Beware the SSDs

November 24, 2008 at 12:39 | Posted in Tech | Comments Off on Beware the SSDs
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The current Industry and consumer fascination with SSD (solid state drives) is something that I feel the more technically inclined among us need to talk about.

I think that many consumers will fail to be informed that the spanking new SSD they bought has a limited number of writes. As does all flash memory based technology. The average user also doesn’t understand the huge number of small writes that the average Operating System makes to the drive. I’m not just talking about Virtual memory or Swap files. Updating logs, registries, temporary working files, even just updating the “last accessed” info on a file all count as writes.

SSD manufacturers like to throw out numbers in the millions or billions of writes but an average home computer user will eat through several billion writes very quickly. Even just web browsing the web will constantly be writing files to the browsers cache and then erasing them. This action also incurs many “hidden” writes such as the constant updating of the FAT (File Allocation Table)

I’m concerned that the big corporations are looking at SSDs not as a way to improve the customer experience but as a way to increase their bottom line. Just think of the extra revenue when all those home users start needing to replace their drives in 2-3 years. Possibly less for someone that make very heavy use of the hard drive. I’ve seem 10+ year old HDDs that still work perfectly. This will not happen with SSDs.

SSDs do have their place however. They are perfect for what I would term WRRM (Write Rarely Read Many) applications. They are perfect for things like a recovery drive on a computer that has all the data needed to re-install the O/S written on it and is only used in reading that data to restore it to a regular HDD. Or in applications such as servers with fairly static content and a file system that doesn’t keep track of “last accessed”. Or, as a mobile drive that a corporate IT professional can use as the install media for an entire office of computer. SSDs definitely have applications.. but being the main fixed storage media in a home or office computer is not one of them. Not unless you want to be shelling out for a new drive every time you exceed the Max-Writes-Cycle.

A good technical discussion of the way “hidden” writes will eat up the life of these drives can be found here.

So, Spread the word. SSDs are Great. just not for the main drive in a Home or office computer. Flash memory technology was never designed to take that kind of constant (re)writing.

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