Demise of the Hard-Disk? I think not

Computer world is running a post talking about the demise of the hard-disk (HD) in favor of solid state drives (SSD). The post has so many errors in it I have a hard time figuring out where to begin. First let me give you some background. Hard-Disk drives have been a de facto standard for some time now. The technology has advance through the ages from SCSI to PATA and now to SATA hard-disk drives, and we’ll throw SAS drives in they are found in extreme high end computers and servers. The technology has been around for a long time. A few problems exist with the technology, for one it is susceptible to movement, magnets, electric shock, or just wear and tear. When they fail they tend to fail hard and often your data with it. They are also bulky, so if you want something in your pocket hard-disks just won’t do. But there wasn’t any viable alternative that equaled hard-disks storage, performance, and price. Indeed, if you do a casual look on Newegg you will find plenty of 500GB or even 750GB for under $200 (this is looking primarily at desktop performance, so SATA drives no SCSI or SAS). Anyone who has been watching knows that the price of HDs has dropped dramatically in recent years. A couple of advantages to SSD is they are quiet, light, resilient to movement, and tend to take less energy to run. This makes them perfect for laptops, which is where, as the article notes, we have seen the boom in SSD technology. Netbooks, especially, have pushed this technology.

Now back to the article here is a quote in reference to ditching the hard-disk in favor SSD:

Sound impossible? Actually it’s all too possible. SSD (Solid State Drives) have gone from being small and pricey to being roomy and affordable. At the year’s beginning, you could only find 4 and 8GB SSDs on inexpensive, Linux-powered netbooks or a 64GB SSD on the expensive Rolls-Royce of laptops, the Macbook Air.

Now first off that “Roll-Royce of laptops” initially, if memory serves me right, came at an increase of $900 for the SSD option, hardly seems affordable to me. But secondly in all of these devices performance of the SSD is always mentioned as a potential problem. In other words, the performance of SSD is not up to par with HDD. This is true, my wife’s laptop is a netbook with an SSD. The machine is nice and light, but there is some noticeable lag time here and there. It isn’t all that bad, but it is still notable. This is a particular hurdle for SSD to overcome. Performance and speed become quite essential to the power desktop user (of which the author thinks will be using SSDs by the end of 09).

To be fair the article covers performance:

You say you want top performance? Then you really want a SSD. In a recent ComputerWorld review of the Intel X25 SSD, a 2.5-inch form factor 80GB drive, zipped by a Western Digital VelociRaptor. The VelociRaptor clocked in with a 250.2MB/sec. burst speed and 105.6MB/sec. average read through using the HD Tach speed tests. That’s a great time. The X25, though, beat it with a 256.7MB/sec. burst speed and what’s far more interesting, a sustained 230.2MB/sec. transfer speed.

The problem here is that he contradicts himself from his earlier claim, ” SSD (Solid State Drives) have gone from being small and pricey to being roomy and affordable.” Here is the lowdown. He is comparing the Intel X25 to the WD VelociRaptor. While the study may show that the SSD is marginally faster, right now the storage capacity is maxed at 80GB compared to the WD at 300GB (with 80GB I could barely fit my mp3 collection on it). How about price? Intel will set you back over $500 while the WD will cost you only $250 or so. What is this about, “roomy and affordable?” 80GB isn’t enough for anyone looking to do more than simply surf the net and check email. A couple of movies, an mp3 collection, and your digital pictures will soon land you in the upgrade aisle. And how about the price, Intel sets you back $6.25 PG (per gigabyte), whereas the WD sets you back $.83 PG (and that was giving Intel the benefit of the doubt factoring the cost at $500). Further the WD VelociRaptor is overkill for most desktop users. This WD from Newegg (adequate for most desktop users) costs a mere $89.99 which is just $.12 PG. I’m sorry, but at these prices you would have to pry the HD out of my cold dead fingers before I make the switch to SSD.

