Diatribes - Computer, Economic & Political

This blog is really just for me. If you find something interesting on it, leave me a comment. If you disagree with something, let me know what and why. In this blog I am just putting some of my thoughts for computers, the economy, politics, and other topics in writing.

13 January 2006

Flash and the Future

Samsung announced they'll start building 16 gigabyte flash chips (in the article they aren't consistent with gigabit and gigabyte, but since we already have 2 gigabyte flash drives, I suspect they mean 16 gigabyte not 16 gigabits). Now they have 32 gigabyte drives. That is big. Really big.

These sorts of flash drives would be beautiful in portable devices yes. Pocket PCs that can actually hold the bloat in windows XP (I kid I kid), iPod nanos that hold 32 gb, and any of a dozen other applications.

But more importantly I can see a terrific value using them in laptops. Imagine putting 5 x 16gb flash drives in a laptop in a RAID 5 array, giving 64GB usable space (more than enough for most laptops). You'd have a few huge advantages.

1. You'd save a terrific amount of power (spinning CDs and HDs kills batteries faster than about anything).
2. In a RAID 5 array (so long as only 1 drive fails at a time), if you have a drive failure, you could have a little program popup and say "look part of your HD has died. You haven't lost any data, so don't worry, but get this serviced immediately."
3. With the RAID 5 controlled by the computer, the read/write times would be unreal. Fastest loading ever. 10 second boots and instant program loading!
4. With solid state memory, no more hard drive heads scratching the hard drive platters if you drop your laptop.
5. Flash memory is small. Even 5 chips would be much smaller than a 2.5 inch hard drive. More importantly, it is flat. So you could get laptops half inch thick (assuming a slot loading CD drive).
6. No problems with fragmentation. Because read on flash speeds aren't tied to sectors being consecutive, it doesn't matter if files are spread all over.

I'm sure there are other advantages too, but this is what came off the top of my head.

When you unplug your computer, the reason you lose unsaved stuff is because RAM, without power, cannot hold data. Not so with flash though. If we could get a faster version of flash with read/write speeds closer to DDR RAM speeds, you could have a computer that, when unplugged unexpectedly, doesn't lose anything it wasn't writing at that very millisecond. Boy wouldn't that be a leap ahead?

Many people are worried about flash hard drives. They worry that flash memory has a limit to the number of writes. This shouldn't be a big problem because - the number of writes is really large - with load balancing no particular sector will wear out faster than any other - the worst a drive can become is read-only.

Traditional hard drives have some advantages over flash. Traditionaly hard drives have faster consistent write speeds, flash is faster for smaller files but slower for large ones. This is assuming the regular hard drive isn't fragmented, but it is a concern nonetheless. To beat this hardware manufacturers have developed hybrid drives.

Windows Vista have plans to use flash much more than previous operating systems. Vista will have the option to use a flash drive you plug in as memory. While it isn't as fast as real RAM but it is leaps faster than traditional virtual memory. Vista also has planned support for the hybrid drives I mentioned. This is a traditional hard drive coupled with a large flash drive. The flash drive would be used as a buffer (rather than the 2, 8 and 16 meg buffers on current HDs). This buffer would also be used for primary data storage, and the hard drive wouldn't have to spin all the time. These hybrid drives have many of the same benefits a pure flash solution would have, though not to the same extent.

Unsurpisingly Samsung (the makers of these massive chips) have made a flash laptop of their own. And for those doubting the feasibility, Intel seems to agree .

I hope Apple is working on this. Currently I can only see Apple implementing something like this, but eventually it'd hit the PC market. HP seems to still innovate even if Dell doesn't. Wouldn't that give them a boost, the fastest laptop (so they claim) now is even faster, more stable, fault tolerant, and smaller.

Flash drives have faster burst read times than traditional hard drives, but not long consecutive reads. That problem would be eliminated by having a striped array.
I know about the limit to reads/writes, however this can be mitigated by proper allocation.
Flash drives are rated at 1,400,000 hours of MTBF. That is a long time. Most Hard Drives are rated at 1,000,000 hours of MTBF.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the information here is old. There are 64GB flash drives already.

29 March, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also perhaps keep in mind that (from what I understand) most non-industrial flash memory is rated at about 100,000 erases, which compared to HDD is next to nothing when dealing with constant writing (swap files, temp space, etc). Because of this most flash drives are fine for making data portable and storing media but probably arent so great as a windows system drive or for caching data.

02 April, 2006  
Blogger jambarama said...

The erases thing you are talking about is the same thing as the limited number of writes. The number of writes is really large, 100,000 is off by a factor of ten from what I've read. Even if 100,000 is right, with load balancing (where no particular sector will wear out faster than any other) you'd have to write 100,000 times the size of the drive to wear it out. On a 64GB drive that means you'd have to write 6,400,000 gigabytes or roughly 6.4 petabytes. That is really a lot. Plus the worst a drive can become is read-only.

02 April, 2006  
Blogger jambarama said...

More 64GB flash drives for only $800!
The bigger drives are cool but this would ruin my idea for a RAID 5! RAID 5 would add fault tolerance (something sorely lacking in modern hard drives) and freakish speed. Hope someone does it anyway.

09 April, 2006  

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