There’s been a change in how your computer, laptop, and tablets will be running in the near future if they aren’t doing it already. The age of mechanics in computers is now officially over with the advent of the Solid State Disk Drive or SSD for short. Of course, many of you are already aware of this. But, a few out there are not clear on either what and SSD is or what it does. Let alone how the Hard Disk Drives they replaced operate either. Well, before we let you know what they are and a little about how they work. Let’s just give you what you can expect.
- The major one is that your device will now operate almost a 100 times faster than it did before. How that will happen, we will get into later.
- Next, you will soon be able to get unheard of amounts of data storage capability. It is in the realm of possibly now to field a laptop with up to 10 TB of disk space by the end of 2017 if not sooner.
- Your computer whatever its flavor will become even more reliable and less susceptible to failure as the mechanical parts that run your storage system are removed from the equation.
This is enough for now and as it becomes suitable during our discussion, other benefits will be pointed out to you. However, before we get into all that let’s talk a little about the history of Disk Storage and what has transpired and how it works along the basics of how it works based on this writer’s experience after have been working with disk drives since 1975. While not quite the Stone Age as far as disk drives in concerned true. But, this is from real hands on experience and not what is read out of a book or seen in a museum.
Tales of walruses, sealing wax, and the forgotten lore of the computer
We are all aware that a computer is made up of CPU, RAM/ROM, and auxiliary storage. The rest is window dressing with keyboards or other interfaces. The original computers used toggle switches or lights that doubled as data entry buttons.
However, the real beauty was the disk unit. Weighing in at hundreds of pounds and with a hydraulically powered head assembly that moved it over 11 platters that were over 12 inches in diameter. You could watch the heads move and out across the platters. All stacked on a central spindle rotating at 3500 RPM. Digital signals of 1s and 0s were converted to 256-byte segments of data on the disk in analog format. Retrieval was the reverse the heads went out the selected location, the pulses were read, the 1s and 0s came back into the computer, and in a nutshell, that’s what a disk drive did for you.
As the years move on the hydraulics were replaced with a voice coil and then later with stepper motors. The drives went from 5 megabytes to 10 and CDC came out with its 300-megabyte pack that was removable. It still weighed a few hundred pounds and was the size of a desk. However, it was the mainstay of computer rooms everywhere in the heyday of Wang Labs and the business computer revolution of the 70s and 80s. From there they got smaller and smaller and their capacity increased geometrically.
500 gigabytes became common for laptops and the size was down to 2 1/2 inches. That size, as been the standard for some time now. Then the changes started happening. The CD/DVD was slowly be augmented by the USB Thumb Drive.
USB Thumb drives brought solid-state memory into the forefront of removable storage
Here they too started out small. Megabytes at first, then the 1 gig and then it kept multiplying. Each year they held more information.This is still going on where you can get hundred gig or more by the end of this year or next.The idea of marrying the solid state and a disk drive interface was not long coming. For convenience sake, the SATA interface was adapted to work with a solid-state black box that responded exactly like a hard drive did in laptops and PCs. This made it possible to let the new machines made, use of the new technology and their makes not make design changes to how the hardware was designed or manufactured.
This saved money all around. The various makes of laptops, PCs, and the users that already had them could upgrade to the new Solid State Disks (SSDs) as well. This enabled the changeover to be seamless and over before, almost anyone noticed. So, let’s see what we get after this change. You will be quite pleasantly surprised by what switch from a mechanical drive to a little black box will do for what your computer will do for you and the thinks you’ll notice almost right away.
Read our article about The Best USB 3.0 Flash Drives.
When The SSD mimicked the SATA Hard Drive (HDD), things happened..
When a person replaces their mechanical disk drive, they notice a sudden change in how their computer acts. From the moment the power is applied, there is a phenomenal change in how things
Boot up time is decreased markedly. The time to a Window screen is reduced to seconds. There is no spin-up time for the disk this means you go to an immediate loading of the Windows software. In addition, your computer is almost totally silent now in operation. No more hum of the disk platter rotating. There too is no clicking of the movement of the heads either.