He then asserts, “After that it may not be long before they start replacing hard drives on servers. ‘Impossible!’ You say? Think again. It seems Google is already putting SSDs into service.” Well that may be fine for Google and their endless cash, but I work in the real world with real companies. I can tell you that the university I worked for wasn’t even, remotely, considering switching to SSDs and my current company isn’t considering it either. The author also ignores the current economic downturn as well. Tell me that CEOs, CFOs, and CTOs are going to look at $.89 PG to $6.25 PG and still choose SSDs? Maybe Google can do that, but most companies wouldn’t, even if the economy weren’t so dire.

SSD technology still has room to grow. I think it is a very compelling technology and perhaps one day will surpass HD, but 2009 is certainly not that year. So far almost every offering out there either under-performs or is simply not an adequate replacement (in terms of space and price) to the HD. And everything that was cited as such is vaporware as of now. No HDs are here to stay and given the price I’d say that is a good thing.

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25 Comments on “Demise of the Hard-Disk? I think not”

  1. bfpower Says:

    I totally agree. There are affordable flash memory options, but currently they revolve around cards and jump drives (which have indeed become affordable). SS HD has a long way to go before they are selling new in PCs. Affordable? No. Not even.

    One of the reasons performance can suffer in the wild versus tach testing is that tach testing is not sporadic access. It is an algorithmic test more apt for measuring continuous use. It does clock great speeds, but as you pointed out, single attempts to access the drive might not be as quick.

    And no, we would never drop the 10 (or 20?) grand to replace our SAS storage array in our server room with SSD. Eventually I think SSD will replace HDD (mainly for reliability and durability reasons) but it won’t be until they are comparable in price.

  2. Though I agree with you post, I also believe that by mid-end 2009, the SSD will be replacing some HDD. The laptop market is increasing and with the decrease in prices, switching to SSD will be a new way to show-off new tech, raise the profit margin and increase battery life.
    The gamers market is also a good one, because high-end SSD’s are really fast and those guys aren’t really concerned about prices! hehe
    But for servers and desktop users (power and average), the HDD is still the way to go for a long time.

    Peace out!

  3. alan Says:

    I guess it’s all a question of your perspective; if you are not storing movies, music, and game data on your machine, even 160 GB is overkill. For instance, where I work nobody has more than about 16 GB of program data on a workstation, and all the user’s files are stored on a server or SAN. Why do I want a terabyte of spinning platters? I’d rather pay the same amount for 20GB that will never crash or get the “click of death”. That’s assuming SSD is more reliable; I can only assume it will be so without moving parts to break down.

    For the home multimedia or gamer machine? Maybe not in 2009. But there is a whole world outside who have no idea what to do with hundreds of GB, they just want to do the same things they did in the 1990s. If they can get a more reliable drive to do the same tasks, why take the noise, the heat, the lower battery life, and the lower reliability just to have a lot of empty space?

  4. Tim Says:

    In the article you’re referring to the author at Computer World, SJVN, is speculating on the future based on current trends. He’s saying that we’re heading in that direction; he’s not saying we’re there yet. It’s like he’s extrapolating a curve based on the current trend.

    SJVN does this a lot and that’s what I find makes his articles stand out from the rest of the tech crowd; he takes a long-term perspective and speaks very candidly. That’s why I subscribe to his feed.

    I don’t really think he’d disagree with what you’ve written here; just that what he meant by “soon” isn’t necessarily 2009. As you’ve shown very clearly, 2009 isn’t likely to be the year of the SSD. 2010?

  5. george Says:

    MLC SSDs are cheaper but fail to perform better than a modern HD. SLC SSDs perform truly faster than a modern HD but they cost a fortune. I think that in 2-3 years we will be using SSD’s for our OS and programs (0 latency), but we will continue to use HDs for our data.

  6. Bip Says:

    “80GB isn’t enough for anyone looking to do more than simply surf the net and check email.”

    I’ve seen multi-million dollar companies that hinged on 72GB SCSI mirrors. So 80GB won’t even hold your music? Why don’t you just measure your penis and be done with it?

