Intel Releases Updated SSD Toolbox

Subject: Storage | October 27, 2011 - 09:19 PM |
Tagged: trim, toolbox, ssd, Intel, 34nm

Intel recently updated it's SSD Toolbox software to version 3.0. The new version has a few under the hood changes; however, the most obvious change is an overhauled interface. If you're not familiar with the Intel SSD Toolbox, it is a small application provided by Intel to manage and diagnose the company's solid state drive lineup. The software includes tools to optimize the SSD using TRIM functionality, estimate drive health, and provide diagnostic scans to verify data integrity. According to the changelog, version 3 builds upon the previous version by adding:

  • A new graphical interface
  • An integrated help and support system
  • Support for additional languages
  • The ability to update firmware on supported Intel SSDs (SSDs in IDE mode and older 50nm drives need not apply).  Users of older SSDs and those running their solid state drives in IDE mode can update their drive firmware by using this Intel Firmware Update tool.
  • Viewing drive health
  • Displaying estimated remaining drive life
  • Viewing and exporting system information

As mentioned above, the first thing you are likely to notice upon starting the software is the new interface.  Intel has kept the blue and white color scheme of the older versions; however, that is where the similarities end.  Fortunately, Intel has not downsized the tools and you are able to do the same actions as the previous iterations; they are just easier to access.  The interface is now made of two panes split horizontally.  On the left are tabs that users click on to navigate to the various tools while the right side of the window is where the action takes place with the selected tool's output being displayed therein.

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The new Intel SSD Toolbox's home page

For a full breakdown of the new interface in the SSD Toolbox including screenshots and a video, follow this link to the full story!!

Source: Intel

Hard Drive Prices Spike on Thailand Flooding

Subject: General Tech, Storage | October 27, 2011 - 04:00 PM |
Tagged: wdc, shortage, Seagate, Samsung, hitachi, hdd, Hard Drive

Chances are good you have heard about the recent flooding in Thailand - as Yahoo puts it: "The country's worst flooding in half a century, caused in part by unusually heavy monsoon rain, has killed 373 people since mid-July and disrupted the lives of nearly 2.5 million."  Obviously this is a horrific disaster and we feel for the people affected by it.

But there is a tech angle to the story that has been showing up in many of our discussions as late and is the impact this disaster has had on the production of spindle-based hard drives.  Looking for a 2TB hard drive today on Newegg.com this is what I found:

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Prices for hard drives have sky rocketed in the last week or so due to the pending shortage of them across the world.  Many of the top manufacturers have facilities based in Thailand for production as well as partners that are responsible for supplying companies like Western Digital, Seagate, Samsung and Hitachi with the parts they need to produce platter-based drives. 

While we used to talk about finding 2TB hard drives in the $89 price range, the best prices we could find on comparable units today start at $129; and this is for the slower units.  Western Digital Caviar Black drives are starting at unit prices of $229 now!

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Pricing graph from Pricegrabber.com for Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB

If you are careful and shop around, you can still find drives like this for the $149 price point at sellers like Amazon are bit slower to update their prices.  (Scratch that, after publication this was already at $199!)  But don't just blindly purchase drives at this point - do your research!

WD drives aren't the only ones affected.  When doing a search for a Seagate 2TB drive, these were our results:

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When asked for comment, a representative of one of the affected manufacturers expressed concern for the people of Thailand first, but when pressed, said:

"The entire hard drive business is affected. Two of our factories are inundated with water, which supports 60% of our output. But a ton of suppliers that the entire industry uses are also flooded so we are all impacted."

While looking over at WD's press center we found this comment from John Coyne, President and CEO:

In mid-October, to protect our employees and our equipment and facilities, we temporarily suspended production at our two factories in Thailand, which have been inundated by floodwater. In addition, many of our component suppliers have been impacted, leaving material for hard drive production considerably constrained. We are working with suppliers to assess the extent of their impact and help devise short- and long-term solutions. This is a complex and dynamic challenge that will require extensive rebuilding for the Thai people and government, and present unprecedented obstacles to the hard drive industry for multiple quarters.

Obviously with a majority of the facilities affected we can only expect these prices hikes to increase and to linger.  That fact that Coyne specifically notes "multiple quarters" indicates that users likely won't see a return to the pricing we were used to until at least mid-2012.  With competition from solid-state drives heating up, this could be bad timing for companies dependent on spindle drives as the driving revenue source: comparing a $300 SSD to a $90 standard drive is a much different decision than that same $300 SSD and a $240 standard drive of high capacity. 