The head movement is what slows your computer down today the head assembly has to move out over the disk platter and then wait for it to rotate to the correct sector of the disk where the program or data is at and then the head can detect the recorded information of magnetic pulses.
This is how the drive stores information. Very much, like the old style tape recorders. Where music and voice were stored on a Mylar plastic tape coated with an iron oxide that can be magnetized in varying intensities as the tape moved over the head. The builder of the original disk drives in the 1950s combined this idea with the phonograph record which used a plastic platter and grooves incisedinto its surface. The arm of the record player had a needle that road in the groves that spiraled into the center of the platter or disk and the movement of the needle inside a magnet field reproduced the sound.
It’s interesting to note that later many records were enclosed inside a cabinet that then created the Jukeboxes popular in clubs and restaurants where you put in a coin and it automatically played the song you wanted by selecting the appropriate record and either moved it to a turntable or the turntable and head moved to the record.
If you saw the inside of the early disk units, you would swear it was the same mechanism. Having spent hundreds of hours inside these early disk drives this writer can attest to it. The alignment of the heads had to be right on to find the magnetic tracks and aligning 20 or more magnetic Read/Write heads was more of an art than a science. An oscilloscope was used to pick up the center of the pre-recorded alignment disk’s electronic 1 and 0 patterns, a “Cat’s Eye” display was sought, and using tiny turns of a small Allen wrench in awkward positions left a technician with a sore back.
Nowadays, with the factory sealed micro-drives we have today all that work is done up front in automated factories and there is usually only one platter and head assembly to worry about. “Plug and Play” became the industry mantra and it has been applied across the board in computers and their peripherals.The SSD has now obsoleted the entire industry and has replaced it with a new technology that provides the same data storage capacity and with few of the drawbacks of the mechanical drive; you may have in your laptop or desktop computer right now.
Drawbacks that a HDD has and is eliminated with an SSD
You may not notice them but there are numerous drawbacks to a hard disk. The first being heat. The longer you run your computer heat buildup can cause electronic components to fail. The drive ceases to work and you lose all your data. Heat can also cause your disks motor to fail and again bye bye weeks, months or even years of photos and important work data is no longer accessible.
The next problem is wear. Eventually, the motor, bearings, and other moving parts wear out by the constant high-speed movement day in and day out. Unless you make backups regularly, you can lose everything when something goes wonky.
Hard Drive Magnet
The magnet material coating on the platter may become contaminated by residual data that bleeds over from track to track and cause the heads to make repeated passes to attempt to read the data. The usual approach was to reformat the disk and reload everything from scratch on a regular basis. A practice is almost unheard of in the personal computer market.
The heads sometimes impact on the surface of the platter. The magnetic material comes off and other things occur to render portions of the disk unusable. This can be compensated for by marking these areas off-limits and using reserved areas instead. However, this causes the heads to have to move to these other areas and this causes time delays in retrieval of the data.
The worse thing that happens with HDDs is the fragmentation problem. Your drive’s performance can drop up to 50% due to Fragmentation of data. Parts of a file get scattered across the disk and the heads have to travel vast distances (In the computer’s view anyway) to get the rest of the file. Today running DEFRAG on a disk tries to make all the files contiguous and this then brings things back into balance again. Placement of files on the disk also can slow things down as well. This true when the file you use a lot is near the center of the platter(s) and the software using it is at the edge. If you drive has multiple platters this can become compounded. An SSD does not suffer this problem. We will see why in the next section.
However, the worst-case scenario is the hard impact of the heads onto the platter. In the old days when this happened a rooster tail of ferrite powder spewed into the interior of the drive and in one case the writer saw an R/W head inertia weld itself to a platter, which lead to the coining of the phrase of “We’ve just had a Diastrophismic Condition Occur.” (DCO) The same can occur inside your laptop if you slam the monitor screen down, you drop the laptop, and if your irate spouse in anger hits the computer to get your attention.
So, you see the SSD has been a long time coming. But, the benefits have been worth the wait.
How does an SSD work?
If you look at an SSD made for your laptop or PC it looks like a normal 2 1/2 inch HDD. It might even feel the same in weight, but that where the similarity ends. The exterior control mechanism that accesses the SSD works just like the HDD so there are no changes made to the laptop/PC. It is all handled on the other side of the SATA connector inside the SSD itself.
