Do velociraptors eat SSDs?

The WD Raptor has long ruled the roost in terms of raw hard drive performance. These are 10,000 RPM drives that are widely used in servers and high performance gaming rigs. They are expensive, and they maxed out at 150 GB if I recall correctly. However, WD is now releasing the next generation, the cleverly named Velociraptor series, and these things are probably the fastest hard drives on earth. But I think the name has a double meaning for WD, because the very existence of this drive is a clear sign that the days of rotating-platter hard drives are soon over. These raptors might be the pinnacle of their evolution, but their breed is going extinct.

That the Velociraptors are awesome drives is not in dispute. Part of their advantage is that these unabashedly desktop-PC-oriented drives actually use notebook-drive technology for better power consumption and speed:

The new VelociRaptor takes an untraditional approach for a desktop HDD with its 2.5″ drive design. The 2.5″ form factor allows the drive to be smaller, lighter, and more power efficient than its 3.5″ rivals.

But what good is a 2.5″ HDD in a desktop system which typically accommodates 3.5″ HDDs? Western Digital addressed that issue by affixing the VelociRaptor to an “IcePack” heatsink which allows the drive to fit into a standard 3.5″ drive bay.
When it comes to performance, Western Digital promises a 30% increase in performance though is SATA 3Gb/sec interface, 1.4 million MTBF, and Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward (RAFF) to improve performance in vibration-heavy environments.

Using a 2.5 inch drive surrounded by a stabilizing and cooling frame to round out the 3.5 inch enclosure is just brilliant. I think that the 3.5 inch format is itself a dinosaur of sorts – they do rule in raw capacity, but 2.5 inch drives are catching up, and their smaller platter size means they can spin faster and consume less energy.

The idea behind the velociraptors is to compete with solid-state hard drives (SSDs) on performance, while maintaining the cost advantage (at present) of traditional HD technology. And there’s no doubt that these monsters deliver. But as the Extremetech indepth review notes, it represents the pinnacle of hard drive technology. This is the peak of evolution, but SSDs are only just starting to evolve. The new generation of SSDs is on the horizon, and are already faster and cheaper than before, so the value and performance proposition of the VR is going to fall, inevitably.

Consider that SuperTalent is going to release a 120 GB SSD for only $699 shortly. The read speed is going to be rated at 120 MB/sec. As TGDaily notes,

When I bought my 32 GB SSD from Samsung in 2006 and put it inside Q30Plus notebook, SSD drive settled me back for almost $2K. But read speed of 120 MB/s was stuff dreams were made from. Performance of that drive, considered world’s best SSD – was in 35-50 MB/s read range (don’t ask about write). But even that was enough to beat default 1.8″ 4300 rpm drive. Now, imagine putting a 120 MB/s read, 40 MB/s write SSD in your notebook that is currently ran either with 5400rpm or even 7200 rpm HDD.

As the CEO of SuperTalent Joe James notes, SSDs are going to drop in price 50% every 9 months for the forseeable future (call this James’ Law). Couple that with continual improvement in performance as SSD makers gain more and more experience, and you can see the writing on the wall.

The traditional hard drive makers know it too, and products like the VR are only half their response. The other half is to try and buy time through delaying tactics – such as lawsuits:

Seagate Technology, the largest maker of computer hard drives, made a pre-emptive strike against an emerging competitor on Monday when it filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing STEC Inc. of patent infringement.

In the suit, Seagate contends that STEC’s solid-state drive products violate four Seagate patents covering how such drives interface with computers.

STEC, based in Santa Ana, Calif., makes solid-state drives for corporations and other large enterprises, a market that Seagate executives have said the company plans to enter this year.

STEC is a relatively minor player, so this lawsuit is Seagate’s way of testing the waters before going after the bigger fry like Micron and Samsung. It’s a desperation move, and it will fail, but it will give Seagate time to try to catch up.

In 5 years, every notebook will come with an SSD. Traditional hard drives are going to be relegated to cheap desktops, servers, and external drives for backups or NAS. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: The Velociraptor is dethroned from the performance peak.