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Podcast: Fujitsu thinks solid-state drive benefits are more hype than reality (for now)

Fujitsu isn't jumping on the solid-sate bandwagon just yet. The company believes conventional hard drives are a reliable storage technology that offers better overall performance for less money and will continue to dominate the storage market for next four to five years.

Podcast

Fujitsu isn't jumping on the solid-sate bandwagon just yet. The company believes conventional hard drives are a reliable storage technology that offers better overall performance for less money and will continue to dominate the storage market for next four to five years.

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Solid-state drives are all the rage, but are they worth the significant premium (sometimes $1,000) over machines with convention drives? Current solid-state drives use either NAND Flash memory or SDRAM and contain no moving parts. Proponents tout several benefits of solid-state drives over conventional platter drives--faster startup, shorter seek times, lower power consumption, and better durability.

Although they've been used in specialized applications (military systems, server optimization, etc.) for years, computer manufacturers now offer solid-state drives in some high-end machines--Apple's MacBook Air. Solid-state drive currently cost several times more than traditional platter-based drives, but as costs come down will solid-state drives become the dominant computer drive in the near future? Fujitsu doesn't think so.

Solid-state underperforms in several key areas of storage performance

Last week, I spoke with Joel Hagberg, VP of Marketing and Business Development for Fujitsu's Hard Drive Division, about why Fujitsu thinks the benefits of solid-state drives are more hype than reality at the current time.

Hagberg acknowledged that solid-state drives offer tremendous performance in random reads. In sequential reads, sequential writes, and random writes however, conventional drives outperform solid-state drives. "In three of the four areas you measure your storage performance, disk drives win," Hagberg said.

As for solid-state's promise of lower power consumption (a boon for laptop users), Hagberg said that the savings over conventional drives aren't significant. According to Hagberg, a notebook's display and CPU use the most power. "You're talking about a five-hour life on a notebook with a [conventional] hard drive," Hagberg said, "Maybe it goes to five hours and 10 or 15 minutes with a solid-state [drive]."

Hagberg also called into question solid-state drives' long-term reliability. He cited concerns about the new technology's "writability" and wear-leveling algorithms. "[Conventional] disk drives are a proven technology," Hagberg said.

I asked Hagberg if solid-state drives would grow more attractive as their cost drops. He said there would be specific niche markets for solid-state drives, but the manufacturers need to solve the current write performance problems and address reliability concerns. According to Hagberg:

"Almost every cost curve in solid-state talks about the use of MLC... So, in a single-level cell you have one bit in a cell. When you go to MLC, or multi-level cell, you can put two bits, three bits, [or] four bits [in a cell]. And, that dramatically reduces your costs, depending on the number of bits. But, it also dramatically decreases your write ability. You go from writing a 100,000-writes-per-cell spec with a single-level cell, down to 10,000 writes or 1,000 writes per cell, which is not enough for a disk drive."

Shift from 3.5-inch to 2.5-inch and 1.8-inch drives

So what does Fujitsu think the storage industry's roadmap looks like? "There's a definite movement ... in the enterprise space from 3.5-inch SCSI, SAS, and Fibre Channel drives to small form factor [2.5-inch drives]," Hagberg said. As high-speed (10,000 RPM) 2.5-inch drives reach 300GB and 600GB in the near future, Hagberg believes the external NAS and SAN vendors will move away from Fibre Channel to SAS. He also sees 2.5-inch drives (commonly found in notebooks) being more broadly used in desktops, automotive applications, consumer electronics (DVRs, game consoles, etc.), and industrial applications. Smaller 1.8-inch drives could also gain momentum in ultraportable notebooks (think MacBook Air) and handheld consumer electronics (think iPod video).

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IT Dojo pop quiz on solid-state drives

If you would like to test your knowledge of solid-state hard drives, you can take our five-question quiz on solid-state drives. Once you taken the quiz, you can get the answers and find out how well others who took the quiz did.

