch from 5.25 to 3.5. The only thing I see taking the floppies place right now is the cdburner and there are so many limitations to that media. I've got floppies from the early 90s that I
      • I still wonder why we can't move away from floppies. I mean we made the switch from 5.25 to 3.5. The only thing I see taking the floppies place right now is the cdburner and there are so many limitations to that media. I've got floppies from the early 90s that I still read/write to....I don't use cds that way.

        Why did nothing ever replace the floppy disc?

        Because manufacturers got greedy.

        Iomega's ZIP, Sony's LS-120, and a bunch of other small sized, 100MB+ capacity discs were all supposed to be "floppy
  • by A nonymous Coward (7548) * on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:58AM (#9979860)
    Within the decade the spinning hard disk may go the way of the floppy and CRT

    For how many decades now has this been predicted? Holographic memory, battery backed RAM, yada yada yada. Methinks rotating storage will be around for more than the rest of the decade.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:58AM (#9979862)

    100,000 writes isn't gonna last long in todays bandwidth intensive video/mp3 world

    no moving parts and non-magnetic media is a worthy goal but until we can cure terrible storage lifetimes they wont be much use if i have to worry about the mess backups of backups, as we know from sci-fi all it takes is a big EM burst from the sun and everything you and i have done is gone !
    future generations will look back at us and say "they used to store it on WHAT !?"
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:58AM (#9979863)
    The reason hard disks etc are seperate devices is because they have mechanical parts that require motors etc to work. If this is going to be replaced by memory chips then why not just integrate the whole lot on the motherboard as just another plug in memory module? Why make it slower by passing it through SCSI or ATA not to mention the extra cost of including the interface electronics?
    • 1) Space considerations. You don't want space for yet 8 more DIMM sockets.
      2) Trace complexity. Routing the little etched copper wires can be tricky, and this could easily result in 2+ extra layers of PCB.
      3) Maximum addressability. On a modern machine, software could address an unrealistic amount of ATA/SCSI storage (assuming they've updated the standards with enough address lines on the bus). Doing it your way imposes limits (as fantastic as they might be). Keep in mind that while an onboard SCSI controller
  • RAMdisk solution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eyepeepackets (33477) on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:59AM (#9979867)
    I've always found the best way to deal with the problem of slow disks is to max out the memory in the PC and use a hefty chunk of it as a RAM disk. When done or needing to backup, tarball the whole disk, write it once to the hard drive.

    Of course, this assumes you're working on a stable OS with decent tools and good memory management. If you're not, you can be. :)
  • Within the decade the spinning hard disk may go the way of the floppy and CRT.

    You mean cheaper and more popular despite there being better alternatives?
  • I thought flash memory could be written to fewer times before failure than magnetic media? If so, how will it effectively replace a hard disk in general computing?
  • Over the last 2 weeks, we have had 6 hard disks go bad in workstation PCs. The PCs are kinda old, but they meet our needs. Each workstation drive is about 6.4 Gigs. It's getting harder and harder to find new replacement drives for these machines. It's a shame to put a 40GB drive in a workstation that is just going to use a fraction of it. I had hoped that the technology would improve for flash devices that would allow a 6.4 GB flash drive that would just plug into an ATA controller. It certainly would make
  • by jesup (8690) * <randellslashdotNO@SPAMjesup.org> on Monday August 16, 2004 @09:59AM (#9979880) Homepage
    This "disk drives will be obsolete" assumes that disk drive prices are flat. Drive prices are one of the few things that has (if anything) beaten Moore's Law. Eventually they'll probably flatten out - but not yet. The "death knell of rotating media" has been sounded more times than I can remember. Anyone remember the front-page stories that by late 80's bubble memory would have replaced hard disks? :-)
  • by spiff42 (718678) <sdNO@SPAMsymlink.dk> on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:00AM (#9979894) Homepage
    I wonder if they have solved the problems with a limited number of writes to flash memory. Most flash-chips only have a 1000 or 10000 cycle write endurance. Sometimes this gets higher because virtual pages are used and the data shuffeled arround on the "disk" each time it is written. But that will still cause problems if you fill up the disk, say 90%, and then keep writing and rewriting the remaining 10%.

    I know that 10000 writes seems like a lot, and perhaps it is. Anyone knows how this figure looks for normal harddrives?

    Still it seems to me that the limited number of writes sets the biggest limitation.

    /spiff

    • I know that 10000 writes seems like a lot, and perhaps it is. Anyone knows how this figure looks for normal harddrives?