According to this report from Xbit labs, the industry has "two to four weeks" of hard drive inventory available.  The author claims that this points to the situation not being so dire, but with the WD's CEO stating the effects will be seen for "multiple quarters", I am guessing we will see a major buy-up of inventory from system builders like HP and Dell that will cause drive shortages much more quickly than anticipated.  

PC Perspective will keep tracking the effects on driving pricing and if any player in the business has other input they want to offer us.  Stay tuned!

SandForce jumps into bed with LSI, not OCZ

Subject: Storage | October 27, 2011 - 02:57 PM |
Tagged: LSI, sandforce, merger, purchase

LSI, known for their high quality RAID cards here at PC Perspective have just agreed to purchase our favourite designer of  SSD controllers, namely Sandforce.  The deal is for $322 million in cash, with another $48 million of unvested stock options and restricted shares also being picked up.  This deal makes an interesting pair of bedfellows, with Sandforce being well known by consumers but making few inroads into the server room or other corporate markets.  LSI is the opposite, with very few consumers running out and picking up a $700 SAS RAID controller while in the corporate environment they are a common purchase. 

The two markets are very different; consumers want both speed and affordability in a drive and are quite willing to sacrifice a little reliability to that end.  Corporate usage places reliability first, there is no point having incredibly fast storage medium if it is occasionally unreachable and so are willing to pay a high price for that reliability.  This purchase seems to be indicating that SandForce feels that there is a market for their controller in the corporate world, if they can overcome the reliability and MTBF of their SSD drives.  LSI can provide experience with that in spades, their testing methodology is capable of detecting and pinpointing flaws that a consumer would never notice but which a heavily loaded server might.  This might just see SandForce arrive as a controller in a server room near you.  Keep your eyes peeled for more information from Allyn.

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MILPITAS, Calif., October 26, 2011 – LSI Corporation (NYSE: LSI) today announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire SandForce, Inc., the leading provider of flash storage processors for enterprise and client flash solutions and solid state drives (SSDs). Under the agreement, LSI will pay approximately $322 million in cash, net of cash assumed, and assume approximately $48 million of unvested stock options and restricted shares held by SandForce employees.
 
SandForce’s award-winning products include flash storage processors at the heart of PCIe flash adapters and SSDs. Flash storage processors provide the intelligence required to deliver the performance and low-latency benefits of flash storage in enterprise and client applications. With market-proven, differentiated DuraClass™ technology, SandForce flash storage processors improve the reliability, endurance and power efficiency of flash-based storage solutions.
 
The acquisition greatly enhances LSI's competitive position in the fast-growing server and storage PCIe flash adapter market, where the WarpDrive™ family of products from LSI already uses SandForce flash storage processors. The complementary combination of LSI’s custom capability and SandForce’s standard product offering propels LSI into an industry-leading position in the rapidly growing, high-volume flash storage processor market space for ultrabook, notebook and enterprise SSD and flash solutions.
 
“Flash-based solutions are critical for accelerating application performance in servers, storage and client devices,” said Abhi Talwalkar, LSI president and chief executive officer. “Adding SandForce’s technology to LSI’s broad storage portfolio is consistent with our mission to accelerate storage and networking. The acquisition represents a significant, rapidly growing market opportunity for LSI over the next several years.”
 
Michael Raam, SandForce president and CEO, said, “The combination of SandForce and LSI allows us to deliver differentiated solutions in the PCIe flash adapter segment by tightly integrating flash memory and management. In addition, leveraging our flash storage processors with LSI’s comprehensive IP portfolio and leading-edge silicon design platforms will lead to innovative solutions.”
 
The transaction is expected to close early in the first quarter of 2012 subject to customary closing conditions and regulatory approvals. Upon closing, the SandForce team will become part of LSI’s newly formed Flash Components Division, with Raam as general manager.

