Saturday, March 25


Growth Spurts

For four decades, from their invention until about 1997, the capacity (or more properly, the density) of hard disk drives doubled roughly every 18 months. In 1997, improvements in manufacturing techniques, drive head technology, and digital signal processing shifted this growth curve to doubling every year, until, in early 2002, I was able to buy a 200GB 3.5 inch drive.

Then the entire storage industry ran head first into a wall.*

For perspective, if that growth rate had continued until now, you would be able to buy a 3.2 terabyte disk right now. It would cost $500, but you could buy it. The largest disks actually on the market today are only 500 gigabytes.

At roughly the same time that the rotating rust makers hit the wall, though, flash memory was taking off. Since 2001, flash memory densities have doubled every year, with a 16 gigabit chip from Samsung due to hit the market later this year. 16 billion transistors on one chip.

If they continue at this pace, the capacity curves (though not the price curves) will intersect next year. Samsung has already announced a 32GB solid-state 1.8 inch drive; the largest 1.8 inch disk currently available is 60GB, not quite twice as large. And despite the promises of perpendicular recording, disk drive capacities have been growing at a glacial pace - relative to the expectations of the computer industry, anyway.

What this means is that within a few years, there will be no more scrik scrik scrik scrik, no more whirrrrrr-PAKLUNK, no more The disk in drive C: is not formatted. Do you want to format it now?

And not a minute too soon, I say. Not a minute too soon.

* Not long after that, the CPU industry also ran into a wall, but that's another rant for another day. And besides, the CPU guys are working their butts off to go around, or over, or under the wall, with notable success; I don't doubt that the disk drive engineers are also hard at work, but they have less to show for it.

Incidentally, the 1.2GHz Athlons mentioned in that post ended up at the office as my development machines. One good thing about the lack of improvement in processors is that a five year old machine is still useful.**

** Five year old memory with a cascade of single bit errors is much less useful.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 12:45 AM | Comments (3) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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1 I may be wrong. But I was reading that solid state memory slowly looses its memory each time you write over it. I suppose thats why you pay more for error correction.

Hence you wouldn't necesarily use it as swap or heavy write activities. Not that thats stopping me from continually updating my Nano.

I do look forward to the completely silent solid state storage notebook.

Posted by: Andrew at Saturday, March 25 2006 07:21 PM (0585Z)

2 I've just bought myself a 512mb  flash drive after problems with floppy disks. It bends my head that a device the size of a cigarette lighter can hold data equivalent to 500 3.5" floppies.

Posted by: SwinishCapitalist at Saturday, March 25 2006 08:18 PM (2cFaJ)

3 Andrew - yep, flash memory is typically rated for 100,000 erase/write cycles.  Flash file systems allow for this by moving data around rather than constantly rewriting the same block.

You might well update one file 100,000 times, but you're not going to rewrite the entire disk that often.

SC - yesterday I saw a 4GB thumb drive in a store.  Pretty amazing.  Unfortunately, it costs as much as a 300GB hard disk.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Saturday, March 25 2006 08:23 PM (VZZ5N)

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