January 06, 2007

Flash RAM Drive Space Coming To Your Doorstep!

Flash memory assisted hard drives came up in the news at Wired. Hard drives today already come with an onboard cache, normally in the 8MB and 16MB ranges. However, this memory tends to be used just to cache read/writes to the disk surface in a linear fashion, and it is not non-volatile RAM. Flash assistance technology using flash memory could (and will, according to reports) be smart about what information it caches, such as frequently used operating system and application library files.

It looks like there are three flash memory technologies that are making their way to the fore-front, possibly 4 if you include the new SanDisk 32GB(not a typo) 1.8" form factor solid-state hard drive replacement for notebooks. That's a complete system drive replacement big enough to hold an OS and a suite of business applications. With no moving parts and using 60% less power than a hard drive, my notebook is already drooling out its USB ports in want of one.

But the other three technologies on the near horizon include
  • ReadyBoost (a flash memory you might use, say, for paging system data to[faster than your hard drive, but slower than your system memory]) in Windows Vista
  • ReadyDrive (another Windows Vista name, but basically the name of Vista's support for the hybrid hard drive)
  • Robson - system module by Intel that will offer an NVRAM module to system architects that won't depend on support from a hybrid hard drive, but instead offer the flash memory as a standalone add-on to a system, with configurable RAM quantities starting at 256MB

As any system developer can tell you, you're in for a much faster user experience if they properly integrate these technologies. Memory-bound file systems are extremely fast, and using a RAM drive is a technique used to speed up databases by offloading work from the high-cost [energy wise], yet slow hardware.

The great thing about SanDisk's solution is the published MTBF of their device, 2 million hours. That's 228 years before the device fails! Once the price of their device falls (and it will, alternative flash memory technologies are already in R&D labs) to consumer levels, notebooks will be quieter, cooler and faster, with longer battery lives to boot.

They'll also be much bigger. Consumer 1TB drives have just been announced by Hitachi and Seagate is not far behind with theirs promised for the first half of 2007 (rumours abound that they will announce at CES this month). Ten years ago, it was impossible to imagine a 1TB drive for your business much less your home. The Internet was abuzz for the past month with rumours of a 300TB hard drive by 2010, but that rumour should be squashed quickly, with the logic and the reality pointed out by this article in TechWorld. Thanks for the reality check, guys. Still, a 3TB drive by 2010 (the realistic top estimate)? Who needs that much storage? That's probably more content than you can realistically consume before your computer dies of old age, anyway.

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