Source: LSI

Pump up the volume; pump up the IOPs? The performance scaling of larger SSDs

Subject: Storage | October 20, 2011 - 05:49 PM |
Tagged: ssd, Corsair Force Series, Crucial m4, Intel 320. Intel 510

We know that there are several reasons that larger SSDs perform better than their smaller compatriots.  More flash memory means more channels for the data to traverse, which has a very noticeable effect on SATA 6Gb/s drives.  The Tech Report demonstrates just how effective a larger SSD can be, with 10 SSDs ranging from 120GB up to 300GB as well as having a healthy mix of different 25nm flash and a variety of controllers.  As you'd expect Sandforce continues their dominance by simultaneously offering better performance and a lower cost than Intel's SSDs.  Of course, the stability and durability of those drives is a hot topic right now.

lucky_TR.jpg

"Fresh from rounding up a collection of the latest 120-128GB solid-state drives, we've turned our attention to a pack of 240-300GB models to see how SSD performance scales as one climbs the capacity ladder."

Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:

Storage

 

OCZ Technology Introduces Octane SATA 6Gbps and Octane-S2 SATA 3Gbps Solid State Drives

Subject: Storage | October 20, 2011 - 01:29 PM |
Tagged: Indilinx Everest, Octane, sata 6Gbs, sata, ssd, ocz

SAN JOSE, CA - Oct. 20, 2011 - OCZ Technology Group, Inc. (Nasdaq:OCZ), a leading provider of high-performance solid-state drives (SSDs), today launched the Indilinx Everest-based Octane SATA 3.0 and SATA 2.0 SSD series, striking the ideal balance between capacity, physical size, and speed. In addition to being the world's first SSD to achieve up to a 1TB capacity in a compact 2.5 inch format, OCZ's Octane SSD series combines high-speed data transfer rates with record-breaking access times to provide a superior user experience and improved application performance.

"OCZ has reached an important milestone in the development of its own controller technology," said James E. Bagley, Senior Analyst with Storage Strategies NOW. "The high sustained performance, even with compressed files, the rapid boot feature and high access speeds using SATA 3.0 protocol puts their controller technology in the major league."

"Until now SSDs have been tailored for specific applications, forcing users into a product which maximizes performance for a narrow band of applications, but is significantly lacking in others," said Ryan Petersen, CEO of OCZ Technology. "The Octane Series solves this problem by providing the highest level of performance across varied workloads including mixed file sizes and mixed compressible and uncompressible data, all while nearly doubling NAND flash endurance."

The Octane series leverages the cutting-edge Indilinx Everest platform to deliver up to 560MB/s of bandwidth and 45,000 IOPS and is optimized for the complete spectrum of file types and sizes. In particular, the Octane's proprietary page mapping algorithms allow for steady mixed-workload performance, mirroring real world conditions across a wide range of applications. The Octane series also includes a number of advanced features unique to Indilinx, including innovative latency reduction technology, enabling both read and write access times as low as 0.06ms and 0.09ms respectively, the lowest of any commercially available SSD. This enhances application responsiveness and enables features such as "fast boot" in consumer applications.

Octane SSDs also come equipped with Indilinx's proprietary NDurance™ technology, increasing the lifespan of the NAND flash memory, ensuring the most consistent and reliable performance as well as minimizing performance degradation even after the drive's storage capacity is highly utilized. In addition, Octane series drives support AES and automatic encryption to secure critical data.

octane.jpg

Octane Product Features:

  • Dual Core CPU
  • Up to 512MB DRAM cache
  • 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB models
  • High sequential speeds: Octane (SATA 3.0) Read: 560MB/s; Write: 400MB/s Octane-S2 (SATA 2.0) Read: 275MB/s; Write: 265MB/s
  • High transactional performance
  • Optimized for 4K to 16K compressed files Octane (SATA 3.0) 45,000 random read 4K IOPS Octane-S2 (SATA 2.0) 30,000 random read 4K IOPS
  • Industry-low latency: Read: 0.06ms; Write: 0.09ms
  • Strong performance at low queue depths (QD 1 – 3) 
  • Up to 8 channels with up to 16-way Interleaving
  • Advanced BCH ECC engine enabling more than 70 bits correction capability per 1KB of data
  • Proprietary NDurance Technology: increases NAND life up to 2X of the rated P/E cycles
  • Efficient NAND Flash management: Dynamic and static wear-leveling, and background garbage collection
  • Boot time reduction optimizations
  • NCQ support up to 32 queue depth - End-to-end data protection
  • TRIM support
  • Industry standard SMART reporting

The OCZ Octane SSD Series will be available November 1st in models ranging from 128GB-1TB capacities throughout OCZ's global channel.

