Jun 25

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Flash Memory to Replace Hard Drives in Portables?

Apple Insider reports on an interview with Samsung Semiconductor CEO Hwang Chang-Gyu, in which he discusses the production of 16 GB flash memory, predicts 100 GB, and expresses a hope to see flash memory replace hard drives in Apple laptops. What makes this radar-worthy? I quote:

Aside from being more robust, flash-memory presents several other advantages over hard-disk drive storage. It's silent in operation, requires less power, and is more reliable because it lacks moving parts. The drives are also typically lighter and can read and write data faster than conventional drives. [Emphasis mine.]
One more sign of the move towards ubiquitous computing, with low power (and new sources of power) being one of the limiting factors that the deep trend is forcing companies to re-think or route around. (Story via slashdot.)

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Comments: 7

  Brian [06.27.05 02:30 AM]

This is desired but my first thought is "what TOOK them so long?"

I saw my first flash memory card .. or something nearly like it .. in an AT&T PBX we used at a former employer around 1996. Insert the card, tell PBX 'backup' and a few seconds later LO the data was backed up.

Okay yes, a world of difference between 'backing up a PBX' and 'a micro computer hard drive replacement' but still. I'm ready for it.

  Ken [06.29.05 05:55 PM]

While I drool at the idea of a HDD that is absolutely silent, shock-resistant, and capable of read/write speeds much closer to RAM than a mechanical drive can ever hope to achieve, I still have some reservations. The first, and most obvious is cost; I simply wonder if Mr. Chang-Gyu is being a bit too optimistic about the degree to which these chips are going to drop in price. As CEO of the largest flash memory chipmaker on Earth, I suppose I will have to defer to his expertise; he is in a much better position to predict the future price of flash memory than I.

My other reservation? Someone please post a correction, if I am wrong, but isn't flash memory somewhat less durable when it comes to total read/write cycles than current hard drive technology? I know I have a Sandisk drive that has worked admirably for me for more than two years, and is subject to daily usage, but the number of read/write cycles to which it is subject vs. a HDD on which programs are stored and from which they are launched & read is on a completely different level.

Before sinking a sizeable sum of money into a new-fangled HDD, I would want to know that it is going to be at least as reliable as the older technology. The lower power consumption of flash memory vs. arm & platter drives makes it an attractive option for portables, but HDD's typically only account for 8% of the battery consumption in the average notebook.

I'm intrigued, but not sold...

  Guy K. Haas [06.30.05 06:39 PM]

One other aspect of the technology.... the way USB drives work now deleted files are just deleted. There's no Recycle Bin / Trash Can. Folks who are used to deletion being reversible either need to be accommodated or retrained.

  Richard [07.18.05 07:02 PM]

Depending on the type of 'flash' memory used, yes its true that current flash memory systems (SD cards, thunbdrives etc) have a limited number of cycles standard RAM does not, but looses its information when the power does, the possible solution? - check out Gigabytes new ramdrive, a PCI card that can take 4 gigs of SDRAM and has what looks like an Ipod battery keeping it powered, this system would be ideal if battery supply could be gauronteed , heck, who would want to reinstall thier OS everytime they forgot to charge the battery or bumped the power cable
but as ken pointed out, either 4 gigs of sdram or 16gigs of flash memory would be quite costly

  Dan [10.19.05 12:19 PM]

You are worrying about the wrong thing (Cycles). Samsung is using the name "Flash" for marketing purposes. The problem is not a concern since the it would really just be using memory in an HDD case, communicating as if it was an HDD, in fact Quantum and a few others sold Solid State drives for years, they were pricey, but were great for some specific applications. In other words, they would build an ATA or SATA drive, but instead of having the spindle motor spinning the media and an actuator moving heads over the media, they would just use ram. The power is supplied through the cable as it is today. The only time you would utilize the flash part of flash (if at all) would be when the power is off, but even then, a small lithium battery would provide more than enough power for years. And, as you may or may not know, hard drives are not meant to last very long. In fact, most manufacturers provide a short warrant, 1 year for SATA and ATA drives and 5 years for SCSI. In other words, don't leave anything too critical on your home hard drive for more than a year or two.

  Anonymous [07.03.06 08:20 PM]

You are forgetting that lithium batteries have a limited lifespan depending on the temperature and charge rate of the batteries regardless of usage.
A regular hard drive would be better for long term usage.

  Dan S [06.04.07 11:21 AM]

I can't help but wonder if the folks who license software, esp. the OS, don't want to see whole systems housed on a device that can be easily copied. Personally, I hope that's the direction things go. Make the OS so ubiquitos and easy to duplicate that people can move forward with creating more powerful tools.

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