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Alienware Puts 64GB Solid-State Drives In Desktops 235

Lucas123 writes "In the face of Seagate's announcement this week of a new hybrid drive, Dell subsidiary Alienware just upped the ante by doubling the capacity of its desktop solid-state disk drives to 64 GB. Dell has remained silent on the solid-state disk front since announcing a 32-GB solid-state option for its Latitude D420 and D629 ATG notebook computers earlier this year. Now, Alienware seems to be telling users to bypass hybrid drives altogether. 'Hybrid we consider to be a Band-Aid approach to solid state,' said Marc Diana, Alienware's product marketing manager 'Solid state pretty much puts hybrid in an obsolete class right now.'"
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Alienware Puts 64GB Solid-State Drives In Desktops

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  • can s/o comment on the durability of these (presumabily flash-based) devices? What if the OS decides to write stuff to certain sectors all the time?
    • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Thursday October 11, 2007 @08:44AM (#20938481) Homepage Journal

      What if the OS decides to write stuff to certain sectors all the time?

      Most flash controllers remap the sectors on the fly to ensure that the memory is not worn down prematurely. So if you rewrite the same logical sector 5 times over, a chance exists that you'll get 5 different physical sectors.
    • by tygerstripes ( 832644 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @08:52AM (#20938535)
      This is an old /. topic, really. Key points:
      1. Flash used to have a limit of about 500,000 read/writes. That limit has since been surpassed. I gather it can exceed 1 million now, though Wikipedia still says the former.
      2. Although it wasn't addressed in the article (dammit), it has often been suggested that some on-disk monitoring and allocation mechanism will prevent areas from burning-out, or from being used if they do burn out. (This will be a particular issue for page/swap/scratch-files)
      3. Given that hard drives usually have a MTBF of something like 3-5 years, the technology only has to be good enough to meet that standard before it becomes as technically viable as HDDs.
      4. Given its other advantages over existing HDDs (even hybrids), I imagine that it will be considered viable - especially in laptops - long before it reaches that level of robustness.
      Can I just say, it's about time they brought out a version that could compare with existing low-end laptop drives in terms of capacity. If you ask me, that's what was really holding back the big-spenders from buying into this tech.
      • by glwtta ( 532858 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:18AM (#20938785) Homepage
        Given that hard drives usually have a MTBF of something like 3-5 years

        Pet peeve: MTBF is not life expectancy, it's the average time between failures if you replace the drives before they are expected to die. Common MTBF are currently anywhere between 50 and 150 years (mostly made up numbers), whereas life expectancy is in the 3-5 years range (at best).
        • Err, yeah? I would think the MTBF of a single harddisk would still be 3-5 years. Perhaps the MTBF of the system that _uses_ the harddisks (and gets them replaced) is in the 50 to 150 years range, but that isn't about the disk anymore.
      • Flash used to have a limit of about 500,000 read/writes. That limit has since been surpassed. I gather it can exceed 1 million now, though Wikipedia still says the former.

        What is the read/write limit of an average hard-drive, to put things into perspective?
      • 5. Current performance really sucks.

        I'd like to see some performance numbers for the new drive in the Alienware, but after digging around I could only find these numbers [].

        The short summary is read performance isn't fantastic, and write performance really sucks. Although the final benchmark shows a writespeed of 40MB/s, all of the "real-world" tests shows a sustained write speed of 5-10MB/s.

        Basically dreadful, given that performance, prize and size are normally a pick two out of three choice for storage, find
    • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @08:52AM (#20938537) Homepage
      The OS has no power to decide which sectors are written to. The drive contains it's own map of the sectors, and does the write-leveling itself. The OS may think it's writing to sector X, but it's really only a logical sector. It could actually be writing to sector A,B, or C. At least that's how I understand it. Of course this only makes sense with solid state drives, because they don't have variable seek times depending on which sector you put the data at.
  • life time? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by revisionz ( 82265 )
    how long are solid state drives suppose to last? Compared to the hard drive?
  • I would pay the extra price for solid state disks on my computer tomorrow, but I can't help but be a bit nervous about the limits of flash memory in terms of the number of times a cell can be written to. On a well exercised machine, how do they pro-actively monitor this and/or avoid corrupting data when one of those cells can't reliably flip bits anymore? I'm not too stressed about it if I get a corrupt picture on my digital camera because of that, but I use my computer for real work.

