Future PCs to Pair Flash and Disk Drives

Solid-state drives won't capture the entire PC storage market in the near future, because more and more PCs will begin to combine flash memory and traditional hard disk drives for cost and performance reasons, according to two storage analysts.

SSDs are quiet, fast and sturdy, but they're also relatively expensive. For that reason, most PCs will still have hard disk drives in the years ahead, said Tom Coughlin, president of Coughlin Associates, and Jim Handy, an analyst at Objective Analysis.

The analysts predicted that by 2016, 53% of new PCs and 25% of new laptops will have both flash memory and hard disk drives.

NAND flash memory, the main storage technology inside iPhones, iPads and SSDs, can offer a welcome layer of caching and buffering between hard drives and higher-performance dynamic RAM, Coughlin and Handy explain in a report titled "Two May Be Better Than One: Why Hard Disk Drives and Flash Belong Together," which was published by the Storage Networking Industry Association.

The use of flash will become more critical because of a growing "performance gap" between DRAM and rotating storage such as hard drives, according to the analysts. Extra caching would take pressure off the hard disk to provide temporary data storage. The pairing could also cut system power consumption.

"Rather than displacing HDDs, flash memory will allow customers to keep their low-cost HDD storage while enjoying performance enhancements that approach those of a pure SSD-based computer," the report says. "The required modicum of flash memory will be inexpensive enough to afford users these benefits without requiring a significant price premium."

"Paired storage," the term SNIA uses to describe the flash-HDD scheme, is already being used in data centers and high-performance computing operations.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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