Silicon Power 32 GB Solid State Disk review -
2 - Solid State Drives 101
Solid State Drives 101
Next to the technology development of multi-core CPU technology and the evolution of the GPU, one of the technologies growing even faster is the SSD drive tech. It's a booming market.
Merely 4-5 years ago I had this 256MB flash-drive writing at 400KB/sec, that thing was the wicked dude. Once the development reached a volume size of 1 GB, things really took off. 1, 2, 4, 8 and 32 GB flash drives are now common. Who does not have a flash-USB stick, for example?
One of the culprits of Flash memory was often related to the read/write speed. And thanks to controller combinations inside flash memories (think raid like solutions) last year we noticed the trend of flash-drives, or Solid State Drives.
The alarmingly fast move of solid-state hard drives (SSD) for notebooks, PCs and servers seems like a rather exciting development at first blush. Unlike their mechanical counterparts, which have spindle motors, rotating platters and read/write heads, the solid-state drives consist of flash memory chips and have no moving parts whatsoever. The benefits that these drives offer compared to a mechanical drive are numerous.
The weakness however is that SSDs were intensely expensive. We are now in the summer of 2008, and never ever has a technology developed so fast in terms of speed and reliability versus the money you need to pay for it. And though value is a very relative thing, the first SSD drives, price wise, are finally competing with the fastest HDDs and are slowly moving onto a competitive level.
Before we go deeper into the review, I wanted to chat with you a little about what precisely the difference between the traditional HDD (disk drive) and all new SDD is. When we look at the HDD we receive a big bulky mechanical chunk of technology, they have spindle motors, rotating magnetic platters and read/write heads. Solid-state drives however consist of flash memory chips and have no moving parts whatsoever, which is a tremendous gain.
SSD drives are also known under the name Fibre Channel hard disks. In this year and age Solid state disks (SSDs) are typically faster than regular disks because there is zero latency (the read/write head does not need to move anymore). Next to that, flash memory can be addressed in multiple channels. Look at that as internal RAID, and it improves speed tremendously. This year we'll already have SSD drives topping 200 MB/s read speeds and 120 MB/s write speeds.
SSD's are also more sturdy than hard disks and offer greater protection in hostile environments. As a result, they may also be used in desktop computers and even servers in dangerous locations.
All flash memory is not created equal. There are 2 main types:
SLC and MLC (single and multi level cells) SLC stores one bit per cell, MLC doubles it. MLC we see a lot in flash-memories used for example in your digital camera. If we break it down:
- SLC is faster, and has around 100,00 up-to 1 million write cycles (similar to hard disks).
- MLC is somewhat slower but cheaper, unfortunately also less reliable (sometimes as few as 10,000 write cycles).
And that's where we land at limited write cycles. The reality is that you purchase an SSD drive on borrowed time. By its very nature, flash memory cells can resist only so many write cycles before they are prone to failure.
Typically SLC Flash storage will wear out after hundreds of thousands of write cycles, while high endurance flash storage is often marketed with endurance of 1-5 million write cycles. Special file systems or firmware designs mitigate this problem by spreading writes over the entire device (so-called wear leveling), rather than rewriting files in one place. Wear leveling is designed to prevent rewriting the same cell constantly. Pretty much: data is constantly spread out over the entire drive so that all cells will be written equally over time. Wear leveling isn't done in hardware, it is done in firmware on the SSD. It will spread the writes over the whole range of the NAND storage, so you can't really wear out one area while the rest stayed untouched.
At this very moment the life-span of a typical SSD drive MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) is 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 hours.
Mind you that the limited write cycles is per cell, not per disk, and all controllers have had wear leveling (using different cells) for a few years now, which actually explains slower MLC writes. Any "bad" cell can be mapped out just like a bad block on a hard drive (transparently).
MLC then, what? Well, only the future will tell ... However, with modern flash technology and error correction, the reliability of the drive in a PC definitely exceeds 10 years.
A little while ago Silicon power released the so called M10 series SSD drive, which in fact is an SSD series that can be used externally, thus outside your PC as it comes with a Mini USB connector and special design casing. As such last week Silicon power submitted the 64GB model for review, and though the product is not targeted at a high-end market performance but leans more towards a portable mobile market .. this little drive could definitely be interesting for a lot of you guys.
Silicon Power 32 GB Solid State Disk review
SSD is the future, make no mistake. With Silicon Power's product the dynamics change a bit. A couple of weeks ago they released a new series of drives. We got one fresh from the factory, this is their all new revised version. Optionally they make use of SLC NAND flash based memory. In certain situations this type is not only faster, it's also 10 maybe 20 times more reliable as the number of write cycles (per cell) starts at 100,000 writes.