    • by Amiga Lover ( 708890 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:09AM (#20938703)
      I have an old mac laptop, a Powerbook 1400, which was sadly limited to 64MB RAM from the factory. Combined with a slow internal HD, the use of VM to get more use out of it slows it down like a dog. The solution to its limited RAM? Add a flashram PC card, make the VM page to it, and you have a pretty quick workaround.

      It's a reasonably well-known hack, and I used this powerbook with flash-based VM storage from 2001 to 2003 as one of my main internet machines, browsing and image editing, and it had a real workout in that time. It's been resting for a few years, but still fires up OK. I've seen perhaps a dozen other people who've done this, and NEVER known of a flash VM card to die.

      In short, the longevity issue doesn't need solving, as it isn't an issue for anything but running something like eBay's database server on.
      • I have an old mac laptop, a Powerbook 1400

        Wow! I was given one of those this morning and I'm still trying to get it networked.

        Amiga Lover

        Those were the days.

    • Yes. I think they have

      I'll let somebody else find the links on the 'net but I remember reading an article on this subject, I also once wrote a Flash based filing system for a job I was working on (albiet a simple one).

      The solution is to allow read and write in any section of the disk, but to create a new entry in the FAT for any changes to a block. In this respect if you wanted to change then you created a new block with a change copied from the old. The thing to remember is that there is no seek time
  • obsolete? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by orionop ( 1139819 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @08:41AM (#20938451) Journal

    'Solid state pretty much puts hybrid in an obsolete class right now.'
    Call me when either the capacity or price of solid state drives comes close with those obsolete drives, then we will compare...
    • Re:obsolete? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @08:53AM (#20938545) Homepage Journal
      And it won't. 'Economies of scale' don't happen here. Flash memory production already outstrips HDDs. The fact is that the process of manufacturing memory, including flash memory, is expensive.

      Why does your computer have a relatively small amount of RAM and huge storage? It's the same economic question we've been facing since the introduction of computing. You need some fast, temporary storage and some slower permanent storage. And the reason has nothing to do with technological barriers -- it boils down to economics. Memory is expensive, hard drives are cheap. That's it. No matter what happens, nothing is going to change that equation anytime soon. SSDs will remain a niche technology for gamers with deep pockets and maybe a few other high-end uses like scientific computing. It will take at least a decade or more before this filters down to the point that the average PC is using SSDs.
      • The only time it will trickle down is when the average user will have so much storage that they can never fill it up.

        For normal users, we may be at that point already. For people that store mp3s, we're probably at that now, as well. (Do you have more than a couple hundred gigabytes of music on your computer? If so, what the heck for?) 10 years from now we may be at that point for standard definition video.

        When (storage) space no longer matters, the time to access will start to matter.
        • current storage amounts are good until one starts to store videos, like they store MP3's. Of course bandwidth is still keeping video from being common place, but that gap is narrowing.
      • Actually (Score:4, Insightful)

        by samael ( 12612 ) * <> on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:16AM (#20938763) Homepage
        Flash costs seem to be halving each year at the moment, while hard drive capacity is going up by a smaller amount.

