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What makes the SSD innovative?

This is a brief write up of what exactly makes the SSD innovative and how it’s currently doing in the marketplace. We will also cover what the SSD has done for the industry, and what possible technologies might one day replace it!

What are the features of the SSD that makes it so innovative?

HDD smoking
Digitized picture of a dying HDD

Compared to the more traditional form of storage on a computer, the hard drive (HDD). New flash based solid state drive are significantly faster. So fast in fact that the SATA 3 6 Gbits/s standard from 2009, that connects the solid state drive to the rest of the system, is almost completely saturated. SSDs also have no moving parts, unlike traditional storage that have platters and a read/write head. Because of this property, SSDs are much more durable and can withstand an unexpected drop and also consume less energy. SSDs are also often much smaller than hard drives and have longer lifespans depending on usage. With an SSD, the Windows operation system can boot in under 30 seconds from a completely off state, and even heavy applications can start up seemingly instant.


The SSD fills a marketplace need!

A RAID card usable for a SSD

A server with heavy usage needs fast storage, particularly read speeds. Before the introduction of solid state drives, system administrators would create large RAID arrays with traditional hard drives to improve performance. RAID allows system administrators to combine similar hard drives to increase performance/redundancy. RAID can also be used on SSDs, the benefit is the RAID array won’t be as large or possibly one SSD will be enough. SSDs also address the markets need for a small form factor; permanent storage device that can handle the normal use of a mobile device. Much of SSDs success is a result of the success of the mobile devices it is used in. SSDs also address consumers need for speed up. Consumers can get frustrated over the length of time it takes for a program to start or load.


How does the SSD compete with other competitors in the marketplace?

From HDD to SSD

There are few solutions for permanent storage. Hard drives that most people are familiar with, but there are also hybrid solutions. Recently some hard drive manufacturers have taken a hybrid approach. Keeping the spinning platters of hard drives and adding a small SSD solution as well. Hard drives have the benefit of having a much larger capacity compared to SSDs. The small SSD is used as a cache, so frequently read files will be stored there to improve performance.

With the nature of the hard drive, because it is a mechanical device, there would always be a limit to how fast it would be. To increase performance the platter must spin at a higher rpm. To accomplish this the motor must draw more power which lies the problem. Also in the past hard drive manufacturers would move the read/write head closer to the platter (flying height) to have a more precise read/write, increasing capacities. In modern drives the flying height is amazingly 3 nanometers from the platter. This is why any particle or disturbance can damage a hard drive. Over a long period of use hard drive failures are mostly caused by the read/write head scratching the magnetic surface.

Other than speed, SSDs also have the advantage of lifespan. Normally a HDD can last 5-10 years if handled properly. While an SSD varies depending on how much it is written to and space left on the drive. What type of flash is also important to measure lifespan. Consumer SSDs usually use MLC or TLC NAND flash, MLC last longer and is faster than TLC. Assuming 10GB write every day on a 256GB SSD with MLC flash the estimated lifetime is 70 years and 24 years for TLC flash. With improved manufacturing processes of NAND flash lifespan and speed will continually improve. For instance SLC NAND is used for industry grade SSDs and and much faster and last longer than consumer SSDs. If capacity is more important than speed, hard drives are clear winners.

The price of an SSD compared to a HDD with equal capacity is about 5-6 times more expensive. Another key performance metric is power consumption. HDDs must continually rotate a platter, because of this HDDs require more power. Even on Idle HDDs still spin the platter, just at a reduced RPM. SSDs typically run at sub 2 watts, while HHD use 4-6 watts.


How successful has the SSD been relative to its competitors?

Sandisk SSD front & back
An older Sandisk SSD front & back

Since SSDs are new to the market, they are not yet the dominant storage medium in PCs. Trends show that this is likely to change. It is estimated that SSDs will have one third of the market by 2017. Last year 31 million SSDs were sold, compared to 475 million HDDs. Already HDDs annual growth is on a decline at 2.9% a year. While SSDs are growing rapidly at 48% per year. The small form factor of an SSD has been one of the key reasons for its growth.

The major factor contributing to the large growth is the increase demand for ultra thin notebooks or ultrabooks. Revenue by 2017 will be nearly identical at around 23 billion, because of the extra cost of SSDs. Though HDDs will most likely still remain relevant wherever large storage on the cheap is needed. Plus the introduction of the hybrid drive will insure HDDs will probably coexist with SSDs, at least for the foreseeable future.


What were the innovative aspects of the SSD not in the marketplace before?

NAND Flash Memory for the SSD
NAND Flash Memory for the SSD

Much of why SSDs are innovative is because there are no mechanical parts. In the past there were no viable permanent random access memory solutions. SSDs have existed in the past but relied on batteries to make the data persist. You can imagine why this is not a great idea. With the discovery of flash memory SSDs became more viable.



How the SSD was discovered and commercialized.

Fujio Masuoka and the SSD
Fujio Masuoka

SSDs that we know of today begin with the discovery of flash memory. NOR and NAND flash was discovered by Dr. Fujio Masuoka while working at Toshiba in the 1980s. A colleague of Dr. Fujio Masuoka, decided on the name “flash” because the memory erasing process reminded him of a camera flash. Intel saw potential and created the first NOR flash chip in 1988. The first NAND flash based removable media was SmartMedia in 1995. Others followed such as, Sony’s Memory Stick and MicroSD. Then in 2000 the first commercial USB flash drive was offered by IBM and Trek Technology.