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

23 comments
nepenthe0
nepenthe0

http://tinyurl.com/6g7kl6 A TechNewsWorld posting of 19 June'08 discusses the new Toshiba R500-S5007V Portege notebook with 128GB solid state storage. This 12" notebook has an LED backlight that users can power off during daylight, thus obtaining up to 8 hours of battery power. It is half a pound lighter than the MacBook Air, yet has an optical drive and 3 USB ports. A bit pricey at $2,999. So SSD's are rapidly entering the market, and it won't be long before consumer experience provides a verdict on performance. I'm betting Toshiba will prove a trend setter. Rick/Portland, OR

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

and I would deserve to lose my job and have my @ss royally kicked if I approached it the way you approach having joined [i]TR to learn and to teach[/i]. "BALTHOR is not worth any breach in our mutual respect." BALTHOR is worth every bit as much as any one else on this planet, and as such is indeed worth breaching 'our mutual respect'.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

that you believe that you have valid, philosophical justification for being so mean as to explicitly instruct someone about whom you know nothing in how to harm himself for the reasons that he has acquired no thumbs for helping people, and that he doesn't make sense to you? edit: BK Loren 'Word Hoard' http://www.bkloren.com/?p=73

jdclyde
jdclyde

mostly because TrueHal and Blue9000 keep beating me to them, and there is little reason to post an answer if it is answered. Answering and asking questions is also not the only reason to come there, and to each their own. As for the Balthor, sometimes he accidentally makes sense, but it is rare. Some enjoy his detached thought process. I don't, so I leave him to his pleasures. Judge not.... :D You would not believe how often over the last few years I have been accused of not following the straight and narrow of computer tech talk.... :p Lucky for me I don't give a rats a$$ and go on without them.

jdclyde
jdclyde

Interviewing someone expecting an honest answer on if the new product out is better than THEIR product, it was exactly what I would expect. Independent side by side bench tests would be the way to go, so have them send you a free sample! B-) Or better yet, have them send ME the free sample and I will do the test for you, because I know how busy you are! :D

jhagberg
jhagberg

The reason that Fujitsu has elected not to release a Hybrid Hard Disk Drive (with flash onboard) or a Solid State Disk drive has to do with the reality of their performance and market demand. While there is significant hype in the media, there is very little demand from users for these units (Gartner DataQuest estimates that 96K PCs shipped with SSD in 2007 vs. 164 Million 2.5" HDDs. That is much less than 1% of the market). Most of the SSDs were positioned as a performance play, the reality is that they beat HDDs only in Random Reads applications, while HDDs outperform SSDs in Random Writes, Seq. Reads and Seq. Writes. So Flash or SSDs make sense in Random read applications(e.g iPod). SSDs have also been hyped for power benefits when in reality the LCD Screen and CPU are the power drain issue. The use of SSD has been shown to increase the battery life of a HDD notebook by less than 5% (15min improvement for a 5 hour battery life with HDD due to HDD use of SATA power save modes). There are also statements to the shock benefits of SSD, in reality the weak link in notebooks is the Screen. Most mobile HDDs have shock sensors and retract the HDD heads to the ramp load area for 1000G non-op shock performance even if operating at the time of the fall. Thus, the notebook screen is more likely to be damged prior to an HDD or SSD shock event). While I do feel that SSDs will address their performance problems in the next few years, there are still signifcant cost disadvantages, wear leveling and cell writability limitations to overcome.

jdclyde
jdclyde

but just like your post, I don't see any hard numbers backing up the statements, nor showing under what situations they were relevant. They are a company that has a vested interest in saying their own product is better, so what do you think they will say? As for market share, first of all, I would bet the majority of potential customers don't even know it is an option, and second, until the price comes down, it will stay that way. Sales has NEVER been an indicator of if something is better or not.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

