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HyperDrive4: Not your typical SSD
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Written by Gizmo   
Wednesday, 21 March 2007 14:38
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(Image courtesy of Attorn B.V.)

Dutch electronics maker Attorn B.V. have release their solid state disk (SSD) called HyperDrive 4.  You may have seen mention of this on some other sites; Gearlog, Ubergizmo, GadgetsClub.  They missed one crucial point, however: this device uses DRAM, not Flash.

The offerings that have been announced earlier this month from Sandisk, Super Talent, Samsung, and Intel, are all based around Flash memory meaning that they are truly non-volatile storage solutions.  Unfortunately, they also carry Flash technology's biggest weakness, read and write speeds.  None of these drives get to read speeds much over 60 MB/s, and some of them will only manage about half that.  Writes will be even slower.

The HyperDrive4, by contrast, uses DRAM.  This means that the storage is volatile (you lose power, you lose data), so the device includes two backup power options:

  1. A backup battery good for 'some number of hours, depending on capacity'
  2. An external power supply (the device has its own power connector

In addition, the device offers the option to use an onboard 2.5" disk drive as backup storage.  With a maximum storage capacity of 16 GiB in current models, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a 2.5" drive to backup to.

However, the device offers one big benefit, for those that can use it: 125 MB/s sustained throughput, read and write, and over 36,000 IO operations/sec (a fast hard drive might give you 200, a good RAID with large cache might get you to about 3,000).  Since it hooks up to the IDE or SATA bus, its bandwidth is pretty much limited by the interface.

Basically, this device would be more accurately compared to Gigabyte's iRam device, than with the recent announcements from the Flash-based SSD guys.  It's size means that it mounts in a CDROM drive bay, where the other devices announced typically are intended for the PCMCIA slots of notepbooks or ultra-portables.  In addition, because it is based on DRAM technology, expect to pay about $1000 or so for the full complement of RAM, plus the cost of the device itself, plus the cost of a backup drive (if you use that option), plus the cost of a backup battery (if you use that option).  One site offers a 16 GB unit for not quite $2000.

So, if it is so expensive and not really non-volatile, and relatively big to boot, what is it good for? Well, one area would be for a SAN, where you've got several servers that need access to a fairly small amount of storage of shared data very quickly (think web server farms) or as temporary dedicated cache (like the windows paging file); any application you can think of where being able to shuttle relatively modest amounts of information around very quickly without chewing up your computer's main RAM for cache.

In short, this is nice technology, but I don't expect to be seeing it except in niche applications for a while.

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