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SSD 102: The Ins And Outs Of Solid State Storage

A Dive Into The SSD World

Solid state drives (SSDs) seemingly have it all: storage capacities of up to 512 GB, blazing performance, low power consumption and heat, great efficiency, and incredible physical durability. In everyday life, SSDs seem all but perfect. But there are still some limits and pitfalls. We'll look at the details you need to know about SSD technology as it moves into a variety of applications at home and in businesses.

The SSD Market

First, we need to divide the market into segments. One way to approach this is to differentiate between low-cost, mainstream, and high-end offerings. This is typically what you find when searching for SSD reviews or doing price comparisons. Another method distinguishes consumer- from business-class products, roughly translating to client systems versus servers. Since the technology behind those two groups is similar, this article covers both worlds, pointing at individual aspects where necessary.

Business and enterprise products are typically not available in retail stores, as these target larger server and storage companies that assemble larger-scale systems. SSD makers, such as Samsung, Intel, Micron and Toshiba usually provide special support for solution providers. Samsung recently announced a partnership with Seagate to create enterprise-class SSDs. Clearly, the worlds of traditional magnetic and cutting-edge silicon storage are starting to mingle.

Trends and Developments

While the performance levels and efficiency of SSDs have developed quickly, capacities have not, owing to sluggish increases in NAND bit density. Huge demand from the smartphone sector has dragged on SSD evolution in PC environments. And the awaited transition to 3-bit cell flash memory is happening more slowly than expected. As a consequence, SSDs are getting more affordable, but it doesn’t seem like they'll escalate the capacity battle against hard drives any time soon.

Therefore, SSDs are expected to remain a minority player in the storage market compared to conventional hard drives. But 2010 marks the year in which SSDs achieved critical mass. Prices for entry-level products have come down to less than $99. On the enterprise side, power consumption should be considered. A 2008 study by McKinsey & Company found that data centers consume 0.5% of the world’s energy, causing more CO2 emissions than all of Argentina. The EPA estimates that data center energy consumption will reach 3% in the U.S. by 2011, making SSDs almost essential for keeping energy draw in check.

Getting an Overview

While enterprise and client SSD specifications don’t differ much, choosing the right drive or the right environment is very important. We will now look at how SSDs work, what they can do for you, where you should be careful when preparing for deployment, how your business will be impacted, and how to make proper buying decisions.

  • LaloFG
    Very good article; times of most affordable capacity in SSD units is coming...
    Reply
  • Lewis57
    A very good article. I love these articles explaining everything. I'm planning on buying two OCZ Vertex 2E 60GB for RAID-0 when I get enough money. Can't wait, should be one hell of an upgrade from a single 5400rpm WD green drive.
    Reply
  • ares1214
    Memristors might make SSD's sorter lived than people thought, but who knows. Great article btw.
    Reply
  • JoeSchmuck
    From what I understand, TRIM is supported under IDE mode using Win7 as well so you do not need AHCI. I have a Samsung’s VBM19C1Q firmware device and running IDE mode.
    Reply
  • hemburger
    Great article!! :D
    Reply
  • Earlier this year we deployed a 5 node failover cluster with iSCSI backend. Each of the VM Host servers utilize a pair of solid state drives for booting and operating, with VM's running off of iSCSI shared cluster volumes. The servers are unbelievably fast and stable - 6 months of 100% uptime on Windows 2008R2. We only use magnetic HDD's now for transporting backups off site.
    Reply
  • One thing that I'm very curious, if we follow Tomshardware's advice to turn off disk defragmentation, the files on SSD would be defragmented over time.

    Upon SSD data loss, can we recover the data files if it's defragmented, especially on a SSD that has never been defragmented as Tomshardware had recommended?
    Reply
  • randomizer
    Defragmentation of an SSD is not entirely unnecessary. It's important to distinguish between file fragmentation and free space fragmentation. The former is not an issue with SSDs because all parts of an SSD can be read at the same rate (the same is true for writing if the blocks are clean). But fragmentation of free space, whereby free space is largely distributed across partially-filled blocks, can severely reduce the performance of an SSD. Any time a file of <512kB is written to an SSD, it will take up only part of a block. However, the SSD will eventually run out of clean blocks and will need to re-arrange the data by erasing partially-filled blocks and consolidating them to free up more blocks for further writing. Running a free space defragmentation on the drive will aggressively consolidate the data on-demand so that you don't have the problem occurring when you didn't plan for it.

    Most SSDs will perform this process themselves when idle for extended periods, but it happens at a slow rate. This is what most manufacturers refer to when they talk about Garbage Collection.
    Reply
  • Alvin Smith
    Please send me the four fastest 256GB SSDs on the market, so that I might perform my own comparison ... I'll just sit by the door and wait for UPS to arrive.

    Thanks, in advance !!

    = Alvin =
    Reply
  • gordonaus
    I put an SSD in my new computer and it was good but after i got the firmware update and changed to AHCI it was AMAZING (OZC Vertex 2 60gb). I would say tho that 60 gb is not enough, i installed windows photoshop and a few other design programs and i only have 20GB left
    Reply