Exploring Solid State Drives

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Solid State Drive
We all know hard drive’s by their mechanical features as well as their electrical, but what if we could run an operating system off nothing but electronical components. Solid state drives are a technology that has undergone many an operation to weed out any and most complications that users have with standard mechanical drives. Solid state is an electrical term that refers to electronic circuitry that is built entirely out of semiconductors (Kyrnin, Mark). Chips and semiconductors have been around since the beginning of computer technology, but we have found new ways to utilize them. Traditional hard drives use mechanical servos and actuator arms to scan magnetic media and then decode that information into an understandable language that operating systems can read. Like all data storage, solid state drives use binary, a series of 1s and 0s, to represent data. A 0 is represented by a transistor that cannot accept an electrical current, while a 1 is represented by one that allows the flow of electricity (Marie, Elexis).

The architecture of a solid state drive is almost identical to that of traditional hard drive. SSDs conform to the same physical dimensions as hard drives, so they can fit in the standard drive bays and enclosures used by millions of computers. And SSDs use the same Serial ATA (SATA) or IDE interface as hard drives, making them functionally identical. This 100% physical and electrical compatibility and interchangeability with hard drives makes it very easy to design SSDs into systems and storage appliances (Super Talent Technology). Millions of form factors and chassis can accept SSD technology for its physical compatibility as well as its virtual compatibility. They do vary in sizes such as a 1.8-inch drive, or the 3.5-inch drive, all with convenient design and portability making them very flexible to any architecture. While FLASH memory is the cornerstone of the Solid State Drive (SSD) and FLASH-based drives (USB Thumbdrives), before data gets to the FLASH memory, there are several other SSD components that data must pass through. Core drive functions in an SSD include FLASH addressing, control, error handling, and scaling (Rent).

Some of the key features that SSD’s have to offer, for instance, are the very dedicated low power usages. With SSD technology being implemented in laptops, power saving utilities and functions have been the path to happiness. Mechanical functions and decoding patterns have made power consumption too over whelming for the battery life of any laptop. Now you can merely send a charge to and from and retrieve faster results. The data access is much faster simply because there are fewer steps in both reading and writing the data. The speed increase varies to the specific system, but has been know to be 50x’s faster than traditional hard drive. The one advantage that I feel takes precedent over the rest is the fact that solid state drives are more reliable. This is especially true in any portable system such as laptops or tablet PC’s. Because of the minimal moving parts, SSD’s have been known to take a beating if damaged by either an impact or from being dropped, ultimately reducing drive crashes significantly.

What we know today about solid state drives actually originated in the 1970’s. Development of the SSD was in its infancy, but due to the life expectancy of data, it would later be dropped by the consumer market. Another attempt to infiltrate the market would be done by a company called Dataram, which became a huge success and captured the attention from other storage manufacturing companies. Research manufactures would soon learn and follow the ever so popular “way to go storage hardware”. Companies such as Texas Memory Systems, Memtech, and Curtis accelerated the development of solid state drives, in pursuit of “the next best thing”. During that time in the 70’s, for comparison purposes, a gigabyte of SSD storage capacity would go for $1 million dollars. Government funded programs as well as the wealthy seemed to be the only ones with the financial backing to make such a decision to purchase these expensive pieces of hardware. Personal Computers (PC’s) didn’t become affordable for quite some time, and lacked any real personal incentives. But the growth of computer technology was growing faster than you could keep up with. The road to solid state drives has been consistently slower than the average technological advancement, and mechanical storage worked well for the requirements needed in the era of computing.

There are several current manufacturers of solid state drives and they have all been very successful in designing and implementing these drives. However, they have failed to reach the consumer market. G.Skill, which is an SSD manufacturer, is one of many who have walked the line of improvements and modifications. First generation solid state drives started off with really good storage capacities but lacked cache functionality. In fact, they first started out with tiny on-die cache, whereas more recent controllers use an on-board cache that is as big as 64MB. It’s widely known at this point that the lack of a proper cache can translate in poor write performance, particularly when dealing with small files, 4KB or below (Walton, Steven). OCZ was another predecessor in the market of SSD’s, fading away its criminal JMicron controller which faltered behind on the innovation agenda. They currently operate an alternative called the “Barefoot” chip utilizing multiple-level cell (MCL) performance with NAND technology.

Solid State Drive Comparison

According to the Computer Desktop Encyclopedia, a logical operator that consists of a logical AND followed by a logical NOT and returns a false value only if both operands are true is considered to be NAND technology. NAND flash and integrated controllers have been the latest and greatest features for both hardware and software enthusiasts. NAND controllers can implement read and write caching and transfer data to and from the NAND flash chip independently of the general purpose CPU. This increases the overall throughput and can ultimately reduce the load on the system. However, without a NAND controller the algorithms that handle these functions would be executed by the general purpose CPU (Doug). Early solid state drives on the market were based on single level cell (SLC) NAND, which stores one bit of data per memory cell. Now, Multi Level cell (MLC) NAND can store two or more bits of data per cell, enabling higher density storage in a small form factor and more cost-effective storage per gigabyte (MLC SSD).

Solid State Drives have evolved over the years, and have slowly made their way into the consumer market. The biggest draw back that I have found throughout my research is the simple fact that SSD’s don’t have a really huge market share and have yet to gain the respect of the majority of consumers. Once they have gained trust and reliability, along with research and development of reduction in fabrication expenses, we will see a change the future of computing. It’s quite well known that solid state drives are the way to go, but how much are you willing to spend in order to have mild benefits as a consumer? Faster, durable, reliable…sure! Expensive…most definitely! Smaller drive capacities have allowed the upper middle class to pursue solid state drives, but is it really enough? Historically speaking, much time has been taken to the point where improvements are not enough. More or less, fabrication and affordability will ultimately lead to bigger and better things. The probability that Flash memory through SSD technology will most definitely change the way we compute, is a tremendous and indefinite yes.

References

Doug. “An Overview of NAND Flash Memory Controllers – Windows For Devices Articles – Windows for Devices.” All About Windows-powered Devices – Windows for Devices. 27 June 2006. Web. 08 Apr. 2010. .

Kyrnin, Mark. “SSD – Solid State Drive.” PC Hardware and Reviews – Reviews and Information on Desktops, Laptops and Components. Web. 07 Apr. 2010. .

Marie, Elexis. “How Do Solid State Hard Drives Work? | EHow.com.” EHow | How To Do Just About Everything! | How To Videos & Articles. Web. 07 Apr. 2010. .

“MLC SSD NAND Technology | Toshiba.” Solid State Drives: Leading-edge NAND Flash SSDs | Toshiba. Web. 22 Apr. 2010. .

Rent, Thomas. “SSD Architecture.” StorageReview.com. 1 Apr. 2010. Web. 21 Apr. 2010. .

“Super Talent Technology – SSD IDE Flash Drive White Paper: Solid State Disk.” Super Talent Technology – SSD Memory and Flash. Web. 07 Apr. 2010. .

Walton, Steven. “Solid State Drive Round-up: Intel, OCZ, G.Skill, and Super Talent – TechSpot.” TechSpot – PC Technology News and Analysis. 21 Apr. 2009. Web. 08 Apr. 2010.