SandForce finally patches elusive 2200 series SSD controller bug. OCZ issues firmware, others soon to follow.

Subject: Storage | October 18, 2011 - 12:25 AM |
Tagged: ssd, sandforce, ocz, firmware, bug, BSOD

Over the past few months, we had noted a seemingly disproportionate surge of negative reports from users of SandForce-2200 based SSD's. These include OCZ's Vertex and Agility 3, Corsair's Force 3 and GT, Patriot's Pyro and Wildfire, along with many others. The complete list is available in our handy SSD Decoder.

The issue at hand was random BSOD's, with the possibility of an eventual complete failure of the SSD, rendering it unrecognizeable to the BIOS or Operating System. More details (and the fix) after the break:

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I witnessed this personally, as the SF-2281 pictured above suffered the same fate when we attempted to use it a few weeks ago.

Today (hopefully) marks the answer to everyone's prayers. SandForce issued base firmware 3.3.2 for SF-2000 series controllers.

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OCZ's Toolbox software V 2.40.02 can patch OCZ's line of SF-2200 SSD's with the new fix.

The release notes follow (and seem to lack mention of the aforementioned bugfix):

OCZ Toolbox version 2.40.02
---------------------------
- Modified Identity data display
- Fixed Smart data display for power fail backup attributes
- Added BIOS update for Hybrid drive

Known Issues:
- Update Firmware feature prohibited for primary drives with 1500 & 2000 controllers
- Intel RST Driver 10.1.0.1008 prohibits SSD detection

OCZ's press tidbit for the new firmware(s):

OCZ is pleased to announce that the cause of a BSOD issue experienced by some SF-2000-based drive owners has been identified by OCZ and SandForce. A new firmware update which directly addresses this BSOD occurrence related to SF-2000 based SSDs is available here. All newly manufactured OCZ SF-2000 based SSDs will feature the new 2.15 firmware revision (which is based on SandForce firmware version 3.3.2.) We highly recommend that any customers that have experienced the BSOD issue update their firmware to 2.15.
 
We sincerely appreciate the support from our customers, and if any customers have any questions or require additional support please do not hesitate to contact a customer service representative and we will be happy to address any questions or concerns.

If you own any of the affected SSD's, I highly recommend updating as soon as possible. Until then, I also recommend you back up any data present on these drives, as the above statements confirm the presence of an issue that can potentially brick your SandForce SSD at any moment.

Remember, patch only applies to the 2200 Series controller (i.e. SandForce SSD's capable of SATA 6Gb/sec).

Salt + electrons = 6x increase in HDD platter density?

Subject: Storage | October 14, 2011 - 05:21 PM |
Tagged: hdd, Hard Drive

With all of this SSD talk lately, let's not forget where storage stuff originated from - the HDD. Here's your spinning rust... ah-hem, Hard Drive lesson for the day:

Hard drives store bits by changing the magnetic alignment of magnetic 'grains' which have been 'sputtered' onto the surface of an extremely flat surface, or platter. Here are some grains created with current tech (lesson after the break):

HardDrivesGrainsSEM100nm.jpg

Due to the random arrangement, storing bits on the above requires each bit to span across several grains as to ensure it is properly written.

The Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), based in Singapore, does all sorts of experimentation with, well, materials research. They had the bright idea to mix in a pinch of table salt into the sputtering process. This, combined with the use of electron-beam lithography, allows much greater control over grain creation - namely they can actually 'draw' them.

etched.jpg

E-beam-etched grains formed with IMRE's new process.

Not only does this enable them to have more control over grain size, but it also allows them to create them in defined tracks. This lets the drive store one-bit per grain. Combine smaller grains with a better ratio of bits to grains and you've got potential for increasing magnetic storage by nearly an order of magnitude. IMRE has already tested the process at densities of 1.9Tb/in2, and they've created platters at up to 3.3Tb/in2. Consider current HDD's run at ~0.5Tb/in2, we're talking 6x the capacity - just when we thought HDD's were leveling off.

IMRE claims the new tech can be easily implemented with existing manufacture lines. The only potential catch I see is that with current HDD's, they make the platter and form tracks onto it once it's already fully assembled. This new tech creates the tracks in the middle of the process. This makes for potential alignment issues when going for a perfect 1-bit per grain density. Think of it as writing to a CD or DVD - the tracks are already there, so your drive's laser has extra components to help it keep the beam locked onto the track during writing (to account for any wobble, etc). HDD's using this new tech may need to employ a similar method, adding complexity to what is likely already the most complex part of these drives.

