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Data Storage Hardware

Disk Drives Face Challenge From Chips 235

WSJdpatton writes "Researchers are reporting significant progress in perfecting a different way to store data in semiconductors, which could replace one widely used type of memory chip and possibly become a credible competitor to disk drives. The researchers, in a paper being delivered at a technical conference in San Francisco, say they used a novel combination of materials to create prototype phase-change components that are more than 500 times as fast as flash chips, while requiring less than half of the electrical power to record data."
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Disk Drives Face Challenge From Chips

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  • Yeah, but (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Keyslapper ( 852034 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:39PM (#17195816)
    What is the storage density, and will it still be feasible when this finally comes to market in 10 years?
  • by 8127972 ( 73495 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:40PM (#17195842)
    ...... Should start talking about these chips being in iPods in 5-4-3-2.....
  • Good news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fatduck ( 961824 ) * on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:41PM (#17195852)

    The chip industry is racing to find a replacement for flash memory, because the technology is expected to leak electrical current unacceptably when manufacturers shrink chip circuitry beyond certain dimensions.
    This is the important part. Good to see someone addressing the oft-ignored failures of flash.
  • by CronicBurn ( 316845 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:46PM (#17195920)
    Interesting read, however I don't see these things holding a useful amount of data by 2010. Even if they can get 4G capacity on these chips it still wont replace hard drives that hold terabytes of data.

    Although it could make really cool applications for OS installs. Could you imagine your favorite OS installed on something as fast or faster then today's RAM? I don't want to think about the cost of 4G of this stuff though. *shiver*
  • Ita about time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by El Lobo ( 994537 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:49PM (#17195968)
    Today the bottleneck of the whole system lies in the hard drive. This is the only mechanical part (fans excluded) of a computer. It's about time to find a solution for large storage that doesn't depends on an arm swinging and moving back and forward through a fragmented file system....
  • Re:Ita about time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by KingNaught ( 718536 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:56PM (#17196078)
    So you don't have a dvd/cd rom in your computer?
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:59PM (#17196108)
    Hard Disk Drives now are about $0.50 a Gigabyte. Flash is now about $25.00 a Gigabyte. 3 1/2" Floppy disks about $250.00 per Gigabyte. So it is natural for the Flash Memory cards to replace the floppies as they did. Better speed and better cost/Gigabyte. But right now Hard Drive technology is really cheap. If this new design can match prices/gigabyte of a hard drive then the Disk Drives will need a real challenge. Otherwise This new technology may only be a threat to Flash, or used with drives in hybrid mode for faster disk access. But not until then.

    Price is a major driving force in memory.

    CPU Registers are the fastest but most expensive (very small amount is used)
    Cache is the next fastest and the second most expensive. (4 Megs or so)

    Then comes normal RAM Memory Still slower then Cache and cheaper normally systems now have about a Gig or 2 of that.

    If price wasn't a case Computers wouldn't have much RAM but all Cache, or huge amount of registers. But in real life price is the final decision.

  • Re:Good news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IDontAgreeWithYou ( 829067 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @01:26PM (#17196522)
    "oft-ignored" - I do not think that means what you thnk it means. Every time someone mentions using flash in place of a hard drive, nearly 80% (totally made up number) of the comments are about the rewrite limits of flash memory. I mean there are at least 10 comments below yours that mention it already.
  • Re:Yeah, but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @01:26PM (#17196528) Journal
    Does the storage density really matter? At least initially?

    Even if the first unit they put out is 2x [standard size of whatever] but 500x as fast & uses less battery power... don't you think there's going to be a market for it?

  • Re:Good news (Score:4, Insightful)

    by darkmeridian ( 119044 ) <> on Monday December 11, 2006 @01:29PM (#17196582) Homepage
    I always thought that using a hybrid system with a flash memory and a hard drive would be great. Every time the boot configuration changes, write a new "hibernation file" to the flash memory, and then boot from that. Furthermore, the code calls for each application as it starts up could be written to the flash memory. Indeed, the most-accessed binaries can be copied onto the flash memory, as space permits. Such a system would decrease boot times and quicken application start times while reducing the risk of burning out the flash memory over the average life of the computer/drive.
  • Re:Good news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BeBoxer ( 14448 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @01:42PM (#17196766)
    The end result is that if either are working after 3 or 4 years your doing well, and should really be looking for a replacement unit.

