Monday, November 8, 2010

Solid State Drives mature, leave home for new housing

Most of us buying laptops with SSD hard drives love them for their speed and ruggedness.  They're expensive, but that's the price we pay for the latest and greatest, right?  It may be surprising, then, that your new bleeding edge Flash-based hard drive is housed in the standard 2.5" laptop form factor (69.85 mm × 7–15 mm × 100 mm) originally designed for spinning disks in... 1988.  Thats pretty old, and a company has finally taken a stand, said enough is enough, and brought SSD to a form factor worthy of the new millennium.

Toshiba announced from Tokyo today a new form factor that is not just smaller than the current standard, but literally 1/10th the size (24mm x 2.2-3.7mm x 108.9mm).  Called the Blade X-gale, it's basically the same length, one third the width and about one third the height.  In fact it's almost identical to the DIMM form factor used for memory, which we discussed yesterday - (a size that seems to have been tried back in August but didn't catch on).

One might expect that the capacity-to-weight ratio, or gigabytes per gram, to not have improved much over 2.5" magnetic disk drives because, while heavier than Flash,  they also have greater capacity.  The current biggest laptop drive is the Seagate Momentus 640GB, which weighs in at 120 grams, achieving 5.3 GB/gram.  The highest capacity 3.5" drive is currently 3TB drive from Western Digital's Caviar Green series, which weighs 730 grams, yielding just 4.1GB/gram. This is where it gets interesting, as the new 256GB Blade X-gale from Toshiba weights just 13.2 grams, achieving 19.4 GB/gram - besting the legacy form factors by 4x-5x.

With such big improvements in size and weight, Toshiba's new product line is a good reminder that many components of the Personal Computer are mired in their own legacy, just waiting to be updated.  PC BIOS is another example of this, which first debuted back in 1981, and industry has been so slow to move on that the newest hard drives are no longer fully functional.  Indeed, the three terabyte drive discussed above can't serve as a boot drive, and is therefore limited to secondary data storage roles until motherboard manufacturers implement the newer Universal Enhanced Firmware Interface (UEFI) more broadly.

This leads to the question of what other parts of the PC may be stuck in the past, with order-of-magnitude improvements still waiting to be unleashed..

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