        Flash may eventually max out, still more expensive than hard drive space, or it may eventually overtake it. I'm not convinced that there's anything inherently more expensive about flash construction techniques in the long term.
      • Re:obsolete? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by vagabond_gr ( 762469 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:35AM (#20938971)

        Memory is expensive, hard drives are cheap. That's it. No matter what happens, nothing is going to change that equation anytime soon.
        You mean *per gigabyte* and that's true. But tape drives are even cheaper, yet few people are using them because 1) access is ridiculously slow 2) nobody needs so much space. Hard drives are taking the same path. I don't need more than 64GB on my laptop, and soon I'll have much more than that. What I do need is to replace my 4200 rpm slug with something faster, without draining my battery. If I can get a 64gb flash disk at the price of a 500gb hdd, I'll do it today.
        • and some of us would do just fine with a 8gb storage device in our laptops.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          You mean *per gigabyte* and that's true. But tape drives are even cheaper

          No, they aren't. Go look on Pricewatch for an LTO Ultrium drive. LTO4 drives are about $1100, with the older, lower capacity LTO2s being about half that. The tapes themselves might be lower than HDDs in terms price/GB, but then they don't last nearly as long as an HDD, either.

          Anyway, the biggest problem with tapes is that they aren't a random-access media. That's why they aren't used as a means of primary storage.

        • Right! I've buy cheap laptops for work, (I travel a lot, so destroy them regularly). With the money I save on fast processors and video cards that you just don't need, (and I do statistical modelling & analysis!), I add plenty of fast main memory and a decent 7200 drive. My 'cheap' PCs then typically outpace all my client's expensive stuff in 'real world' testing, (application & data loading). Many PCs spend most of their time (and battery power) swapping stuff into & out of memory, so lots
    • Last I checked, while solid state drives had excellent random performance, their transfer rate was way below that of normal drives. Now random access is all well and good, I'm glad we are improving on it, hard disks are really weak at that, but it isn't the only concern, and maybe not even the primary concern in most setups. If you have a well maintained system with a defragmented drive, and that system is a single user desktop, it's a good bet that your disk access is often fairly sequential. You go and la
      • You are overlooking a huge benefit of flash drives, namely that they consume less power. Maybe not a huge concern on the desktop, but if flash drives can improve notebook battery life significantly there will be a lot of people clamoring for them.
  • by monk.e.boy ( 1077985 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @08:41AM (#20938457) Homepage

    Damn this is going to make crash recovery a nightmare. When my hard drive crashed I was able to read the data off by opening it up and using a magnifying glass, pen and paper. Using my notes and a typewriter I soon had my old drive data mirrored onto my new drive.

    Is it possible to do this with a solid state drive?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      This was actually my question, but seriously.

      DriveSavers can crack open a drive and read each platter. What are the options, if any, with solid state/flash drives?

      Backup software would see a huge spike if there's no recourse from a dead drive.
  • by akheron01 ( 637033 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @08:42AM (#20938459) Homepage
    The parts have been available for someone with a couple thousand dollars to throw around to build themself a flash based laptop for some time now. I did all of the research and considered doing it myself, but realized that the throughput speeds of current flash technologies are far too abysmal for desktop computing. It works fine for a little web browsing and music listening station, but try working with some big media like centi-layered photoshop files and video.
    • Well, from what I know, the write speeds are abysmal, but the read speeds are actually quite fast, especially when you're accessing lots of little files, because you cut down on seek times. So a flash drive would be optimal for putting static data like the OS, and Programs, which change very rarely, and contain lots of little files that need to be read very quickly. Your computer would boot a lot faster, and programs would start much quicker. I don't think these would operate well as a swap partition, but t
      • by richlv ( 778496 )
        what about using raid10 to improve both ?
        let's say, 6x32GB ssd, with three raid1 used in one raid0.
        both read and write speeds should improve quite noticeably, total space would be ~90GB.

        i don't know how large these things are, how much power 6 of those would consume and how much heat would they produce, so any of these could kill the solution.
        if all three stay at the normal hdd range (single hdd :) ), that would be a killer laptop. well, maybe a killer because of the price, but we all hope the prices will d
    • Software raid (using RAID 0) 4 Sandisk firewire readers. Now take 4 40MB/sec read time, 8 GB flash disks from same company. RAID is fun if you don't have big seek times, and you'll have 32 GB of storage for far less money than you are trying to spend. Use RAID 5 for less performance, but bigger reliability. Actually, I'm still waiting on someone to perform this experiment, it's still too costly for me. Anyway, I just had to wait for my drive to spinup in my fanless computer, so I'll probably but a single 8
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by llZENll ( 545605 )
      That may be true with a homebrew SSD, but when you are controlling each chip directly without having to go through a RAID or USB interface, you can simply multiplex the reads and writes over 10s or 100s of memory chips, increasing throughput speeds to whatever you want, 1MB/s to 1GB/s, you name it.
  • by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @08:43AM (#20938465) Homepage
    'Solid state pretty much puts hybrid in an obsolete class right now.'

