1.5 TB for the desk, SSD for the road

it’s even got it’s own gravitational field:

The new Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB HDD is 50 percent larger than the 1TB desktop drives available today, while the 500GB Momentus drives (available in 5400rpm and 7200rpm flavors) are 56 percent larger than the current high-capacity 320GB 2.5″ laptop drives.

The main difference between the new 1.5TB drive and the 1TB ST31000340AS already available is their platter density. Both disks are four-platter designs, but the 1TB drive uses four 250GB platters, while the new 1.5TB is apparently using four 375GB platters.

We could see modest increases through the end of the year, but 2TB before 2009 is a toss-up. 500GB platters are probably still a ways away, and while a 5x400GB platter configuration would do the trick, the first generation 1TB five platter drives tended to run hotter and noisier than the units that the followed.

I am fully aware that in five years someone will link to this post and guffaw at what a rube we all were for being impressed by this. I think Ars is being conservative here – someone is sure to roll out a 2TB drive (on 5 platters) before the end of the year. If not Seagate, then Hitachi.

While the desktop drive is noteworthy for its sheer size, the laptop drive doesn’t impress me at all, however. The future of laptop drives is SSD and SSD alone (I say this without irony, even though I just bought a 250 GB drive for my own laptop a few months ago). The far more important news on that front is that Samsung is opening the flood gates of volume production:

Seoul, Korea – July 9, 2008: Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., the world leader in advanced semiconductor technology, announced today that it has begun mass producing 1.8- and 2.5-inch multi-level cell (MLC)-based solid state drives (SSD) with a 128 Gigabyte (GB) storage capacity. Mass production of the Samsung MLC-based 64GB SSD also began this month.

Power consumption for the Samsung SSD is exceptionally low in standby mode at approximately 0.2 watts and in active mode at 0.5 watts. The Samsung MLC-based SSD has a write speed of 70MB/s and a read speed of 90MB/s.

Somehow I don’t think SSDs will ever supplant 3.5″ on the desktop, though I do think that eventually 2.5″ will become desktop standard. So the progress by Seagate on pushing the envelope on the notebook drive capacity is still relevant.

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.

upgrading to 250 GB

WD Scorpio 250 GB PATA UltraATAMy T42 Thinkpad came with an 80GB Hitachi Travelstar hard drive. I’ve been living at 95% maxed out capacity for well over half its lifetime, surviving by migrating a lot of files to an external disk (mostly personal video and raw data from my MRI research). The Thinkpad is also starting to show its age in terms of cruft; my new Asus EEE is much easier to use in some ways because I’ve installed only a core set of software that I use often (limited by it’s tiny 4 GB SSD). A clean XP install – nlited to save me the hassle of installing service packs and software – is clearly necessary. So, an upgrade was clearly (over)due, despite my tightwad constraints. Winning a $30 Amazon voucher from Read/Write Web spurred me to action; I’ve just placed an order for a Western Digital 250 GB Scorpio drive.

Since my Thinkpad is older, it only has an Ultra-ATA interface instead of the newer SATA ones. Hence, my choices were limited and I had to choose between 250 GB for $130 or 160 GB for $90. WD is the only manufacturer which makes a laptop drive at 250 GB capacity with the Ultra-ATA interface, but I am satisfied that the drive is worth the cost (partially offset by the Amazon voucher to boot). The performance of the SATA version is reputed to be excellent, and I doubt the UATA lags it much (as it happens, SATA requires slightly more power consumption, so what I lose in marginal performance, I will regain in marginal battery life).

I am planning to stay with Windows XP for the time being, most likely Service Pack 3 (which is not an official release yet, but you can download it as a release candidate from Microsoft). I’m not sure how well my Thinkpad will run Vista, since it’s only got a Dothan chip instead of a Yonah (aka Core Duo). Steven’s travails are also a cautionary tale.

My plan is to also order a cheap external 2.5″ case to house the old drive, so I can more easily transfer the data off (and of course reserve it in case I ever need to boot back into my old setup). Now I need to think about something a bit more rigorous for backup; at present I have the external disk I mentioned, but it would be better to invest in a NAS like a Linkstation Pro. Sigh. A print server would also be nice… argh! It never ends.