  7. Lars Says:

    I have a Lenovo laptop with an SSD (Samsung 128GB). I was worried after I ordered the laptop when I came across more negative articles regarding SSDs.

    The performance is a completely different class. Start times for application like Firefox and OpenOffice are almost the same for cold- and warm-start.
    Linux boots in about 20 secs. I can never go back to anything but an SSD.

    I have also not seen the alleged slow write performance. I tried some of my standard database tests (some that write/update a lot of rows) and they easily outperformed any of the HDDs I had (also here the advantage was much less than during read only test). There are SDD better optimized for write operations (the Intel ones for example).

    Your mileage may vary, your usage pattern might be different.
    Also, there are slow/cheap SSDs out there. Intel and Samsung happen to make pretty good SSDs.

    SSDs _will_ replace HDDs. Anybody claiming otherwise is in denial.
    Laptops are the beginning. Desktops will follow. Eventually we’ll see them in data centres… Just my $0.02.

  8. Greg Says:

    I think hard drives on the server side are all but dead in the long run. Have you seen some of the server benchmarks of SLC drives compared to 15K Raid0 SCSI solutions? Web and file server tests were orders of magnitude faster on the SLC SSD drives. Database benchmarks were 2x or better. The best part is that SSD tech is in it’s infancy especially with write performance and will easily outpace magnetic drives which seem like they’ve stood still compared to other computer components the last 30 years.

  9. renoX Says:

    I expect both to be used: a small (say 16 or 32GB) fast SLC SSD storing all the system programs and used also as a kind of write cache AND a huge HDD for the multimedia files.
    There you got the best of both world: the speed of SSD in most of the case and the size of the HDD.

  10. G Fernandes Says:

    I guess you are one of those who said the Winchester Hard Disk wouldn’t ever get obsolete – I mean why ever would anyone go for lower storage space at higher prices?

    In the horse-fly world of evolving storage technology, SSD is the new disruptive technology. Incumbents will play it down and avoid it to their own risk. The history of the storage industry shows that those who stood in the way of progress were quite simply mowed down.

    You need to read “The Innovators Dilemma”. Here is a chapter from it. It gives a fair idea why SSDs may well replace HDDs completely.

  11. stolennomenclature Says:

    No one ha smentioned the rather limited lifespan of the flash memory used in SSD’s. Even with wear levelling these devices are not up to years of data updating and rewriting. They would be ok for static data that rarely changes, like programs. But do a lot of web browsing, and expect to have to replace your SSD much more often than you would a hard disk. I can only see SSD’s really taking off when they switch away from flash to one of the emerging technologies that do not have the very limited lifespans..

  12. G Fernandes Says:

    [QUOTE]No one has mentioned the rather limited lifespan of the flash memory used in SSD’s[/QUOTE]

    When 3.5″ HDDs came up, they were neither as reliable nor as economic as the larger Winchester Drives. They were adopted in a new market, got entrenched, evolved and improved to the extent that they were cheaper and more reliable than the Winchester Drives, at which point they replaced the Winchesters.

    This sequence has played whenever a disruptive technology came up. I have little doubt that this sequence is playing out right now.

    The problems with Flash memory will be solved whilst these devices create and entrench themselves in a market that wants light-weight, fast and robust storage. When the problems are solved and the market penetration results in lower cost/MB, the SSD will have effectively obsoleted the HDD.

    This is most certainly not inconceivable. Incumbents ignore this threat at their own risk.

  13. G Fernandes Says:

    [QUOTE]…but 2009 is certainly not that year…[/QUOTE]

    I wouldn’t say that. Storage technology has evolved at a mind-boggling pace. This is the technological equivalent of the fruit-fly. HDDs themselves have evolved over several generations and technologies.

    SSDs may well replace HDDs very long before your fingers are cold and dead – and if you continue holding on to HDDs, well it will be the technology equivalent of holding on to a 5.25″ floppy drive. And although 2009 may not turn out to be the year, it will certainly be the year that brings SSDs a heck of a lot closer to this replacement.