    Yes, well, as a graduate of Solid State, I'm really getting a kick out of his reply.
  • Eventually (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iknownuttin ( 1099999 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @08:46AM (#20938503)
    FTFA: ...the flash-based technology's steep price point continues to hamper adoption, analysts say.

    Yeah, but as the first adopters and the die hard gamers looking for every advantage they can get buy more of these, we'll see the price drop eventually.

    It also means that the extra speed and reliability really isn't worth the high price for most business folks who would be, I guess, the ones to really drive the market in the beginning stages after the first adopters.

    • Are "die hard" gamers really going to want such a small drive though? I see this being useful in notebooks, but even the, I'd still want to wait until 128GB is affordable in the notebook form factor. Either way, I see it not being that viable for either market for a year until capacity doubles.
      • 64gb is more than enough for a 'die hard' gamer. Flash is pretty much ideal with respect to gaming. Like the OS, there aren't that many writes that are made after the install and configuration. You will have your occasional patch, or settings tweaks, but even at an absurd 1 patch a day, this drive would not burn out on writes for hundreds of years. (obviously something else would be a cause of failure before then).

        The fast seek times would be very nice in reducing load times (as long as it isn't the un
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Yeah, but as the first adopters and the die hard gamers looking for every advantage they can get buy more of these, we'll see the price drop eventually.
      Sorry to burst your bubble, but eventually >= 10 years. Flash memory is expensive to produce, and production of flash memory already outstrips HDDs (think of all those USB thumb drives).

      • Sorry to burst your bubble, but eventually >= 10 years. Flash memory is expensive to produce, and production of flash memory already outstrips HDDs (think of all those USB thumb drives).

        I'd say 10 years or less. My thumb drive is larger and cheaper than my HDD from 10 years ago was.
  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Thursday October 11, 2007 @08:53AM (#20938543) Homepage Journal

    'Hybrid we consider to be a Band-Aid approach to solid state,' said Marc Diana

    Now there's a misleading quote if I ever heard one. Magnetic drives currently allow for storage of 250GB and up for a cost of $0.50/GB or less. In comparison, Flash Drives are are still measured in dollars per GB. The hybrid drive allows a bit of a tradeoff. A fast storage cache combined with massive space in exchange for a slight increase in price. Thus it's possible to have 1TB or more of storage, but with the performance characteristics of Flash memory under most circumstances.
  • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @08:58AM (#20938609) Journal
    Okay, for some $1,700+ you get two 64GB SSD drives.

    And what do you get for that ridiculous amount of cash? According to Alienware's best PR spin:

    "speed up operating system boot and application launch/runtime by up to 2 times." ...and:

    "consume up to 50 percent less power than rotating HDDs."

    Those specs aren't exactly thrilling, particularly since "up to" tends to mean you'll never get close to either spec.

    Seems like a complete joke to me, which oddly fits in quite well with the rest of the Alienware line-up.
    • Hush! Those early adopters are funding cool stuff the rest of us can use after the price drops.

      We should be encouraging them to buy as much of that stuff as possible. To reduce load on their gaming box, every Alienware owner needs a at least a 6TB SSD SAN. :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rolgar ( 556636 )
      If the price continues at its current 50% drop per year, we'll be looking at 2TB drives below $200 in 8 years or so. You might be able to get a 5-8TB magnetic drive for the same money in that time frame.

