Solid State Memory fo Laptops?

By RKS
Apr 10, 2007
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  1. Solid State Hard Drive for Laptops?

    When I upgraded my current desktop computer, now some three years ago (due again :), the one area I flagged as needing improvement over earlier computers was the hard disc drive speed.

    Running a few experiments to try to determine where the bottle necks were for ordinary computing I kept finding that wait periods corresponded to HDD reads and writes, and bootup time was almost all down to the HDD speed, especially for the larger XP platform.

    Thus I opted for a 15,000RPM SCSI boot drive, just 18 gig but all it does is boot and store system files and utilities. It is unlikely that we will ever see the heavy, power hungry and very hot running SCSI in a laptop anytime soon. But I have always thought that one day, in the not too distant future, we’ll be kissing the old technology goodbye in favour of solid state.

    That day may have come, but I have not heard anything much about it thus far, though I am not continuously scanning the media for the latest thing. So I may already be out of date…

    What I noticed recently is that there are very cheap 8 and 16 gig USB drives. The question is, could such a drive be used as a boot drive for a Laptop and would it be any quicker? Would it really be advantageous? One exciting thing that immediately springs to mind is that if it were possible, then Laptops could be retrofitted with solid state, perhaps cutting boot time by more than 90%.

    The first parameter that can be checked is the read speed. I’ll use the lightening fast Corsair Voyager GT 8gig (which I don’t currently own) and the Apacer Handy Steno HT202 1gig, which I do own. The Apacer was the fastest around when I bought it a few years ago.

    Here is the read speed as tested in a couple of my computers, each running 3.2gig Pentiums, the test tool was ‘HD Tune 2.51 – Hard Disk Utility’. All the below figures are for average speed.

    19.1 MB/sec Apacer Steno 1 gig (specified 20mb/s)
    22 MB/sec Corsair Voyager 16gig (as specified)
    34 MB/sec Corsair Voyager GT 8gig (as specified)
    40.5 MB/sec LaCie 500 gig external HDD via Firewire 800 (G467)
    49.5 MB/s 7,200RPM IDE 200gig Seagate Barracuda – non-boot drive
    63.2 MB/sec 15,000RPM SCSI (Seagate)
    65.5 MB/sec LaCie 1TB external HDD via Firewire 800 (BigDisk Extreme)
    71.2 MB/sec four 7,200 SATA drives in striped RAID set

    You may have noticed that boot drives carry squillians of tiny little system files. The trick is to find them fast. Laptop HDDs go to sleep and have to be woken!!! That can take seconds!! And then they have to seek. Note that the 5,400 RPM drives are FAR slower than 7,200RPM, and the 4,000RPM drives are even slower than the 5,400!!

    Here is the access time for my list of drives above, again, slowest to fastest. I don’t have any data on the Corsair, but can’t see how it would be any slower than the Apacer which I did test.

    15.4ms 7,200RPM IDE 200gig Seagate Barracuda – non-boot drive
    14.2ms LaCie 500 gig external HDD via Firewire 800 (G467)
    12.9ms four 7,200 SATA drives in striped RAID set
    12.4ms LaCie 1TB external HDD via Firewire 800 (BigDisk Extreme)
    5.8ms 15,000RPM SCSI (Seagate)
    0.7ms Apacer Steno 1 gig

    Don’t be fooled by 100MB/s ‘Interface transfer rate’ figures given for some slow HDDs. That figure only gives you the electronic headroom and not the actual transfer rate which is closer to 30MB/s if you’re lucky.

    The advantage of solid state, then, is as follows:-
    1) does not heat up at all;
    2) no power consumption;
    3) always online and ready;
    4) no fan when it is running (much quieter);
    5) unbelievably fast seek time, more than 20 times faster than a 7,200RPM IDE;
    6) compatible transfer rate to 5,400RPM drive when that drive is up to speed;
    7) impervious to percussive insult and vibration.

