Storage guide, 2:conventional drives and semiconductor memory


Storage guide, 2:conventional drives and semiconductor memory

Will conventional electromechanical hard drives eventually become extinct in the face of solid-state drives, or are other technologies poised to move into the future?

Ironically, the introduction and growth of semiconductor memory will actually prolong the life of hard-disc drives by acting as a buffer between the spinning physical disc and the host system.


The idea of cache memory is certainly nothing new but adding several gigabytes of high performance memory can reduce dependence on the spinning media. It's also possible to include flash, RAM and platters on the same drive -- effectively bringing tiered storage to the hard drive itself. These tactics may extend drive technology another 10-15 years. Beyond that, the physical hard disc may eventually be pushed out in favour of memory-only devices, as well as holographic storage technologies.

Go back to the beginning of the Disc Hardware FAQ Guide.


The changing role of semiconductor memory on hard drives

First, we're generally talking about two types of memory. Flash memory is low cost and it retains data when power is removed (non-volatile), but its performance is also slow. Conventional RAM -- the "main memory" of your PC or server -- is much faster, but it's a bit more expensive and requires constant power. You need to be aware that these two memory types are very different, but vendors may refer to both as "solid-state memory," so consider what you're buying.

Memory has a huge part to play in future drive designs as both a power-saving and performance-boosting tactic. For example, we'll likely see laptops with hybrid drives offering flash memory so that the laptop can boot without actually spinning the hard drive. We're also seeing high-performance disc drives with DDR RAM. Texas Memory Systems can package 1 terabyte  of solid-state memory in a 24U cabinet. Flash and RAM memory prices continue to fall, so hybrid and solid-state drives will become more economical into the future.

Go back to the beginning of the Disc Hardware FAQ Guide.

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This was first published in June 2007


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