Hard drives have ruled the roost in the world of computers and laptops for the last few decades. They enjoy complete dominance as primary data storage devices and have now even begun to be used in such consumer electronics devices as DVD players and mobile phones.
There has been no technology until now that was able to come close to hard drives in terms of data storage capacity, reliability, functionality and cost. The commonly available hard drives have capacities of 80 GB, 120 GB and 160 GB. This is a huge amount of storage space available to a typical computer user. Hard drives are also quite cost-effective and easily affordable by anyone.
However, they have some drawbacks. The drives are based on decades-old technology and their basic design has remained more or less the same over the years. They are notorious for crashing unexpectedly, leaving the users staring at the prospects of total data loss. Also, hard drives are mechanical and have many moving parts which undergo tremendous wear and tear in the space of just a couple of years. There is an entire range of data-recovery companies which today caters exclusively to recovering data from crashed or damaged hard drives! It seems, though, that things are finally going to change in the near future.
Over the last three or four years, an entire new data storage industry of solid-state devices (SSDs) has emerged that has begun to look like a serious threat to the market dominance of the tried and trusted hard-disk technology. The flash-based drives and data storage media have steadily gained in popularity with computer users.
SSDs have always been the storage devices of choice for use in digital cameras. Commonly available flash-based memory cards come in capacities of 1 GB to 5 GB and can store thousands of high-resolution pictures. SSD storage media is also being used in mobile phones to store pictures taken from built-in cameras as well as for holding hundreds of songs that a user can listen to anytime.
SSDs have many advantages over hard disks for storing digital data. For one, they are very small, no larger than your thumb, and weigh very less. This considerably reduces the weight of digital cameras, laptops and mobile phones which a typical user has to carry with him in person.
Additionally, SSDs have no moving parts. Thus, there is no question of wear and tear or generating heat through friction. There is no maintenance cost involved with SSDs because there are no mechanical components which may go bad or need replacement over time.
Another benefit of these SSDs is that they hardly use any electricity to store or access data. There are no platters to be spun around by a spindle motor like in a hard drive and there is no elaborate circuitry that may get fried or corrupted. It is simply one single piece of solid state memory with a tough plastic coating. This energy-saving feature of SSDs is a boon for laptops which currently have to expend a large amount of battery power in operating their hard disks on which reside all data, software and operating system.
Flash-based SSDs have long been used in computers and laptops in the shape of tiny USB Flash drives for storing and transporting digital data. These drives have had a couple of drawbacks – price and capacity -- that until now prevented their large-scale use in computers as primary storage media. However, recent developments have given a major boost to the potential of flash-based drives as an alternative to hard disks.
Early this year, SanDisk corporation launched a new 32-GB solid-state drive for use in computers and laptops. It is unbelievably fast, boasting of a data-access speed that is 100 times faster than a hard drive. One can only imagine the speed at which it will allow a computer to boot up as well as load software! If this is the shape of things to come, then, indeed, it seems that the mechanical hard drives are going to be an endangered species in the next six or seven years.
The only problem with SSDs is their price, which is exorbitant compared to the storage capacity that hard drives can offer for the same amount of money. However, it is still early days. As the technology matures and scale of production increases manifold, it is only a matter of time before flash-based drives become as high capacity and inexpensive as hard drives.
When that happens, there will be a paradigm shift overnight and large-capacity flash-based drives will take the place of hard drives as the primary storage media of computers and laptops. The hard drives would then become obsolete and go the way of floppy drives – consigned to the history bin of the information technology industry.
By: James Walsh