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Friday Philosophy – Tosh Talked About Technology February 17, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, future, Hardware, rant.
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Sometimes I can become slightly annoyed by the silly way the media puts out total tosh and twaddle(*) that over-states the impact or drawbacks about technology (and science ( and especially medicine (and pretty much anything the media decides to talk about)))). Occasionally I get very vexed indeed.

My attention was drawn to some such thing about SSDs (solid State Discs) via a tweet by Gwen Shapira yesterday {I make no statement about her opinion in this in any way, I’m just thanking her for the tweet}. According to Computerworld

SSDs have a ‘bleak’ future, researchers say

So are SSDs somehow going to stop working or no longer be useful? No, absolutely not. Are SSDs not actually going to be more and more significant in computing over the next decade or so? No, they are and will continue to have a massive impact. What this is, is a case of a stupidly exaggerated title over not a lot. {I’m ignoring the fact that SSDs can’t have any sort of emotional future as they are not sentient and cannot perceive – the title should be something like “the future usefulness of SSDs looks bleak”}.

What the article is talking about is a reasonable little paper about how if NAND-based SSDS continue to use smaller die sizes, errors could increase and access times increase. That is, if the same technology is used in the same way and manufacturers continue to shrink die sizes. It’s something the memory technologists need to know about and perhaps find fixes for. Nothing more, nothing less.

The key argument is that by 2024 we will be using something like 6.4nm dies and at that size, the physics of it all means everything becomes a little more flaky. After all, Silicon atoms are around 0.28nm wide (most atoms of things solid at room temperature are between 0.2nm and 0.5nm wide), at that size we are building structures with things only an order of magnitude or so smaller. We have all heard of quantum effects and tunneling, which means that at such scales and below odd things can happen. So error correction becomes more significant.

But taking a reality check, is this really an issue:

  • I look at my now 4-year-old 8GB micro-USB stick (90nm die?) and it is 2*12*30mm, including packaging. The 1 TB disc on my desk next to it is 24*98*145mm. I can get 470 of those chips in the same space as the disc, so that’s 3.8TB based on now-old technology.
  • Even if the NAND materials stay the same and the SSD layout stays the same and the packaging design stays the same, we can expect about 10-50 times the current density before we hit any problems
  • The alternative of spinning platers of metal oxides is pretty much a stagnant technology now, the seek time and per-spindle data transfer rate is hardly changing. We’ve even exceeded the interface bottleneck that was kind-of hiding the non-progress of spinning disk technology

The future of SSD technology is not bleak. There are some interesting challenges ahead, but things are certainly going to continue to improve in SSD technology between now and when I hang up my keyboard. I’m particularly interested to see how the technologists can improve write times and overall throughput to something closer to SDRAM speeds.

I’m willing to lay bets that a major change is going to be in form factor, for both processing chips and memory-based storage. We don’t need smaller dies, we need lower power consumption and a way to stack the silicon slices and package them (for processing chips we also need a way to make thousands of connections between the silicon slices too). What might also work is simply wider chips, though that scales less well. What we see as chips on a circuit board is mostly the plastic wrapper. If part of that plastic wrapper was either a porous honeycomb air could move through or a heat-conducting strip, the current technology used for SSD storage could be stacked on top of each other into blocks of storage, rather then the in-effect 2D sheets we have at present.

What could really be a cause of technical issues? The bl00dy journalists and marketing. Look at digital cameras. Do you really need 12, 16 mega-pixels in your compact point-and-shoot camera? No, you don’t, you really don’t, as the optics on the thing are probably not up to the level of clarity those megapixels can theoretically give you, the lens is almost certainly not clean any more and, most significantly, the chip is using smaller and smaller areas to collect photons (the sensor is not getting bigger with more mega-pixels you know – though the sensor size is larger in proper digital SLRs which is a large part of why they are better). This less-photons-per-pixel means less sensitivity and more artefacts. What we really need is maybe staying with 8MP and more light sensitivity. But the mega-pixel count is what is used to market the camera at you and I. As a result, most people go for the higher figures and buy something technically worse, so we are all sold something worse. No one really makes domestic-market cameras where the mega-pixel count stays enough and the rest of the camera improves.

And don’t forget. IT procurement managers are just like us idiots buying compact cameras.

(*) For any readers where UK English is not a first language, “twaddle” and “tosh” both mean statements or arguments that are silly, wrong, pointless or just asinine. oh, Asinine means talk like an ass :-) {and I mean the four-legged animal, not one’s bottom, Mr Brooks}

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Comments»

1. Dom Brooks - February 17, 2012

Ass: North American English informal term for buttocks

Dom Brooks - February 17, 2012

Eey-ore…

mwidlake - February 17, 2012

You are a strange man, Mr Brooks…

mwidlake - February 17, 2012

Buttocks: Widlake household term of mild-to-moderate annoyance. “Ahh Buttocks, I just dropped the screwdriver down the back of the kitchen cabinets”

2. Timur Akhmadeev - February 17, 2012

(*) For any readers where UK English is not a first language…

…use urbandictionary.com. I use it all the time. Especially reading Kevin’s “language” ;-)

3. Neil Chandler - February 17, 2012

Nice rant there, Martin. This is relevant:

http://www.xkcd.com/1014/

Neil.

mwidlake - February 17, 2012

Hehe! Yes, I liked that one Neil, thanks!

4. jgarry - February 19, 2012

There’s a TV show in the US called tosh.0, hosted by a fellow named Daniel Tosh, about all things internet, but mostly disturbing sophomoric humor videos like… well, I was hoping that was what the post would be about :-)

As far as the future of SSD’s, I think there are so many alternatives when you start looking more than 5 years out, and so much of commercial development is driven by marketing, sales, economic and supply considerations, that the physical limits are not the most important variable. Remember bubble memory?

mwidlake - February 19, 2012

Sorry to disappoint on the lack humorous videos Joel. I can’t remember bubble memory – at some point it popped {for any readers too young to remember, in the late 70’s bubble memory chips had higher storage density than hard disks of the time and the storage was permanent, so people thought they would supersede hard disks. Hard disks were still advancing fast back then though}.

You make a good point about the other options to current SSD. As James Moorle often says, by SSDs I am really meaning “memory based storage”. There are options coming along that may be viable alternatives to NAND that overcome so of it’s limitations.

My rant was about the ridiculous hyperbole of journalism and drifted into one of my other favourite rants, about what gets sold to us is often not the best solution. The discussion on SSD was just a stepping stone between complaints :-)


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