This year marks the 60th anniversary of the magnetic hard drive – but it also marks the beginning of the hard drive’s demise. This month Mark Williams looks at why hard disk drives are finally getting the boot.
Hard disk drives (HDD) have been around seemingly forever, since the 1950s in fact. That’s right, over sixty years of the same storage medium. When you think about it that’s quite a feat in and of itself. Data tapes have been around longer (by about five years) and are still used in the corporate scene for backups and cold storage, but they’ve been long gone in the consumer’s eyes.
HDDs have served us well, offering reasonable storage speeds and good capacities for many a decade. I remember my first hard drive, 20GB in size it seemed it was massive, leaving me wondering why anyone would need a drive so spacious. These days that’s merely a single game or a beefy DLC patch.
HDDs have their fair share of problems though. Being a mechanical device they’re susceptible to shocks and impacts and can contribute to vibrations in the chassis which doesn’t help them, or your ears.
Then there’s the bit rot, motor failures, head crashes and fragmentation.
When processors, memory and bandwidth speeds started to rise, HDDs started to get left behind. So bigger caches were included and spindle speeds were ratcheted up paving the way for the likes of the famous Western Digital Raptor with 10,000rpm spindle speeds.
When even that wasn’t enough we threw them into RAID0 arrays to literally throw more read heads at the problem. My four 80GB HDDs way back when in RAID0 had beastly performance, it was glorious, and noisy! But there’s only so much you can do with a spinning metal platter. There’s physical limits on spinning it and there’s only so much you can cram onto it. Although to be fair Seagate and Western Digital et al. have been doing a good job of improving areal density year on year, even coming up with techniques like shingled storage to improve densities (at the cost of performance).
However, we’re now at a tipping point. HDDs are so far behind the performance curve these days compared to SSDs that it’s just a question of SSD capacity and dollars per gigabyte, and it appears that time is now.
Just about all PCs you can buy now have an SSD in it, at the very least as the OS drive with a slave HDD to bring the needed extra capacity. However in the top end where you can drop a bit more coin for the privilege you can get capacious amounts of SSD only storage included.
With this trend continuing it’s only a matter of time, perhaps less than a year, before SSD-only PCs become the norm.
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