  14. E. Zumarraga Says:

    Consider what I have now, please, regarding SSD vs HDD. I am not too adept with Linux, but I have a whole F10 distro in a 16 GB USB flash with ext3 file system. Not just a Live USB version, but a whole bootable version of Fedora, standard applications for desktop in it, and my whole personal configurations in those applications, and of course personal data. My laptop is capable of booting from USB version 2.0, and it’s got three of those ports. I plug that USB flash in, wake my laptop up, and voila, up comes Fedora 10, and I don’t hear that Microsoft music for Vista. good riddance, I don’t miss it. So, I go about my daily rituals with the internet – check email, browse for news, update my calendar stuff, review my documents, then exit and power down. I pull out the usb flash and it is in my shirt pocket.

    On a visit to my son’s home, I borrow my granddaughter’s laptop. Hers can boot from flash card too. I plug my flash card into a USB expander along with my Dynex dongle (for which my F10 has a driver for), then plug them in to her laptop. Turn on her laptop and I am booted into my familiar Fedora 10, and it’s like I am in my own laptop. Do my daily computer rituals in hers, and I don’t even touch her OS.

    Now I hear news that USB 3.0 is coming. Supposedly, it will have a throughput high enough to be faster than a HDD. It seems to me, I will be carrying my flash card with F10, and a dongle for a wireless internet connection, and just borrow somebody else’s laptop to do my daily computer rituals, anywhere. It won’t matter what he got in his hdd, or whether his hdd is working or not. It won’t matter anymore if a hdd exists or not in anyone’s computer, I can boot my F10. And so, could anyone else. Does that not show that a hdd is becoming irrelevant in the face of the portable SSD?

  15. mrosedale Says:

    I do agree with all of you when you say SSDs will head into the mainstream and eventually take over HDDs (like I said I have a laptop with an SSD), my point of the article is that at the current price/capacity there is no way that I, and I think a lot of other people, could or would give up HDDs, at least not in 2009 as the original article suggests. I think the price of the SSD PG is still far too high and limiting for most people. If the price goes down and the capacity goes up to reach levels of HDDs in 2009 than I will gladly admit I was wrong. In the article his example was clearly off base and every other SSD he mentioned won’t be out until 2 or 3 QT of next year. I think we should also consider the state of the economy and how that will change things as well. Take blue ray for example, they have no direct competitor anymore yet they still aren’t seeing widespread adoption, and I think the economy has a lot to do with that.

    So I agree SSDs are coming, and I don’t wish to deny that I just don’t think 2009 will be that year at least not with his examples.

  16. Paul Johnson Says:

    I think that a hybrid solution is more likely, although it probably won’t become widespread in 2009. Back in the days of the minicomputer the frequently used binaries were held on a small fast expensive disk and the user files and less-frequently used programs were held on a big, slow cheap disk.

    See for more details.

  17. mrosedale Says:

    @E. Zumarraga Sounds like you have a sweet setup with F10 on a nice size USB flash drive. Your setup is quite compelling. I am considering doing something similar with my file server. I figured I could reclaim every last byte from my file server and boot off of a cheap and inexpensive USB drive. I actually may still do that. For sure the portable SS technology is cheap and the capacity outdoes anything else in its size and class.

    Two things. One is that the article was dealing with an internal SSD as apposed to the external USB drives.

    Secondly, I may be odd in this boat, but 16GB isn’t enough for me in all situations. I have enough legacy files that I need at least one drive larger than 16GB. Sure my laptop could be 8GB and I would be fine. And using your setup it would be more than enough, but somewhere I need more storage than 16GB. Maybe I am just a digital pack rat 🙂

    But ultimately I could see your setup becoming the norm. Especially if cloud storage becomes the norm. Rather than having a separate desktop/work/laptop OS you could have it all on one USB disk with all of your bookmarks and programs installed. I like that setup!