SSDs have emerged twice in the past. SSDs began in the 1950s, but were replaced by cheaper solutions. SSDs made another appearance in the 1970-1980s, through ROM and RAM based SSDs. It was discontinued again because of cost but also because companies could not achieve a 10 year lifespan. Only in 1995 did the first flash based SSD appear. Flash based SSDs had the advantage of not require a battery to make data persistent, though they are not as fast as the previous solutions. Because of SSDs ability to withstand harsh treatment, SSDs have replaced HDDs in military and aerospace applications. And now with flash memory becoming so ubiquitous with thumb drives and such. The price of SSDs have been falling steadily


The SSD is making its way into other environments!

Windows 8 Tablet SSD
Windows 8 Tablet taking advantage of the SSD

While still being a rather new technology we are still seeing it being used in new and different environments. How has this technology improved various stakeholders existing technology already in placed? Here’s how!

Like many businesses, keeping costs down has always been an issue. For any commercial environment investing in a new technology is a risk. The trade off for companies here is the higher upfront cost of the SSD over the HDD. But the benefits are huge, including less power consumed, space used. Other benefits are a longer life span of the product and head produced, both reducing long term costs.

Consumers are still on the fence about this new technology. Like most things it comes down to the price. Though it is a huge improvement to it’s counterpart and it is being slowly forced onto consumers without a choice with products such as the notebook or tablet. It is still not the dominant storage device in home computers.


How exactly has the SSD impacted the technology industry?

ASUS Ultrabook SSD
ASUS Ultrabook SSD

The impact from SSDs will be felt across many different industries. New devices exist because of SSDs, Ultrabooks, thin notebooks, and tablets are possible with SSDs. Not only for the smaller size but SSDs are more energy efficient than conventional HDDs. Any company that require high performance computers. Whether its a corporate website with large traffic or an application that has large amounts of data to manipulate. Any situation where conditions are not ideal that require data storage, like military and aerospace. SSDs are capable of withstanding the harsh temperatures in earth’s atmosphere and turbulence that comes with it. A graphics designer or video editor or gamer who deal with large assets, won’t have to wait at loading screens.

Not only do large corporations, government programs and enthusiasts benefit from SSDs, but the normal consumers do as well. SSDs will have a large impact on general computing in your home and improve your experience. Imagine having full disc encryption without the large speed decrease. Full disc encryption can become more viable for everyone. Or not having to wait minutes for you computer to boot or applications to load. Or having to witness the slow and painful death of a HDD when every year your computer seems to run slower and slower. An SSD is not a dramatically new invention that will revolutionise how we do things. Instead it is an incremental improvement of an already existing product, though the improvement is large. In much the same way as the iphone was considered innovative, so is the SSD.


What current marketplace technology might the SSD be worried about?

Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHD
The new Solid State Hybrid Drive (SSHD)

A new storage device known as Solid State Hybrid Device (SSHD) is now being pushed into the marketplace as an alternative to the SSD. It is a combination of the SSD’s NAND flash memory and the older HDD technology. It is still in its infancy since first becoming available in 2007 by a joint-venture including Samsung & Seagate. Some of the benefits we are seeing with new technology includes a lower price tag than the SSD yet not much more than a typical HDD’s. It also has similar capacity to HDDs and performance of a SSD. It is still hard to say where this technology will out perform the SSD in the long run but right now it is a great economic alternative to the SSD.

In 2011 an advancement to the SSD was made by Intel called Smart Response Technology (SRT). Managed by Intel Rapid Storage Technology software this new innovative technology is a proprietary caching mechanism that allows a SATA SSD to function as cache for a HDD. Since its release into the market it is doing well, though only in the commercial market. This technology mimics the Solid State Hybrid Device.

Soon we’ll be seeing PCI-Express SSDs inside new ultra-slim notebooks. This innovative technology developed by Samsung. Not only does it save on precious real estate, (physical room on the notebook) but opens up options for much faster speeds on SSDs. PCI-Express will be replacing SATA interfaces on all SSDs in the future that is for sure!


What comes after the SSD?

SSD Skyrmion
Digitized representation of a Skyrmion SSD

It is believed that the SSDs current NAND flash memory will be replaced with PRAM also known as Phase-change memory. The advantage PRAM has over NAND is its scalability. We could make much smaller storage devices using it. It can also offer a much better performance in applications that require a fast write speed. The only drawback with PRAM is its temperature sensitivity. This temperature issue is caused by how it exploits chalcogenide glass. This happens by constantly having to heat and hold crystallization and revert back to a crystalline state.

A new technology still in a very early stage might be what replaces SSDs. Named after the skyrmion particle first discovered in the 1960s. Skyrmonic hard disks could possibly hold more than 20 times more data than a HDD. At the moment it is almost impossible for it to run in any environment since in order for it to operate it needs to be at a temperature of -267 Celsius! If researchers can create a suitable environment for the required operating temperatures we might one day see this on the market.

We can expect incremental improvements on performance, capacity and reliability. If new features are introduced, it must likely be software related. Such as full disk encryption by default or easy HDD transfer or easy remote erasing of drive.

About Tyler Bailey

Tyler Bailey is a university student who owns and runs draalin.com. Follow me on
  • Andrew P

    Thanks for the information, good outlook on the SSD and its future.