    Possible Installation:
    Most motherboards allow one to boot from a USB port. Windows XP will allow you to format, defrag, and assign a drive letter to a USB flash drive. It may be possible using a package like Norton Ghost (I prefer the 2003 version over all others – it works reliably) to ghost a current C drive to the flash drive.

    Once done one should be able to boot up from the flash drive, with the internal HDD disconnected one can then permanently assign the flash drive as drive C and make it the active partition.

    One could then connect the internal drive and reformat it and assign it a drive letter, say ‘D:’.

    If all that works one could then do a bit of rerouting of cables and install the flash drive permanently inside the computer.

    Let’s be clear on this, I have not tested my idea at all. Motherboards and BIOS vary in what they will allow as far as drive switching and booting from a flash drive.

    Experiment at you own risk – backup everything!!

    I’d be interested to know if anyone else has been thinking along these lines or has actually experimented with solid state drives.

    Robert

    PS one could also remove the permanent HDD and replace it with a striped set of flash drives, say 5*16 +1 parity – capacity, speed, security and convenience – sounds good.
    But at the moment, you would have to invent the whole thing yourself :(
  2. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 12,246   +213

    You sound like you are trying to sell us something. I hope you are not.

    The problem with running an OS off a flash drive is that there are a limited amount of writes off the memory (while reads are practically infinite), so the Swap file of an OS will chew through the drive shortly (seen 1 month cited a few places as a rough estimate). I imagine you could get Windows to minimize that with a large amount of real RAM and then also turning off the page file, but I believe there is still some paging going on.

    Another problem is transfer speed. While Seek Speed is up a lot, Transfer Speed isn't. I can't quote you real numbers right now, but it is significantly slower than a 7200 rpm drive, although it may be close enough to 5400.

    USB is also a fairly inelegant solution to replacing the hard drive since you've always got a stick comming out of the laptop/pc. If one were really serious about this, you should look into a CF to IDE interface, and remove the hard drive from the laptop, and run on a CompactFlash card. The adapters should be cheap, but the pin layout is the same as IDE so if you were crafty you could even make one yourself.
  3. RKS

    RKS Newcomer, in training Topic Starter Posts: 30

    Solid State HDD for Laptops?

    Thanks for that. I wouldn't have screwed up the title of the original thread if I was a slick salesman :)

    First, I don't see why the internal HDD would have to be replaced. One could still run the swap files on the internal drive if writes are an issue, though I don't see why they would be. I haven't come across that problem for flash drives, except that the smaller ones are usually formatted in FAT16 by default, which may be a limiting factor. One can always reformat it in NTFS which should resolve that issue.

    The main speed advantage comes from the lightening fast seek time AND the fact that the drive is always on and ready - there would be a substantial time saving right there.

    I think 8 gig would do for the boot drive - I haven't seen the same lightening fast 16 gig drives from Corsair but they can't be far off - next few months I guess. And of course Corsair is not the only cab on the rank - Apacer can't be far behind with a 32meg/s challenger.

    The flash drive is quite small and could easily be placed inside the laptop, probably under the keyboard. If the laptop has two or more USB ports then it should be an easy job to redirect one of them into the inside.

    And we haven't seen the last of the speed hikes, now nearly double what it was just a couple of years ago. I suspect that, given a couple more years, we'll be looking at 50meg/s USB flash drives and 50+gig, which will make them even more attractive.

    My selling spin is to interest someone with enough computer smarts to make this idea and then report back on the results...perhaps your solution may turn out to be even better (it was well worth my posting as I've already learnt a possibly better way of doing things - but what are the CompactFlash speed/seektime/format/addressing issues etc)?

    Robert
  4. Tedster

    Tedster Techspot old timer..... Posts: 10,067   +13

    Well you're a little ahead of the current state of affairs in technology. Current solid state drives do exist - mostly in the military and in research, but they're incredibly expensive and not yet available to the general public. Hybrid drives are just starting to be introduced. I believe hitachi and a korean company are producing these drives. They're not cheap either, but they are out. SS drives are not far from being introduced to the market.

