Samsung, Microsoft in talks to speed up SSDs on Vista

There is a mismatch between Windows Vista and SSDs

Samsung Corp. isn't just pushing the envelope in storage capacity of solid-state drives; it's also working with software makers to boost SSD performance on operating systems.

The company today said that it was in talks with Microsoft Corp. to improve the performance of SSDs on the Windows operating system.

The speed and manner in which SSDs fetch and cache data are different from those of hard drives, said Michael Yang, flash marketing manager at Samsung. Samsung hopes to work with Microsoft to boost SSD performance on Windows by discovering optimal packet sizes for data transfers and the best ways to read and write files, for example.

"We have been so used to hard drives for so many years, Windows is optimized for that obviously," Yang said.

Windows is designed to fetch and cache data using rotating media, but by working with Microsoft, Samsung wants to distinguish SSDs from hard drives on the Windows operating system, Yang said.

Yang declined to provide further information on the discussions with Microsoft.

It is generally thought that SSDs could replace hard drives, but SSDs and hard drives differ in data sizes and how Windows should treat both types of drives, said Gregory Wong, an analyst at Forward Insights.

There is a mismatch in the way Windows Vista handles data sizes on hard drives and SSDs, Wong said. Vista has been optimized to handle hard drive data in smaller chunks. In contrast, the sector size — also known as page size — of a SSD is larger than the sector size of a hard drive. That results in inefficient SSD performance when it's slotted into a disk drive bay, Wong said.

"My guess is that [Samsung and Microsoft] are maybe working on the OS recognizing an SSD with a 4KB sector size instead of a hard disk drive with a 512-byte sector size," Wong said.

Sun is already working with Samsung to bulk up SSD support on the ZFS (Zettabyte File System), which is included in the Solaris operating system and will also be supported in Apple's upcoming Mac OS X 10.6, code-named Snow Leopard. Sun is adding capabilities to boost the durability and performance of SSDs on ZFS-based operating systems. For example, Sun may add defragmentation capabilities for SSDs; defragmentation organizes data in a particular order to enable quicker data access.

SSDs were not considered ideal for defragmentation because of limited read-and-write capabilities, Wong said. However, Samsung and Sun in July jointly announced an 8GB SSD that bumped up durability from 100,000 read-and-write cycles to 500,000. That brings defragmentation in SSDs closer to reality, which could improve the technology's caching and provide quicker access to data. Sun plans to put SSDs into storage products later this year.

Samsung will release 128GB SSDs in the third quarter, and by the end of the year it will put 256GB SSDs into production, Yang said. The density of SSDs are doubling every 12 months, he said. That means a 512GB SSD could be coming soon, although Wang neither confirmed nor denied it.

"It is a matter of cost, demand and requirement," Yang said.

Samsung is also working to reduce power consumption and developing controller algorithms to boost the longevity of SSDs, Yang said.

Despite the continuous improvements, price-per-gigabyte could continue to be an issue when comparing SSDs to hard drives, Forward Insight's Wong said. "The cost per gigabyte of a 2.5-in. SSD is something like five times that of a hard disk drive," Wong said. The price difference mainly applies to the consumer market, where PC makers like Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard offer SSDs in laptops.

Samsung's Yang said the company is working with PC makers to develop SSD form factors that could fit into different laptop models.

In the server market, customers may bypass price for performance, said Michael Cornwell, lead technologist for flash memory at Sun, in a recent interview. Server-grade SSDs usually perform better in certain environments, like Web 2.0, where they are comparatively faster and more power-efficient than hard drives.

Web 2.0 applications could drive the adoption of SSDs in the enterprise, Cornwell said. Delivery of distributed Web 2.0 applications — like cached photo content — may be delivered quicker from SSD nodes than from hard drives, Cornwell said.

Many server vendors have announced plans to include server-grade SSDs in systems, including HP. Samsung is working with PC makers and server vendors on the implementation of SSDs, Sun's Yang said.

"Most of these data centers, when they employ a new technology, it takes a long time to ... qualify and evaluate," Yang said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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