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SSD Breakthrough Speeds Writes, Saves Energy

When I saw the headline at this morning, my first thought was “marketing/advertising spam!” But when I dug a bit more deeply into “SSD breakthrough makes drives 300 per cent faster and 60 percent more power efficient” it actually started making some kind of sense. Here’s the scoop, in the simplest possible terms: SSDs use a complicated method to write data to their storage chips, which basically depends on writing entire “disk blocks” (memory blocks/pages, really) any time new information needs to be recorded. Researchers at Chuo University in Japan have figured out a new method that uses a “logical block address scrambler” to stop data from being written to a new page, and targets it at a block that’s scheduled to be erased in the next garbage collection sweep anyway. This means fewer new pages to write, less copying of data from page to page, and longer drive lifetimes (less writing overall means more time until the so-called “write ceiling” for individual memory locations is reached).


This time, it’s not faster hardware that delivers performance and power gains: it’s smarter software!

The real beauty of this discovery is that it involves only firmware changes and doesn’t require new hardware. Assuming SSD controller makers would be willing to implement these new algorithms (and why would they risk incurring customer ire by refusing to do so?) your next SSD firmware update could be something really special indeed. I’m going to be very curious to see if the big players in this space — Intel, Samsung, Marvell, LSI, and so forth — will ante up and invest in existing products, or if this will become a strictly next-generation-only phenomenon.

This should be an interesting set of developments to watch out for and track, that’s for sure! How often does one get a shot at a threefold speedup, while saving energy at the same time? That’s why my initial take was “Too good to be true!” Only time will tell if that turns out to be the case, not because the speed-up and savings aren’t possible, but because the SSD makers decide not to offer retroactive updates to owners of existing –especially older — SSDs.

[Note added 5/27: Robin Harris, a knowledgeable and tech-savvy writer for ZDNet, posted a story this morning about this research entitled “An SSD speed jump by four-times? Not so fast.” He provides more context, including the revelation that the research (unsurprisingly) is based on a simulation of how NAND Flash behaves and works in real devices. He provides some useful analysis, too, and concludes with this “bottom line” remark: “Don’t expect to see this impressive speed up in the next three years. Flash vendors have other techniques for speeding flash performance.” So indeed, perhaps it was truly “too good to be true!”]

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