    The answer to your question is yes- you can boot off a flash drive, but it probably isn't practical. Flash drives are notorious for losing memory and most affordable sizes are still quite small. But I'm sure it can be done.
  5. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 12,246   +213

    Read speed is pretty variable. 34MB/sec on the USB 2 Flash for the fastest that I saw in a fairly quick search of newegg, 15-20 megs on the CF. But I think with some more searching they'd be about the same speed, the actual memory chips inside of them should be the same. Real hard drives are still quite a bit faster 40-60 I'd imagine for laptops, but I don't feel like looking up benchmarks right now.

    The problem with keeping a hard drive onboard for the swap file is you lose any benefit of running off the flash drive. If you already have the hd spun up you might as well just read and write to it. The advantage of CF was that it draws very little power, greatly extending battery life, AND it will directly interface with the IDE interface.

    The problem is limited writes will affect all flash memory now, regardless of whether it is SD/USB/CF.
  6. raybay

    raybay TechSpot Evangelist Posts: 10,716   +6

    There are drives available now from 7200 rpm to 10,000 rpm to 14,400 rpm... but the faster you go, the shorter the life... and the need for a very fast rpm hard drive in a laptop, is never great... People who use their laptops as gamers do not ever have long life hard drives.
    Flash memory works, but it is significantly slower than a 7200 RPM or 10,000 rpm drive.
  7. RKS

    RKS Newcomer, in training Topic Starter Posts: 30

    Dell Offers Solid State Drives on Select Notebooks

    Dell Offers Solid State Drives on Select Notebooks

    Dell today announced that it is offering a 1.8-inch 32GB solid state drive (SSD) from SanDisk on Latitude D420 ultra-mobile and D620 ATG semi-rugged notebooks. The company is one the first to offer a flash-based drive as an alternative to hard disk drives (HDD) on corporate notebooks.

    Dell sees potential for flash-based drives and is committing to offer them across next generation Latitude notebooks because they enable better reliability, increased performance and noise reduction.

    A SSD is a hard drive alternative based on flash memory. Unlike a traditional HDD which uses spinning discs and read/write heads, a SSD is designed with flash memory with no moving parts. The new drive has the same shape and size as a HDD and uses the same connectors for integration into existing systems.

    "A solid state drive is an excellent storage technology for our mobile users," said Kevin Kettler, chief technology officer at Dell. "We are committed to leading the industry in delivering these new drives and will offer them across Dell's next generation of Latitude products."

    Engineering tests show that the SSD has an operating shock tolerance of up to 1,300 Gs, which is twice the rating of mechanical drives. In fact, during extreme impact testing the surrounding notebook hardware breaks before the drive. In addition, the drives are predicted to reduce the probability of failure by three-and-one-half times compared to standard mechanical drives. This will help reduce costs associated with hard drive failures, which analyst firm Gartner reports is one of two top sources of system malfunctions in notebooks and accounts for up to 45 percent of total hardware failures.

    "This represents an important milestone in the evolution of personal computers with the arrival of solid state flash memory as a durable, efficient alternative to the hard drive," said Eli Harari, SanDisk's founder and CEO."For those enterprise road warriors who rely on their notebook PCs, hard drive crashes with attendant loss of critical data will soon be a thing of the past. We're delighted that Dell has chosen the SanDisk SSD to launch this technology into their line of mobile PCs."

    The new drives can also increase system performance by up to 23 percent and decreases boot time by up to 34 percent compared to traditional HDDs available with the Latitude D420 and D620 ATG.

    The SSD drives are available today at a list price of $549 in the Americas. Availability will soon follow in Europe and Asia.

    Source: Dell
    http://www.physorg.com/printnews.php?newsid=96642454
  8. raybay

    raybay TechSpot Evangelist Posts: 10,716   +6

    But don't these new approaches only work well with Windows VISTA?
  9. RKS

    RKS Newcomer, in training Topic Starter Posts: 30

    Dell Solid State Drives

    The Dell laptops most probably have Vista installed, but the solid state drives sold as replacements for regular drives will probably be unpartitioned and unformated, just like any new drive.