This development will not only enable higher capacity drives, it should help drop the price of current capacities. I guess SSD's will have to wait a bit longer before taking over the world.

Intel's 710 SATA III 200GB SSD ... and you though PCIe SSDs were expensive

Subject: Storage | October 13, 2011 - 06:05 PM |
Tagged: ssd, SATA3, Intel 710

The Intel 720 is a 200GB SATA 3 SSD with rated specs of 270MBs read/210MBs write or 38500 IOPS read and 2700 IOPS write, which makes it sound great until the sticker shock hits.  At an MSRP of $1300 you suddenly realize that there is more to this drive than just those specifications.  The extra money comes into the picture due to several reasons which make this an enterprise class drive.  The drive is overprovisioned by 120GB, while it does have 320GB of storage the extra memory is not available to you, only to the drive.  That overprovisioning should mean a greatly extended lifetime, just as the 64MB DRAM cache and six transistors ensure you won't suffer data corruption if the drive loses power unexpectedly.  There is more hidden inside this drive, which you can read about at The SSD Review.

SSDR_intel720.jpg

"The SSD Review has compiled a detailed analysis of the newly released Intel 710 SATA III 200GB SSD, an SSD priced at an unexpected $1299. Contrary to original predictions, the 710 is not intended as a consumer product and we believe that it will meet with a great deal of success in the enterprise sector. Follow along as we try to explain why this SSD is such a special addition to the SSD arena."

Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:

Storage

 

Source: SSD Review

A quick and easy way to duplicate your drives

Subject: Storage | October 7, 2011 - 02:32 PM |
Tagged: Startech, eSATA, usb, SATA HD Duplicator

Startech's eSATA USB to SATA drive duplicator is a portable device that lets you clone SATA, eSATA and USB disks.  It is quite handy in that you do not need a running PC to be able to clone a disk which can be handy when you are copying an OS installation and need access to all files on the drive.  It is also great in data emergencies or even better, to prevent an emergency from ever happening because you back up your drives frequently.  Plug and Play is very appropriate for this device, you could put in two drives to the duplicator and leave it copying over night as you do not need to monitor its operation at all.  Drop by R&B Mods for their full review of the duplicator

 

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"Today we will take take a look at an interesting product from Startech. Startech Portable eSATA USB to SATA Standalone HD Duplicator Dock is a hard disk duplication device that you can do easy hard disk cloning with. Let’s see how it performs in our tests and how easy it is to use."

Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:

Storage

 

Corsair Releases High Capacity Force GT and Force 3 SSDs

Subject: Storage | October 6, 2011 - 04:10 PM |
Tagged: storage, ssd, sata 3, corsair

Corsair today released three new solid state drives (SSDs) that deliver both speedy performance and high capacity. The new models include two new Force 3 SSDs at 180 GB and 480 GB and one new Force GT SSD at 480 GB. All of the new models are powered by the SandForce 2280 controller and utilize the SATA 3 (6GB/s) storage interface. All models will include a 2.5” to 3.5” adapter for use in desktops, and are backward compatible with older SATA specifications.

The Corsair Force GT being the faster lineup of drives now has a 480 GB Force GT SSD that is capable of 555 MB/s read speeds and write speeds of 525 MB/s. Further, the drive uses ONFI synchronous flash memory and achieves 85K random write IOPS (input/output operations per second).

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Although Corsair already has 120 GB and 240 GB models of solid state drives, the lineup now has a 180 GB SSD (to match the 180 GB capacity of the Force GT line) and a 480 GB drive. These two new SSDs use the same asynchronous flash that the other SSDs in Corsair’s Force 3 lineup utilizes as well as the same SandForce 2280 controller. In being compatible with SATA 3 (6GB/s) interface, the drives are able to pump out 85K random write IOPS, 550 MB/s read speeds, and 520 MB/s write speeds. This puts them slightly below the Force GT series, but still delivering respectable performance.

The new solid state drives are available now from authorized distributors and retailers worldwide. The Force 3 SSDs carry an MSRP of $249 USD for the 180GB version and $799 USD for the 480GB SSD. Finally, the 480GB Force GT has an MSRP of $999 USD. Remember to check out our SSD Decoder for help in picking out your solid state drives!

Source: Corsair