without a single thumb to his credit. Furthermore, 'helping' is a very large word, and one that I do not limit to tech. There are things to be learned here that are of little to no technical value. I'd be the first to hit the door if TR tried to force me to 'only the technical', and 'only helping'. Any number of members don't even bother with the Questions side of the forum. And you can't get thumbs in the Discussion side. Which is not called Technical Discussion. Narrow.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Back in the 486 Days Solid State Drives where very common and cheaper than the Mechanical Drives that are now the mainstay of the PC Industry. You paid more for a mechanical drive that proved to be more reliable than the the old State Drives and just faster to use though that was through a combination of Read Write cycles and not just Read. Back then it was the Budget Computers that had a Solid State Drive and they where at best unreliable and normally terrible to use. The Better Products had a Mechanical Drive and where only a few $ more expensive well about $50.00 to $100.00 per computer but the more expensive 50 MEG HDD was worth the added expense as it made the [b]Lighting Fast[/b] 486's of the day even faster than the Solid State Alternative. It also helped that you could leave the HDD in place and expect it to actually work unlike the Solid State Drives of the Day. As there where at the time no Recordable CD's we had to backup to Floppies and we used a lot of 5.25 inch floppies in those days. So if I understand this correctly you repackage a old Technology that didn't work very well in the first place and charge a Premium Price for it and you will have the fools um Members of the General Public lining up to buy something that you couldn't sell at the right price. Cool easy money and the Fools [i] your customers[/i] remain Happy in their ignorance. Sorry doesn't work for me but then again I'm not into ripping off my customers for the Quick Easy Bucks today and to hell with them tomorrow. Unlike some places I rely on come back calls from my customers so I am in it for the Long Term which makes the people much more comfortable and the problems much smaller. Col

ozi Eagle
ozi Eagle

Hi Col, I'm disappointed in your post. I thought you were a reasonably switched on guy, but this post is outright ultra conservative. I can't remember solid stae drives, unless they evolved from bubble memory technology and I never tweaked. However, in those days RAM was around $100 per meg, HDD's were around $400 for 100MEG. Today we see HDD's of 100's of gig for less dollars. Yes the HDDs have improved tremendously, but so has solid state memory technology, DDR2 800 1GB RAM for around $50!! Take into account Flash or whatever memory as used in USB memory sticks, you do use them, don't you? They are very reliable, and yes they do fail, but then so do HDDs. The price of Flash memory has dropped like a lead balloon - I bought a couple of 4GB ones, on spec. to sell to future customers, for $130 ea and a few weeks later I could buy them over the counter for less than $70, a real good investment that was. To compare solid state devices from 20-30 years ago to todays offerings is like comparing a wheelbarrow to a truck and saying the truck won't work well for moving large quantites of dirt, because it is painful with wheelbarrows. Herb

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

But I did buy a 486 SX 66 with a 500 MEG HDD and 8 X 16 MEG RAM Sticks for a grand total of 128 MEG of RAM on a reasonably what is now not so great M'Board and one that I personally wouldn't buy. But back then working with Main Frames and having a VIC 20 as a play toy for the Kids I did get handed a 100 MEG SS Drive originally as the sales person refused to sell me the only 500 MEG drive that they had in the shop and probably the entire state. That was about 15 years ago now or maybe a bit sooner but it wouldn't have been by much. But that was my introduction to PC's and I rapidly figured out that I had better find out what was inside em to save the hassles that I was having with that monster. The SS Drive was a nightmare and I hated it with a vengeance that is hard to understand these days. But back then a couple of MEG in Bad Blocks was normal well, actually expected so I was told then. But I wasn't comparing the modern SS Drives to a Old Technology or at least that wasn't my intention as the type or RAM that is now being used is completely different and this stuff would all be Nonvolatile RAM not the stuff crammed onto a Memory Chip, but with a Memory or Ferrous Oxide Substrate that switches the individual Transistors to Off for On and can live for years without any power. Of course it's far superior but it still has the same limits imposed on it as those old SS Drives did and the Write Speeds are horrendous to these compared to the Read Speeds which is exactly what the guy from Fujitsu said and he was correct. Till the Write Speeds can be brought down to only 200% of the read speeds the claimed performance improvements of SS Drives will be just that Marketing Hype just the same as that JVC add for Long Crystal Oxygen Free Copper used in their Transformer Windings of about 8 to 10 years ago. I was comparing the SS Drives of yesteryear to the then Mechanical HDD's and I still can not see any way that the designers can get around the basic problem of all RAM no matter what it is made from all RAM is much slower to write to than to read from. I just can not see that basic problem changing and it sounded more like Marketing Hype than anything else so I drew the comparison to the Old Stuff of the day as something to compare the technology design limits against. Both SS and Mechanical Drives have had drastic Technological Improvements and both have drastically improved but the same basic problem still applies Solid State is excellent for Reading and as such is a perfect Programmable Storage Media but it's still way slow when writing to it and unless you are looking at some very specialized applications like Military use it's not ready yet for the Mass Market. Col