The controller takes the commands and addressing information and then returns the request information or writes the data to being stored identically to an HDD.
The real magic is in the controller. Most companies will not release how it works, as they fear outside copying of their proprietary tech. With what has been going on with the Russian, Chinese, and Korean hackers you can see why. However, remember that in our country Industrial Espionage is just a fierce. The rest of the Unit consists of NAND Flash Memory. This then holds your data in what’s called Floating-Gate Transistors that have the property of retaining a one or zero indefinitely when power is turned off. So in effect, you have a supercharged flash drive that cleans up after itself. Yes, Virginia, there is garbage on both HDDs and SSDs. This is in the form of deleted data and partial files left over from reads and writes.
This fills up disk space on an HDD and needs to be cleaned up via the Operating System and the DOS on the controller together.
The Disk Table of Contents keeps track of this and lets you recover Deleted/Lost files from an HDD. Your SSD does the same and does it at electronic speeds. However, the memory space needs to be written over to clean things up periodically. This can slow down an SSD’s performance.
So, if you imagine an SSD as a giant pool of memory that acts just like a disk drive it makes understanding the SSD much simpler.
Why should you get an SSD
What follows is, in a nutshell, is what the SSD does. It allows the computer industry to make use of what already works with the OSs, hardware, and software to still give you the benefits of faster speed and the newer technology.
In a way, the SSD is a patch. Kind of like the patches used to fix the Year 2000 Millennium Bug, which saw the patching of the entire computer Industry because of the practice of only using the last 2 digits of the year instead of the full 4 digits. This little oversight cost billions of dollars to correct and thousands of man-hours to implement. The SSD allows the implementation of the advances in memory miniaturization and compression without having to patch Windows, Apple’s iOS, Android and the larger Machines from the Large Scale processors that run Business and Banking.
Most people are looking at only laptops, smartphones, and tablets where SSDs will make tremendous breakthroughs in a couple of years. But, the real money will be made in the Military, Banking, and Business sectors where existing computer systems and software can gain the reliability, increased speed, and storage capacity that SSDs provide. This means programs written in assembler, COBOL, and even FORTRAN can still be used. IBM’s giant Monster multiprocessor supercomputers and those made by other manufacturers will still be viable with upgrades to newer and larger drives.
Today, Computer Data Centers all over the world cannot wait to get their hands on SSDs, as it will streamline their operations.SAN Disk Farms will gain the capacity they need and cut the energy costs let them grow larger without having to knock down walls and building annexes. Aircraft will become more autonomous along with ships, cars, and even trains as the knowledge gained in the space program and AI development of software written with a million lines of code can now fit on smaller systems and don’t require giant CPU/Disk centers to support them. They can now fit inside a box that goes inside a fighter jet or the family car.
SSDs will also make new computer designs available that will replace the ones we have today with ones that will be lighter, smaller, and more energy-efficient in a world where power is becoming an expensive commodity.
His writer has drawn of the knowledge glean with working in the computer industry in the 70’s to try and show how the evolution of the disk drive allowed us to build computers that run our world. With the development of the Solid State Drives, we have started and a new chapter in the saga of the computer that has opened up entire new frontiers for business and industry.
Soon your car will be able to drive itself and autonomous drones that can monitor the traffic flow while you are being driven to your destination. The SSD uses NAND Flash Memory, which is faster and more reliable that a Flash Drive’s NOR gate technology and The Controller in an SSD is more sophisticated.
So, in reality it is using SSD to duplicate what Dr. An Wang did for IBM way back when he linked ferrite rings together in a matrix arrangement and ran wires through it in an X-Y arrangement with a third wire to sense the change when the ring’s polarity shifted giving off or not giving off a pulse. The giving off of this pulse was interpreted as ones and zeros. The man is long gone but the writer and those who worked with him in the years that followed saw the computer industry for both business and personal use grow to what it is today.
The SSD will enable it to take entirely new shapes and enter venues we cannot even guess at. The SSD is a quantum leap in computer technology and it works with the legacy systems that currently exist today.
That’s a Win-Win for the entire human race.