    Wow! I never suspected. You should probably let Seagate know. I'm sure they will want to rethink their 5 year warranty.

    Perhaps you buy really cut rate drives, but in my experience hard drives almost always outlast their usefulness. I've disposed of more drives due to a combination of obsolete busses and pathetic capacity than outright failures. If you are really seeing high failure rates after only three years, you should be looking for some external factor because that isn't normal.
  • Re:Yeah, but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Keyslapper ( 852034 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @01:48PM (#17196866)
    Possibly. If I had to give up a 360G platter drive to put in a 120G phase drive, I'd probably do it - so long as the cost favored the phase drive.

    I'd probably still keep the platter drive for secondary storage and put the OS and critical apps/servers/whatever on the phase drive though.

    I wouldn't pay twice as much for a drive with half the head room though - even if it is 500X faster. That kind of speed (and especially power consumption) may be a big deal for notebooks, but if density is really a problem, the notebooks would probably have to give up a lot more headroom - relatively speaking. We're finally seeing 200G notebook drives, but keep in mind they're tiny compared to your standard laptop drive. If the new phase drives can store the same or more data in the same space, then yeah, I definitely see the end of the platter drive in mainstream use - once the supply outweighs the demand enough to make it financially realistic. If they can put no more than 30G in a notebook drive, then I think it'll take a couple product generations for that to happen.
  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @01:54PM (#17196966) Journal
    Marketing departments usually find the _slowest_ competitor to base their stats on. I wouldn't be suprised if the speed was relative to early-generation flash in the hundreds of kB/s range. Not that 100MB/s would be considered slow, but it might not be the GB/s you would expect looking at today's fast flash drives.
  • Re:Good news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @02:03PM (#17197092)
    Store your swap file on a flash drive and you can ruin it in a couple of months.

    Flash is good for some things like portable media, but where constant activity is found you should use something more durable.
  • Re:Good news (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TranscendentalAnarch ( 1005937 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @02:10PM (#17197224)
    Because that's the most complicated part of the drive.
  • Formats (Score:5, Insightful)

    by symbolset ( 646467 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @02:16PM (#17197298) Journal
    Ina remarkable case of technology amnesia, the same idiots that standardized on FAT for flash media for devices are now touting the amazing formatting capacity of FAT32 - An astonishing 32GB! As if in four years that's going to be a lot for flash media you don't have to handle with tweezers.

    So run out, children, and buy your SD 2.0 standard devices while they're not yet obsolete. That way you can buy your camera again and again for no good reason.

  • by Darth Cider ( 320236 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @02:36PM (#17197574)
    Page 35 of their downloadable pdf [] shows that each cell can hold multiple bits. Each cell can be set to one of ten states by multiple pulses of current, so comparisons to binary storage don't work. The manufacturing process is not complex, basic CMOS in about 20 stages, but the part of the cell that stores data is only about 20 nanometers wide. Replacement of hard drives is a very trivial application. IBM and Intel are planning to incorporate this tech inside ICs to reduce latency of fetching data. The big news is more highly integrated systems on chip. It doesn't look pie-in-the-sky, somewhere-way-down-the-road to me.
  • Re:Good news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Splab ( 574204 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @02:53PM (#17197814)
    I'm supporting about 100 users, and we hardly ever see any drives fail. Over the last year I've had 2 dead drives (both on the users personal machines), and today we had a user with a failing drive (laptop - not dead yet, but it's going to fail within one or two months). So yeah, the guy is obviously buying junk (or very unlucky).
  • Re:Yeah, but (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Keyslapper ( 852034 ) on Monday December 11, 2006 @03:23PM (#17198252)
    Well, I seriously doubt these things will provide a 500X speed improvement. It'll simply move the bottleneck.

    Even if this tech can be turned into solid state drives in the next 10 years, with 500X the performance of current drive tech, how many of you have never seen your CPU pegged?

    What about the rendering for that new game?

    Just because one component of your system is boosted by a huge factor, doesn't mean you'll see any improvement at all. It's very likely that games available in 10 years will have much higher HW requirements anyway, and the FSB, CPU, and/or GPU will be the bottlenecks, not the HD.

    Unless the cost is a HUGE savings, I don't see too many people giving up their space.

    After all, how much pr0n can you store on a 40G drive?

"Mach was the greatest intellectual fraud in the last ten years." "What about X?" "I said `intellectual'." ;login, 9/1990