jdclyde
jdclyde

it costs more, so it MUST be better! ;\

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

And [b]Long Crystal Oxygen Free Copper[/b] really makes Audio Equipment sound better to does it? Sorry JD you may not have heard that one but several years ago some Japanese Audio company was marketing Long Crystal Oxygen Free Copper used in the windings of the Transformers as an excuse to up the price on the rubbish Audio Equipment. I listened to one Salesperson explain to me how impurities in Copper caused Diodes to be formed in the copper and this was responsible for limiting the performance of a transformer and lowering the quality of the sound. Honestly it was all I could do to not burst out laughing in his face but a perfect example of Marketing gone Insane. :D Col

jdclyde
jdclyde

He probably believed every word of it, because it SAID SO on the box. Many moons ago, I had an IBM rep talking up buying a computer to a friend. I pointed out to my friend that at the time, the only differences between an IBM and a Zenith was the Zenith would be faster and cost less. :0 They rep then tried to tell me that a Zenith would not run Lotus 1-2-3. double :0 I then informed this rep that not only did I have a lugable Zenith that I ran it on all the time, but the local college has a whole lab of Zenith's that they used to teach Cad, Desktop publishing, and Lotus 1-2-3. He just couldn't believe what he was hearing, because he had been taught the company sales line of BS. Kind of like today with MS adding in SALES BS in the Cert tests, to make them the first line of future sales.....

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

I unplug my hard drive and plug in the solid state drive.This make me wonder why anybody would choose to go to mechanical drives in the first place.Solid state already existed so why bother.But hay---the OS belongs in the CPU!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"...why anybody would choose to go to mechanical drives..." Because solid state drives are -much- more expensive than mechanical drives. The price will come down over the next few years, but right now SS drives aren't an affordable option for most people. As to the OS on the CPU, that's also a price issue. Imagine having to buy a new CPU every time you want to upgrade the OS. Imagine having to pay for a new OS (assuming you're not using a GPL OS) every time you want to upgrade your CPU. You've combined the most expensive hardware component with one of the most expensive software options, and both are items many people like to replace or upgrade regularly.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

wouldnt that be something. put the OS in the CPU, then whenever you replace the processor, you have to re-purchase Windows :0 How would Linux or alternate OS's work, or even updates for the OS? I would prefer EEPROM chips to load the OS, and have portions for user data stored on the HDD (or solid state drive). Interesting idea though, however not very practicable

ozi Eagle
ozi Eagle

Remember the very first IBM PCs with BASIC built in? It was contained in ROMs on the mobo. Herb

nepenthe0
nepenthe0

By year's end, Samsung will be producing a 256GB solid state drive: http://tinyurl.com/527cs2 This is pretty exciting, and demonstrates a more rapidly evolving technology than most of us would have anticipated. Fujitsu's lament may be simply [i]sour grapes[/i] because Samsung has a sizeable head start. That said, I have just installed the new Western Digital [i]VelociRaptor[/i] 300GB 2.5" desktop HD (10,000rpm with 16MB cache), 3 gigabits/sec transfer rate, 1.4 [b]million[/b] MTTF. It runs a cool 82 degrees (it's predecessor, a 7200rpm [i]Caviar[/i] line HD, ran 95 degrees). I predict that the solid state drive will eventually replace the current spinning platter design, but the transition is likely to be gradual due to the cost differential. Rick/Portland, OR

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

In a recent IT Dojo podcast, Joel Hagberg, VP of Marketing and Business Development for Fujitsu's Hard Drive Division, told me why Fujitsu thinks the benefits of solid-state drives are more hype than reality at the current time. Original post: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/itdojo/?p=137 I personally haven't used a solid-state drive for any significant length of time. I am curious if those who have are realizing the benefits solid-state proponents often cite: 1. Faster startup 2. Short seek times 3. Better durability 4. Significantly lower power consumption

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

It's my main computer now. I've had it for about 4 months and I'd have to agree with the 4 points above. For a sub-ghz machine, it's pretty quick.