As solid-state drive adoption continues, new ways of connecting storage are a pressing priority as modern flash storage well exceeds the limits of SATA 3.0. For traditional platter hard drives, newer options purport to provide higher density and more reliable drives.
Spinning Platters: Western Digital's Gold Datacenter Drives
Western Digital's colorful naming scheme has had some peculiar additions in the last few years, such as the Purple drives with some firmware magic that makes them more suited to surveillance recording systems. WD is now shipping Gold-branded drives intended for datacenter usage, though the branding seems to be more of a marketing decision than a statement on the technology in use.
The Gold drives, which are positioned ahead of the Re/Se series as the premium end of WD's datacenter offerings, come in 8TB, 6TB, and 4TB options, though only the 8TB SKU uses the HelioSeal technology developed at the HGST subsidiary.
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All of the drives use SATA 3.0 connectors (6 Gb/s), and come with 128 MB cache and a five year warranty. The press release makes note of a "dedicated premium support line" for Gold drives. Relative to the HGST HelioSeal drives, all of the WD Gold drives are purported to use perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) rather than slower shingled magnetic recording (SMR) drives, though interestingly the press images show "HGST Japan, Ltd." on the product labels, lending credence to the theory that these are rebadges of HGST products—perhaps with some additional firmware magic. From WD, the 8TB drive is $629, the 6TB drive is $499, and the 4 TB drive is $309.
Solid State: Micron's NVMe SSDs in 3 Form Factors
Micron, the enterprise-focused parent company of Crucial, announced this month a variety of new NVMe / PCIe 3.0 SSDs. While SATA was developed with magnetic or optical media in mind, NVMe is specifically tailored to flash memory and allows for support of parallel operations that traditional storage media is not capable of performing.
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The new generation of Micron's enterprise SSDs use 16nm MLC NAND flash, with Micron's 9100 series SSDs available as half-height, half-length (HHHL) PCIe 3.0 x4 cards, or in the U.2 form factor at 15mm z-height (more on that later), in 800 GB, 1.2 TB, 1.6 TB, 2.4 TB, and 3.2 TB capacities. The entry level touts sequential read/write speeds of 2.1 GB/s and 650 MB/s, and the largest drive in the series offers 3.0 GB/s and 2.0 GB/s respectively.
The 7100 series of SSDs are more targeted toward client devices and the prosumer market segment, and are available as 7mm U.2, and M.2 22110 form factors. Capacities start at 400 GB, and top out at 960 GB for the M.2 version, and 1.92 TB for the U.2 version. The sequential read speeds top out at 2.5 GB/sec on both versions, with write speeds between 475 and 600 MB/sec for M.2, and between 600 and 900 MB/sec for U.2. Pricing information has not yet been released by Micron.
M.2, U.2, and SATA Express: New form factors and connectors
The M.2 standard has been slowly replacing mSATA drives in small form-factor PCs like the Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) as well as laptops like the ThinkPad W550s. Per the specifications, M.2 can be wired for USB, SATA, and PCI Express connections. In practice, M.2 devices are 22mm wide, with varying lengths: 42mm (2242) being the smallest type used for SSDs, currently limited to SATA-connected drives. M.2 2280 drives commonly use PCI Express.
The traditional 2.5" laptop drive format is being replaced with physically similar U.2 disk format, though these drives connect via SATA Express-a new format which carries a PCI Express connection to disk drives. SATA Express offers backward compatibility with older SATA drives.
What's your speed?
With the announcement of these new storage options, have you found the storage solution you are looking for? Are you planning to upgrade your hardware to take advantage of PCIe-linked SSDs? Does your current hardware support SATA Express connections? Share your storage strategies in the comments.
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James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.