As much as I have been trying to avoid traditional spinning HDDs (hard disk drives), replacing them with SSDs (solid state drives) when possible in my computer builds, HDDs still have no equivalents in terms of storage capacity and low cost per TB. The largest consumer-grade SSDs that we have seen so far are limited to 2 TB and those drives don’t come cheap – $800 a pop for a lower-end model. Well, it looks like this is about to change, because Samsung has just announced the successful development of the world’s largest hard drive, at a whopping 16 TB of storage capacity in a small 2.5 inch form factor. This 16 TB SSD drive, which is code-named “PM1633a” at the moment, uses Samsung’s new 256 Gb NAND flash as the basis for the storage, which basically stacks transistors vertically and allows squeezing much more storage into limited space. And to showcase this technology and its potential, Samsung mentioned a reference design for a server with 48 of these SSD drives installed for a total capacity of 768 TB. Now that’s mind-boggling, because we are talking about a true game-changer in storage technology. What does this mean for us photographers?
Since we work with data every day, storing and accessing RAW files (which are only getting bigger) and now shooting 4K videos, such advancements in technology will open up a lot of opportunities. With faster computing power and storage speed, photographers and videographers will be able to process a lot more data. If you have ever worked on a 360 degree panorama, you know that it takes a lot of computing power and storage to create those stunning panoramas (check out our reader Aaron Priest’s stunning work here and on his website). And if you have ever seen 4K footage, you can imagine just how massive those files can get in no time! It would be extremely cost prohibitive to store all that data in current SSD drives we see today, which is why most professionals have been using big local and network storage arrays that consist of many large-capacity hard disk drives. The introduction of high-capacity SSD drives will drastically change our storage needs, since they are smaller, lighter, noise-free and much more reliable than any HDD out there. And with the 16 TB option already out, we are surely going to start seeing lower-capacity drives at very competitive prices soon. The death of hard disk drives might be coming much sooner than we previously thought!
If you don’t know much about SSD drives and how they differ from traditional hard disk drives, here is a short summary. Basically, hard disk drives (HDDs) work similarly as vinyl record players, with densely packed platters spinning at high speeds (up to 15 thousand rotations per minute) and a data-reading head physically moving throughout the platter surface to access your data. If you have ever wondered why regular hard drives are so noisy, well, that’s the reason – all that high-speed plate spinning and header constantly moving not only generate a lot of noise, but also a lot of heat. Because of this, hard disk drives are very prone to breaking down, especially when they are not handled properly (dropping, or letting hard drives overheat can lead to data corruption, bad sectors, etc).
In contrast, data in SSD drives is stored and accessed through semiconductor chips. There are no moving parts, no spinning plates or heads in place. Even in the most basic SSDs, data can be read and written at extremely fast speeds that outperform the fastest HDDs by a huge margin. Since nothing in SSDs moves, heat generation is minimal, so you have little concerns about heat generation in any form factor. There is a reason why flash memory took off so fast in the past decade – Apple replaced its HDD-based iPods with flash-based iPods and everything we see today from laptops and desktops to servers is moving over to flash memory and SSDs. Solid State Drives have huge advantages over HDDs and with total cost and maximum storage being the only two factors that still make HDDs appealing today, it is only a matter of time before HDDs become a thing of the past. And if you have been previously told that SSDs are less durable, or perhaps last less longer than HDDs, that’s a myth – even some of the worst SSDs out there can easily outlive you and your kin for several generations.
I cannot wait to see 16 TB SSDs hit the market soon. They will be surely expensive for a year or two, but once they become mainstream, there will be no reason to choose HDDs for storage needs anymore. I would love to get a hold of a fast, SSD-only array that could sit quietly on my desk and chunk through terabytes of data! Speaking of which, do you have any recommendations for an SSD-only storage array that is compact and fast? I found only a couple of solutions from OWC and Synology (DS414Slim), but they do not seem to be very robust.
Exciting times indeed.