Flash Memory Can Grow

By David Morgenstern  |  Posted 2006-06-10 Print this article Print

Weary"> Meanwhile, the hybrid drive technology may be better on the integration front, but its adding a fundamentally unreliable technology (NAND flash) to one refined for reliability (hard disk drives). IT managers will want to track which notebooks have hybrid and which do not.

Flash memory can wear out after a certain number of writes. The number of operations for a piece of media may appear large (many thousands of writes), but cells will become exhausted and unreliable. This is a byproduct of the technology.
To avoid this effect, manufacturers employ a variety of wear-leveling algorithms to make sure data is written to all parts of the memory as well as include a large batch, or pool, of spare cells that are parceled out when a cell goes bad.
Hard drives do a similar thing, of course—checking for bad blocks and marking them in the bad block table (go figure). But the platters of a hard disk last many orders of magnitude longer than any NAND memory, even with wear leveling on the job. NAND is fine and understandable in computing applications where ruggedness is prized, as with military applications or a consumer product such as the Apple iPod nano. But is it the best choice for business or everyday computing? How far can we trust flash with our data? Ive had many more flash cards die on me than hard drives over the past few years. After all, hard disk storage is supposed to be reliable and fast (and high capacity). For the past several decades, manufacturers have delivered on that promise, particularly improving the robustness and performance of small drives for mobile computing. Now, were adding NAND to the mix. Thats my major beef. For what? Should we introduce unreliable technology into our computing platform so that users can watch a DVD or two on a long flight? Or work on that spreadsheet at the last minute in a coffee shop? Instead, carry a spare battery. Because our battery technology is lagging must we dumb down storage to compensate? Microsoft could have improved the poor way Windows sleeps and wakes up long ago. But they didnt. Windows Vista will fix that. Must we dumb down our storage because Windows is slow at times and users grow impatient? Click here to read more about Intels Robson power-saving architecture. Of all the plans for adding flash to PCs, I prefer the Intels Robson architecture. It keeps the memory cache on the logic board, where memory has traditionally gone and ties that cache to the computer itself and not to a drive that can be removed from the system. In March, the company said it would ship the technology in the first half of 2007 with a notebook platform called Santa Rosa. Even better, with the flash technology focused on the notebook itself and not on the hard drive or USB port, we will find it much easier to just say "no" to the whole idea. Does this incursion of flash memory into your standard computing system give you qualms? Or are you more than ready for ReadyBoost? Let me know. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on enterprise and small business storage hardware and software.

David Morgenstern is Executive Editor/Special Projects of eWEEK. Previously, he served as the news editor of Ziff Davis Internet and editor for Ziff Davis' Storage Supersite.

In 'the days,' he was an award-winning editor with the heralded MacWEEK newsweekly as well as eMediaweekly, a trade publication for managers of professional digital content creation.

David has also worked on the vendor side of the industry, including companies offering professional displays and color-calibration technology, and Internet video.

He can be reached here.


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