It’s all over but the shouting
The scoop: the gap between notebook SSD promise and performance has been growing steadily. Now a review in Tom’s Hardware puts the final nail in the coffin. The title says it all:

The SSD Power Consumption Hoax : Flash SSDs Don’t Improve Your Notebook Battery Runtime – they Reduce It

By as much as an hour. A winner with the stupid high-end notebook demographic. The Paris Hilton market.

Ouch. Oops. Who knew?

Or who should have known?

There’s a longer piece with some detail at Storage Bits but here’s the summary:

  • A Crucial SSD – costing $25/GB – used more power – 1.6 W at idle – than any 2.5″ notebook drive requires.
  • A Memoright 32 GB drive used a full 2 W at idle
  • An Mtron 32 GB flash drive reduced battery life by almost an hour.
  • The slowest drive – a year old Sandisk SSD 5000 – almost equaled the Hitachi 7200 RPM Travelstar’s energy use. But the SSD offers fewer IOPS than the hard drive!
  • They tested against a 200 GB Hitachi Travelstar 7k200, but other 2.5″ 7200 RPM drives have similar power envelopes.

And, of course, a 5400 RPM drive is more efficient. And a 160 GB 1.8″ drive is even more efficient, roomier and cheaper than any of the SSDs TH tested.

My guess on the not-easily-or-quickly-fixed culprit? The flash control logic – disk translation layer – needs cycles for wear leveling, garbage collection, buffer and cache management, flash mux/demux and the SATA interface – with frequent background operations even when the drive is idle.

And don’t forget the 20 volts required to write a cell.

Tom’s singles out Crucial for special mention:

Users who purchase this drive because of Crucial’s statements such as “low power consumption” and the product being ideal for “users who want longer battery life” will most likely be disappointed. While the total battery runtime certainly depends on the workload — we used Mobilemark 07 — the minimum and maximum power consumption measurements prove that Crucial’s statements of low power consumption are in fact wrong: 1.6 W idle power is more than any 2.5” notebook hard drive requires.

Did anyone even think to check the facts? At least one engineer had to know – and he told someone.

What’s the dynamic?
Some will say I’m premature, like when I said HD DVD was dead a year ago. But think about the market dynamic:

  • Cool but costly new technology needs early adopters
  • Based on the marketing, hip high-end adopter spring for costly status symbol with claimed road-warrior features
  • But the supposed advantages don’t exist, so the early adopters feel like chumps
  • Word of mouth stops. Who wants to admit they were suckered?
  • Notebook SSDs slip into obscurity as enterprise and very low-end SSDs move into the spotlight

Making early investors/adopters look stupid is not a winning strategy.

The StorageMojo take
The notebook SSD vendors have dug themselves a very deep hole. How to fix?

  1. Stop digging. A month in detox would help. Some encounter group time with the HD DVD folks.
  2. Form a serious performance consortium and get real about performance, power and longevity.
  3. Do the hard work of getting notebook operating systems better optimized for flash. Use Linux and OS X to beat Microsoft into some semblance of cooperation. Do the engineering for Apple – they’re open source, right? If Apple does it, it’s cool – and you need cool.

What the SSD guys will do:

  • Deny and obfuscate. “Not representative. Slanted. Unfair. Conspiracy.”
  • Claim next gen will fix all problems.
  • Performance, performance, performance. Which is a weak reed as well.
  • Point to cost curves show that, without a doubt, flash overtakes disk in 5 years.

And then hope the smart, techy, affluent road warrior demographic has a short memory. Good luck with that.

Comments welcome, of course.