Taking an SSD test drive: WOW!
By Rick Smith
I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July holiday this year. We live in what I believe to be the greatest country in the world, and I fly my flag proudly outside my home. My sister in Hawaii was lucky enough to buy a home in Oahu that was previously owned by a military man who erected a real flagpole in the backyard. You'll never find me "Striking the Colors." God Bless The USA! OK, now that I've done my patriotic duty let's talk about computing. You may have noticed that in our monthly ad I've been touting Intel's "My SSD Rocks" promotion. Well today I'd like to explain why I am such a fan of this new technology and some of the terms associated with it. I'll try not to get too technical, (I'll leave that for those Linux guys). But once you know the facts, you, too, will become a fan of this new and promising technology. Here are four reasons to consider an Intel SSD on your PC or especially your notebook.
1. System Responsiveness. The performance bottleneck of modern PCs has been the only main mechanical device, its hard drive, for data storage. The new SSDs, solid state drives, use nanotechnology instead of mechanical rotation of metal data platters. The average total system performance increase is somewhere from 43 percent to 57 percent. That's phenomenal! In one fell swoop you can get that kind of performance increase. I'm surprised the phone is not ringing already with callers requesting this new product. It's what is known in the industry as a "Game Changer."
2. Ruggedness. Because of a lack of moving parts these devices are far more rugged that regular hard drives. This is especially useful in notebook PCs. If you dropped your notebook, it was always a toss-up if your hard drive's data would survive the impact. Vibration can also cause a drive to fail over time. Intel SSDs have been tested up to 1,500 G's. Now maybe at the next meeting I can throw one around and jump on it as a demonstration of what I'm talking about.
3. Power Consumption. SSDs have no moving parts and subsequently use far less power than a mechanical device. This turns into greater battery benefits for your notebook and makes you nice and green. When the drive is in an idle or low power state you can save up to 98 percent power consumption compared to a regular drive.
4. Total Cost of Ownership. Even though today's solid state drives are more expensive than a conventional hard drive, if you take in all three previous factors, greater productivity, reliability and lower power consumed, an Intel SSD drive will have a lower cost of ownership over time. The more systems you own, especially in business, the more this becomes evident.
Now, you've probably noticed that I only seem to mention Intel SSDs, not other products. I believe that the Intel MLC solid state drives are better than their competition, and I'll explain why. But first let's get up to speed on some of the terminology involved in NAND flash memory.
Lithography. Nanolithography refers to the fabrication of nanometer-scale structures, meaning patterns with at least one lateral dimension between the size of an individual atom and approximately 100 nm. Nanolithography is used during the fabrication of leading-edge semiconductor integrated circuits (nanocircuitry) or nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS). That is the Wikipedia definition. Here's a more simple explanation: Lithography is a measurement of how thick the circuit lines are. So the smaller Lithography, the more bits or data you can cram into any given space. As you get smaller and smaller, everything gets more difficult as voltages and other factors become more pronounced. Intel partnered with Micron in manufacturing about three years ago when the technology was at about 90 nanometers. It then went down to 72; they then caught up to the industry at 50 nanometers and then led the industry at 34 nanometer technology and are now at 25 nanometer technology. And because the cost of NAND silicon is about 98 percent of the cost of producing the product Intel has a distinct advantage at producing the best technology at the lowest cost.
Multilevel and Single-level Cell. Single level cell was the original design of all flash memory. It was reliable and has high endurance. The only thing that can wear out a flash memory cell is how many writes you write to it. You can read indefinitely, you can have millions of reads. But what wears a NAND out is how many times you cycle the flash by writing and erasing. Single cells deliver more than 100,000 write cycles. A multi-cycle cell can hold two bits of data or more and is more susceptible to write cycling. Now you go down to 5,000 or 10,000 write cycles. This is why the NAND controller technology is so important: It can tweak the memory-writing process to get better cycling out of the multilevel cell to minimize writes and improve the life of the drive. There can be anywhere from five to 85 flash chips in an SSD device. This is where better controller technology makes a big difference.
Write Amplification. Write amplification is a phenomenon where the host PC wants to write one gigabyte of data to an SSD device and poor controller technology will actually write up to 20 gigabytes of information to get that one gigabyte of data written. If you can lower your write amplification to the drive it produces less thrash, the quicker the drive works and your endurance goes way up. Intel has the lowest write amplification in the industry at 1.1 — for every 1 gigabyte of information to be written only 1.1 gigabyte is used. This allows Intel MLC SSDs to last much longer than the competition.
So there it is. You are now all experts on SSD NAND technology and can now go out and bore everyone at the next backyard barbecue. Or better yet hang out at a Linux SIG where your newfound knowledge is sure to be appreciated. Myself, I'll be waiting right here by the phone taking orders as America wises up to the advantages of SSDs in their PCs.
P.S. Many thanks to Intel's Troy Winslow for providing me with the technical information.