      Right now, few people will be able to afford this, but there do exist people with too much money who will over spend for the slightest gain in performance, namely battery life, now. For business travelers, some companies might see it as justified for their employee to be able to work on his laptop on the p
      • by Rolgar ( 556636 )
        Went back and did my math again. It looks like I was wrong. If the chip capacity doubles every year as it has, it will be 256*8 GB in 8 years, and these drives have 8 chips in them. That is, we should have SD cards that can hold 2TB for about the same as our current cost, and a 16TB flash drive for under a thousand.

        Of course, we should hit a physical limit at some point, in which case the cost of flash memory will eventually drop to the price dollars per chip at whatever the maximum size per chip ends up
  • by Poppageorgio ( 461121 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:21AM (#20938823)
    I have a Latitude D430 for work with a 32GB SSD, and while it isn't noticeably faster than the guy next to me that has a standard HDD in the same machine, my battery life is WAY better. I'm getting 10+ hours with the extended battery out of the thing. And, I'm not as scared about losing data due to a dropped laptop. (Networking = frequently dropped laptops!)
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by btSeaPig ( 701895 )
      Well, I have a Latitude D630, with the 32GB SSD, running Ubuntu 7.10. OpenOffice opens in right at one second. Very impressive if you ask me.
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by ColdWetDog ( 752185 )

      (Networking = frequently dropped laptops!)

      Hint: Don't pick up your laptop by the network cord. The RJ-45 jack is not designed to hold any significant weight. Pick the laptop up by the case.

      Problem solved. Now you can use those cheapo old fashioned hard drives.

    • According to Intel [], a laptop its harddisk plus DVD uses about 10% of the total power usage, so I'm having a hard time believing that your battery life is so much better thanks to the SSD storage. I'd more readily attribute the long battery life to a good bunch of batteries. Besides a 9 cell battery pack, the Dell D430 [] can pack an additional 6 cell as well.
    • Would you mind running and sharing a few quick benchmarks like hdparm -Tt?
  • "Hybrid we consider to be a Band-Aid approach to solid state."

    Coming from a company that has positioned itself as the rice boys of computer hardware, that remark sounds rather appropriate.
  • by The Incredible Mr. L ( 26085 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:43AM (#20939069)
    funny, I was checking out the Dell choices the other day since finding out my company has a discount.

    They offer a 128GB solid state drive option on their XPS M1730 notebook.

    I don't know how long they've offered that but it seems that Dell does have that option.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by JPEWdev ( 770760 )
      The 128 GB Drive in the XPS M1730 is a 2x64 GB Raid, so it is not really more advanced technology.
  • A lot of flash-based drives I have taken a look at have very poor write performance. Why anyone would choose to use this in a high-performance desktop is strange.
  • 100 comments so far and no one has commented on the built-in pun "Dell has remained silent on the solid-state disk front..."? :-) One of the things I love about my Mac mini is how quiet it is. Bring on the silent drives!

    In other news, I still want a small laptop (preferably Mac) with a 10" screen, no optical or hard drive, and ~10 GB of solid-state storage. Maybe a low-power wireless card that only does 802.11b. Should weigh 2-3 pounds and run for 12-16 hours on a charge.
  • by cliff45 ( 108620 )
    OK, don't kill this BEFORE you read it....

    Since it's so easy to get "old" data off of a hard drive once it's written, have the ultra-security experts looked at RAM based drives for storing data that should never be recovered at a later time? If you just used a regular disk to boot your OS fully configured into a RAM-based drive, then run the machine from there you could theoretically have a non-recoverable data storage unit. Long-term files would be written to a USB FLASH drive. No "ghost image" to be rea
  • Hybrid drives sound like a much easier solution for most people. Let's say we had a hybrid drive with 4GB of solid-state storage (can't be that far off, can it?), the benefit here is that the drivers or hardware handles the tiering of your storage/data for you. If you're looking for performance and you have much more than 64GB of data, for example, the hybrid drive I think will do better than the solid-state/separate hard drive combo in the long run. I know I'd much rather have an LRU cache handled for m

In English, every word can be verbed. Would that it were so in our programming languages.