  18. rmathers Says:

    Your statement about hard drives not fitting in your pocket is wrong. The current iPod classic has a 120GB hard drive and easily fits in my pocket. Obviously the flash based Nanos and Shuffles are even smaller but the hard drive version still fits in a pocket.

  19. Shane Kerns Says:

    80Gb won’t be enough?
    WTF are you taking about. I have owned an IBM/Lenovo laptop for over 5 yrs now with only 70Gb on it running Slackware 12.2 (just recently upgraded from 10.2)and the XFS file system .
    I am a hardcore programmer with tons of Java, C and Python files residing on my laptop, have more porn on it than most average people do and have over 20Gb of Music and pictures. I still have approx 10Gb that is unused and I don’t see it filling up anytime soon.
    At work the most HD space any user is allocated is 50Gb and so far out of over 100 employees no one has ever complained of running out of disk space.
    I think some of your claims are just tooooooooooooo ridiculous. Why don’t you just measure your IQ and leave ridiculous claims like that to be the job of George Bush the lame duck.

  20. mrosedale Says:


    Think of it this way. You don’t need 80GB, and that is great, but would you rather pay $500 for 80GB or $89.99 for 750GB…I mean sure you don’t need a fraction of the space but the price difference is so enormous why would you even consider anything else? And wouldn’t it be nice to have the extra space in case you needed it? What if you decided to suddenly do HD video or flac for audio, I could see your 10GB of space being used up pretty quick. To me I see data needs growing not decreasing (perhaps they are leveling off). But for purely economic reasons HD still stands strong.

  21. Anne305 Says:

    Nice blog. If you want to add a nbit of humor to it, please click on my name 😉

  22. yonnie Says:

    ssd’s the early ones, used to have some serious reliability issues. I have not encountered any articles on how those problems were resolved or if they were even addressed. Cells could only handle so many writes and then they quit working. Who wants to spend money on drives that forget your data?

  23. Ray Says:

    You sir, are shortsighted nincompoop, an idiot, a moron.

    You should get in line right after the guy that said 5 computers ought to be the total world market.

    While you’re at it, look at a 2^n curve and try to understand that 80GB drive will be 320GB in 36 months at 25% of it’s current price. Have you really been brain-dead the last 20 years?

    Seriously, I can’t believe Linuxtoday linked to your crap post.

  24. mrosedale Says:

    @Ray, Are you serious? I have already said that if the capacity goes up and the price goes down inline with HD I’ll gladly admit that I am wrong. But as I said in the article larger capacity drives are vaporware as of now, and I am guessing that you choose to forget the many promised technologies that never came to light, and the many more that were delivered but delivered late. Beyond that one would assume that if 80GB cost $550 that 320GB would cost no less and likely far more, lets assume that you are right and they are introduced at $500 (which is less than the 80GB drive) and then the price drops 25% The price would still be $375. Now while that price is good compared to the original it is no where near $89.99. So even at your very own example I would argue that the price is still far to high. I must admit that if the original article were able to site an SSD with a capacity of 320GB and a price at $375 I don’t think I would have written this article, because it would be feasable for SSDs to take over due to a drop in price and realized capacity, but that, sir, is not the case. Come back and call me names when it does happen, but then again I am guessing that won’t be within the next year.

  25. Kevin Says:

    @ (whomever), for some of you guys, a mere 80GB is more than sufficient, but for myself, my 120 GB is ‘danger close’ to being filled all the time, my 250 GB external is filled & my 500GB external is within 50 GB of being filled. I am needing to expand by adding a couple of 1 TB externals in RAID for backup & redundancy soon. I archive a great deal of various formats of pics, music, podcasts, & media video files also. Besides all this, i test & run occasionally alternate versions of linux OSes & virutalized ones as well for testing purposes. It won’t be until multi-TB SSD drives are under a couple hundred dollars cost for me to seriously think about switching over to SSD from HDDs, except for using with a minor device like a netbook, & useful for only a couple of minor purposes.

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