The remarkable SSD
Dec. 10, 2012
by Mark Ollig

It was 36 years ago when the first solid-state drive (SSD) computer storage device was introduced.

Dataram Corporation, a New Jersey technology company founded in 1967, is a maker of computer software, and memory/data storage products.

In 1976, Dataram introduced the first true SSD, called the Bulk Core system.

Eight individual memory cards, each packaged with 256KB (kilobytes) of Random Access Memory (RAM) chips were installed in a rack-mounted chassis that measured 19-inches wide by 15.75-inches high.

The Bulk Core system provided 2MB (megabytes) of memory storage (considered large in 1976) for several computers of that time. Some of these computers were ones made by Data General and Digital Equipment Corporation.

This system used a core memory, which is said to have been 10,000 times faster than that of the traditional read-write hard disk drive (HDD) spinning metal platter storage systems used back in 1976.

The Bulk Core system consumed less power and had no moving parts – just like today’s SSDs.

The time needed to access the stored data on the Bulk Core system ranged from 0.75 milliseconds to 2 milliseconds.

By comparison, today’s flash memory SSDs have a nominal data access time of around 0.06 milliseconds.

Flash non-volatile memory retains its data when not powered. It uses non-moving parts (computing chips) and a controller component whereby data stored in memory can be programmed, quickly accessed and read, erased, and re-programmed.

During the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, Swiss Army knife maker Victorinox showed off their new knife which included a compact USB 3.0 SSD drive containing an impressive 1TB (terabyte) of storage capacity.

This 1TB drive can be accessed via a USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 port, and has a dotted-monochrome LED display that can be programmed for labeling the drive.

The price: $2,000.

Granted, this price is exceptionally more expensive than what a typical external 1TB portable hard drive you can simply plug into your USB port would cost (which is around $150), but, if you really want to impress your tech-geek friends this Christmas with a Swiss Army knife containing a 1TB SSD stick – go for it.

Here is an eye-catching photo of the Victorinox Swiss Army knife and 1TB SSD: http://tinyurl.com/cyx5go3.

Traditional hard disk drives use tiny magnetic variants that are read by the disk’s read/write head, similar to how music in a groove from a vinyl record is read by the record player’s needle.

Although the inevitable (and understandably) traumatic event of a computer internal hard disk drive crash is looking to soon become a thing of the past, there exists an equally troubling dilemma with using SSDs.

Newer, lighter, and more robust SSDs are being put into increasingly more powerful computing devices.

Today, SSDs are commonly used as a storage medium – it’s easy plugging them into a connecting port.

They are lighter, smaller, and more durable than a traditional HDD.

We put them into our digital cameras for storing photos and video. SSDs also store our music, apps, and other files.

However, SSDs do have a limit to how many times they can store and re-store data.

SSDs use computer chips that store the data onto a thin oxide layer, which, unfortunately, degrades the more it is used.

Flash memory wears out after about 10,000 program-erase or P/E cycles.

This is because every time the data is rewritten or “flashed,” the layer of oxide will degrade a bit.

After doing about 10,000 P/E cycles, this oxide layer will have degraded to the point where it can no longer be used.

Engineers working for Macronix International, a leading provider of non-volatile memory semiconductor solutions, have created an ingenious way for repairing this oxide layer to dramatically extend the life of the SSD.

While it was known heat could be used to repair damage done to the oxide layer, its application was not practical, as it would require the chip to be heated for several hours at about 482 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Macronix engineers designed a chip with built-in heaters which are able to restore this oxide layer by quickly “jolting” the oxide layer with heat – up to 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit – for just a few milliseconds.

By doing this periodically, and alternating the heat to different parts of the chip, engineers say they can increase the P/E cycles from 10,000 to an incredible 100 million.

This process means we will soon be able to use with confidence, SSD storage devices for an extended period of time and not worry about them failing, which to me, is remarkable.

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