      That's 10000 writes to the same sector. Some will see a lot more activities than others (typically filesystem data). I recall some story about somebody formatting a Flash card in FAT32 and busting the card each time (because the format utility wrote the info for one sector, then the next one, then yet the next one, which wrote a couple hundred thousand times to the same sector). That's why

  • floppy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spectrokid (660550) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:00AM (#9979895) Homepage
    I did an embedded application with a flash disk which emulated a floppy. In the autoexec: create RAM disk, copy whole sheboodle, run from ramdisk. Without this the device only lasted 2 years. Can't see you do that with XP on a 10 gig drive though... I guess it would be good for a non-dynamic server. Host all the Slashdot logo's on one?
  • ... that the slowest part of a PC was the CD-ROM/DVD-ROM drive. Seems either I didn't follow the latest PC development, or somebody didn't think much before typing.

  • How reliable? (Score:3, Informative)

    by JBMcB (73720) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:02AM (#9979913)
    Flash devices only have a read/write cycle of a few hundred thousand. Sounds like a lot, until you realize that the file table gets written to at least that much within a year of use. I'd go for a battery-backed SDRAM array, say PC-133-ECC. Pricewatch has 1GB sticks for $160. That's 10GB of ultra-high speed storage for $1600. Add a couple hundred for a memory and SCSI controller, a few batteries, and you're golden.
  • What's the news here?

    Hard disks are slow. The worst slowdown comes from seek times. Flash memory has no moving parts, hence no seek time. Flash memory is small. You can put many modules in one 3.5" case, make them all work in paralel, and achieve high throughput. Attach an IDE or SCSI or what-have-you controller, and presto, compatibility. This has been done for years.

    Drawbacks: flash memory is expensive. Flash memory dies after so many (say, 100,000) erase cycles (one erase cycle each time a cell is writ
  • Ah! (Score:3, Funny)

    by manavendra (688020) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:06AM (#9979947) Homepage Journal
    But will they still be called hard drives?
  • by dmccarty (152630) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:07AM (#9979954)
    Within the decade the spinning hard disk may go the way of the floppy and CRT.

    Within the decade the spinning hard disk may be capable of holding terabytes, or even petabytes, on a single platter. And it will be orders of magnitude cheaper than solid state storage as we know it. I doubt that hard drives will go the way of the dodo anytime soon.

    Just as a comparison, look at how many backup solutions still use tape media (and use it very effectively and cheaply, I might add).

    • Within the decade the spinning hard disk may be capable of holding terabytes, or even petabytes, on a single platter. And it will be orders of magnitude cheaper than solid state storage as we know it. I doubt that hard drives will go the way of the dodo anytime soon.

      I thought the comparison was pretty good. Floppies are still used by many people as a quick way to transport files back and forth from home (particularly by people that don't have Internet access at home). I generally don't put the drives in a
    • Just as a comparison, look at how many backup solutions still use tape media (and use it very effectively and cheaply, I might add).

      I can't think of the last time I heard someone call tapes "cheap". Several thousands of dollars for a single drive is not what I'd call cheap... Especially since the tapes themselves are about as expensive as IDE drives per GB (which don't require buying a several-thousand dollar part before you can use them).
  • by reallocate (142797) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:07AM (#9979956)
    ...printer.

    Technically, a printer is a peripheral, not a part. Whatever. All printers are evil: Too slow, too big, too expensive, too quirky. Ackk.
  • by NeoFunk (654048) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:08AM (#9979964) Homepage
    Sure, hard drives are slow, but that's not my main problem with them. They *are* a bottleneck, but since most applications get the hard disk access "out of the way" at the very beginning and load everything they need into RAM, I could deal with slow hard drive technology for the rest of the forseeable future, if only...

    ... they were reliable. Hard drives are the only PC components that have ever died on me. Actually, that's not quite true - I had a CD-rom die once, and a few fans here and there; what do all these have in common? Mechanical parts. And when it comes down to it, what do most users value most in their computers? The files on their hard drives. Spinning death traps is what they are. Spinning, clicking, grinding death traps.

    I don't know much about flash memory technology or the reliability associated with it. I don't give a hoot how fast it is. If it's solid state (no moving parts) and can guarantee me it won't one day decide to utterly destroy itself, I'm sold.
    • I don't know much about flash memory technology or the reliability associated with it. I don't give a hoot how fast it is. If it's solid state (no moving parts) and can guarantee me it won't one day decide to utterly destroy itself, I'm sold.

      Total self-destruction of whole chip at once probably isn't very likely, but it WILL wear out with time.

      A block of flash can only take so many write-cycles before it's done with. It might last for a long time if you'll use it in WORM fashion, but if you're planning o
  • Where flash is going (Score:5, Informative)

    by bigberk (547360) <bigberk@users.pc9.org> on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:11AM (#9979994)
    First of all, the technology used in a product like this is not radically different from existing flash solutions. The big problems are cost and limited use -- flash memory (transistors with high voltage-forced states) can only be toggled a limited number of times. So there is a limited number of write cycles for the faster types of non-volatile solid state memories.