    Even if it is formatted (NTFS?) it will not have an OS included for the price :)

    I'd say you can install whatever OS you want to - I'd be inclined to try ghosting from an existing drive though I don't know how I would do that with a laptop.

    Note that I just purchased an 8gig flash drive with a view to experimentation - it arrived yesterday... but then again I've been saying for years (amongst friends) that solid state would eventually catch up. I imagine there will be striped arrays for regular computers in the next year or two.

    Robert
  10. JimShady23

    JimShady23 TechSpot Maniac Posts: 651

    Look

    This stuff is very expensive what ever the advantages are. The 32gig SSD hard drives for laptops are around $600. Thats a lot of $$$ for your computer to boot a few seconds faster.

    As far as reliability yes they are a lot more versitile than ATA drives with moving parts. The more parts somthing has, the higher failure rate it will have. However at this point the cost does not justify the risk factor of drive failure. Unless you have the money.

    And that is the main concept of SSD, increased data protection and power savings.

    Look at this link and see the differnt gizmos they have out there. And sorry SNGX somone already beat you to the CF idea lol



    http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&DEPA=0&Description=SSD
  11. RKS

    RKS Newcomer, in training Topic Starter Posts: 30

    "Thats a lot of $$$"

    I can't think of many, if any, first generation releases that were reasonably or fairly priced.

    Once the "I was first" crowd have theirs, the price will fall, especially when a bit of competition gets going ("Dell are too highly I priced. I'll buy one off .......... instead" - try filling in the blank today :)

    Methinks the price will be half and the capacity double before the years end.

    Robert
  12. JimShady23

    JimShady23 TechSpot Maniac Posts: 651

    Well

    You also have to remember that the stuff that I linked are all dubbed "data storage". There is only one company thus far that has actually released a SDD hard drive and that is ScanDisk. But it also has a $600 price tag.

    http://scandisk.com/Oem/Default.aspx?CatID=1478

    Due to its 1.8 inch form factor it is really only for newer laptops. And I think this is the model Dell is selling in its laptops.

    Remember Dell does not make any of its own stuff....They just put a catalog part # on it and charge twice as much.

    Even their monitors are sub-contracted out....
  13. raybay

    raybay TechSpot Evangelist Posts: 10,716   +6

    Everything Dell sells is subbed out except their Desktops. Even their laptops are mostly made by others. Monitors have been made by Samsung and Shart for years... the CRT's were made by Sony, and several others.

    From what Dell told me on the phone, the flash drives are all tied into Windows VISTA's built-in features. They will not be providing them for the computers which they have just announced will continue to have Windows XP installed.
     
  14. RKS

    RKS Newcomer, in training Topic Starter Posts: 30

    According to Sandisc http://scandisk.com/Oem/Default.aspx?CatID=1478

    Field-Tested Durability
    Our 5th generation SSD, SanDisk SSD UATA 5000 has been field-proven for over a decade in the harshest of environments. It uses NAND flash enhanced by our patented TrueFFS® flash management technology. SanDisk SSD delivers an outstanding two million hour mean time between failure (MTBF). This superior level results in reduced tangible costs, such as IT labor costs, while also decreasing intangible costs associated with inaccessible data.

    Others in this thread mentioned that military had been using SSDs for some time. So with the right drivers I don't see why it wouldn't work in XP.

    But I'm not going to run out and buy one just yet - I don't fancy writing my own driver...

    Robert

    PS Just reading through the brochure on the lightening performance of this drive - it is a standard SATA interface and they give the boot time for Vista AND XP!! For XP the improvement is much greater - 12sec vs 31s for a standard SATA, in Vista it is 35s vs 55s.

    Access time is 158 times faster, I/O per second 137 times faster, 60% less power consumption, 6 times the reliability, 0db vs 22db ie no noise, 3 times faster read (62mb/s), 2 times faster write (36mb/s) (all Sandisc 1.8" 36gig specs)
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