Not so far
Flash drives have been rocketing up the hype cycle for the last year, helped along by credulous gadget sites and misleading performance numbers. But the free ride is coming to an end.

Over on Storage Bits (see Flash gets a fight from disks and Hybrid drives: not so fast) I’ve been delving into the differences between flash and disks as well as the flash hype and what flash delivers.

The flash guys deserve some slack
Flash technology is young and rapidly improving with impressive Moore’s Law cost gains. And they’ve been working on the translation layer that mediates between the the weird world of flash and disk drivers. The engineers are figuring out the wrinkles and I have no doubt they will continue to improve.

But we also have to talk about where we are today.

20/20 vision: 20x the price and 20% better performance
Over on AnandTech they posted review last week that tested 3 drives on a 4 GB laptop running Vista Home Premium. The drives were:

  • A 32 GB Mtron SSD MSD-SATA6025
  • A Seagate Momentus 7200.2 160GB
  • A Samsung MH80 FlashON 160GB

They tested maximum data rates – the Mtron smoking at 90 MB/s vs 49 and 38 for Seagate and Samsung – and Vista standby and hibernate modes. You’ll save a few seconds with the flash drives assuming Vista memory leaks don’t make the sleep modes as unreliable as they’ve been on XP and W2k.

But the real surprise were the pathetic application numbers. Here’s a chart I derived from AnandTech’s numbers:

Flash drive performance

I’d have thought that with double the bandwidth and a fraction of the access time that the flash drive would be a lot better than a 7200 RPM drive. Your average user couldn’t tell the difference between flash and disk based on these numbers.

Update: I’ve added the black line at 0% to indicate Seagate’s performance. The performance percentages are normalized against the Seagate drive. A positive percent means faster; a negative percent means slower. End update.

The StorageMojo take
One set of benchmarks on one product don’t decide the issue, especially this early in the game. But it gives one pause when a high-performance flash drive can’t do any better.

Maybe the translation layer isn’t the problem. Perhaps our OS’s do too many small random writes that hose flash performance. Whatever the case it is too early to assume that flash drives will even take a majority of the notebook market without better performance given their price and capacity limitations.

Comments welcome, of course. Maybe you can explain it.