SSD Drives coming of age

I’ve been waiting for solid state drives to start to live up to the expectations (speed, security, low power, adequate capacity, affordability) that the marketplace has.  According to Diglloyd, that day has arrived in the form of OWC Mercury Extreme SSD. This appears to be the first drive truly delivers (except maybe for affordability).

There are a couple of breakthroughs this drive offers.  First, some background, after the jump.

Speed and Reliability

Solid State Drives use flash memory, like what’s used in your camera’s media card.  This stuff is not particularly fast, but you can put a lot of chips together, and access them simultaneously. (This is kind of like using hard drives in a RAID). The issue here is the quality of the controller that spreads the data out. Any flaws in the design can come back to bite you.  And, as a matter of fact, Lloyd found a pretty serious one in past testing.

Over time, the controller creates internal fragmentation. Eventually, this can really slow down the speed of the SSD. Defragmentation requires pulling all the data off the drive, and doing a multi-pass write to the drive.  Yuck.  (Read about it here).

The new OWC drive has apparently fixed that problem, and Lloyd says it’s the first drive he’s aware of that has done so.

Better Data Security

There’s an additional feature of these drives that is pretty compelling.  In a normal hard drive, there is a checksum written to the drive for each chunk of data.  When the drive reads the data, it uses the checksum to confirm that everything was read back properly. If one bit has “flipped” in the block, the drive may be able to recover the data, but if more than one bit is written or read incorrectly, then the data is lost.

These new OWC drives do much more than that. They put aside 56 GB of a 256 GB drive for error checking and recovery. This provides a level of security on a much larger scale. The math indicates a 100x increase in recoverability over enterprise class spinning disk. That’s huge.

Use these drives for…

Okay, so at 200GB these aren’t likely to be your main data storage. But they are great for uses that require low power draw, and fast read/writes. This means the drive is great for laptop boot drives, and even desktop tower boot drives. RAID a few together for really fast (and expensive) scratch disk.

OWC (Stands for Ouch!)

So, here’s the bad news. A 50GB drive starts at $229.  The 200 GB is $779.  Okay, so affordability is not quite here yet. We know that’s coming.  At least someone has started fixing these important technical problems.

About Diglloyd

If this stuff interests you, I suggest you tune in to Lloyd Chambers great website Diglloyd. I have an immense amount of respect for the work he does, rigorously testing computer hardware, software and workflow components. Find his blog here.