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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...

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