    That problem can be reduced by padding devices with large amounts of RAM (write caching). But the breakthrough is coming soon, with new flash technologies that are better designed for continual writes (without compromising speed). From what I've read in IEEE Spectrum, the better technologies suited for mass storage are in research labs right now, meaning maybe 5 or 10 years til market.
  • Cheaper solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by julesh (229690) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:15AM (#9980041)
    Here's an idea: Performance will be nearly as good, reliability will be substantially up, cost will be a lot lower:

    Use a traditional hard drive, but with a RAM cache that's as large as the drive. The drive controller uses idle time to preemptively load data into the cache. There's a battery backup so that the drive can continue operating after powerdown, and the system uses a long time period write behind cache with write combining to reduce drive usage in operation.

  • by spoonyfork (23307) <spoonyfork@gmail . c om> on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:17AM (#9980066) Journal

    Within the decade the spinning hard disk may go the way of the floppy and CRT.

    I'm writing this from a workstation around a year old that has both a CRT and a floppy. They both get used (albeit one more than the other). Just because you don't use them doesn't mean other people do the same. I'm no futurist but I predict with my magic powers that based on cost/performance CRTs will still be around at the end of this decade. Floppies, maybe not so much.

  • RAM (Score:3, Interesting)

    by poptones (653660) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:17AM (#9980068) Journal
    Why bother with flash? For a grand a gig you could just build a 30GB RAM array and have it dynamically save itself to the slower "permanent" media on an as-needed basis.

    Hell, why don't we have that now? Why don't we have an affordable caching controller that will take a dozen commodity 512MB memory modules? Or a self contained 3.5" disk based on a 1.8" 20 or 40gb drive and a few gigs of battery backed cache?

  • SSD is an old idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by UnderAttack (311872) * on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:18AM (#9980073) Homepage
    Old enough, so the first 'generation' of SSD companies is already out of business. E.g. Platypus (I think that was the name) build RAM based solid state drives, some of them in the right shape and with appropriate disk interfaces to match existing disk drives.

    I looked into SSD for a database at one point. But I found that you can get almost the same performance by using lots of drives in a fast RAID setup. Striping the content over multiple disks does wonders! And its much cheaper.

    E.g. look at something like a 12 disk setup with RAID 5+1. You got a full mirror, and essentialy 4-8 times the speed of a single drive. So you are already close to the 'order of magnitude' they SSD drives claim.

  • Yay! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Inf0phreak (627499) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:31AM (#9980199)
    Those are going to be really funny (ha. ha.) here in Denmark where we have a tax on flash cards for digital cameras (because ya'know you could put music on that card in that camera, and those poor starving artists need the money that those evil photographers are taking from them!) which is ~8$ per GiB (*).

    I recently bought a 200GiB hard drive and if it was made of flash memory and cost the same, I should have payed 1600$ worth of taxes. Or roughly 10 times as much as the hard drive itself.

    Until this tax insanity blows over, I don't see the technology going anywhere regardsless of how cheap they can build it.

    (*): probably a little less, but I didn't bother to look it up. 3.20 DKR per 64MiB - do the currency conversion yourselves.

    • Re:Yay! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vidarh (309115)
      If you're going to use those annoying "GiB"/"MiB" units at least use them correctly, will you? If the harddisk was marketed as 200GB, it likely is 200GB according to your use of the units, not 200GiB.
  • by nbert (785663) on Monday August 16, 2004 @10:34AM (#9980234) Homepage Journal
    take a look at this raid 0 floppy setup: http://ohlssonvox.8k.com/fdd_raid.htm [8k.com]

    yes, I know that it would cost more and we would still have moving parts. It's also slower.
    But just imagine a room with ~21300 FDD (30 gigs) stacked to the ceiling blinking and spinning like mad.

  • by ZipR (584654) on Monday August 16, 2004 @11:17AM (#9980824)
    Maybe that's why Activision won't sell me a version of Doom 3 on 1,300 floppies. Why didn't anyone tell me this before?
  • MRAM disks, anyone? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ^Z (86325) on Monday August 16, 2004 @11:22AM (#9980894) Homepage Journal
    Probably, a better HD-replacement solution would be based on MRAM [wikipedia.org], which is being steadily developed and is going to become available quite soon [freescale.com] (the article linked mentions late 2004).
  • CF is $114/GB (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aminorex (141494) on Monday August 16, 2004 @02:07PM (#9982814) Homepage Journal
    A CF/IDE adapter is a cheap, commodity item.
    With COTS parts, you can run 4GB of flash for
    about $500. Problem is, you need a filesystem designed for memory with limited write cycles. Just turning off metadata updates would help a lot.

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