Flash Hard Drives (SSD) are they worth it?

samsungssd.jpgI’ve long opined that flash media in a camcorder isn’t really worth it because the video data you record will end up on a hard drive, so why not shoot it onto a hard drive. At the same time, flash media makers are realizing this dichotomy and are starting to build flash media based hard drives, solid state devices or solid state drives. (i.e. nothing moves) Engadget (author of the photo here) did a test of SSD vs. HDD (hard disk drive)… They found that the solid state drive did best the hard disk drive in _certain_ reading and writing tasks. Most notably, the SSD seek time was 0.9 ms. That’s under one millisecond. At the same time, random writes were 4x slower than the HDD. A few other quotes:

FlashSSD … doubled sequential and random uncached read and write speeds over the platter drive in most cases, topping out at about 52MBps read / 32MBps write. Real world read/write showed the flash drive almost on par, but usually a bit slower; testing with a 2.75GB file it took slightly longer to copy to the flash drive than the platter Samsung claims you’ll eke out 10-15% more system time on battery.

Interestingly, BareFeats tested some SATA hard disk laptop drives and found speeds well over 60 MBps for both read AND write, connected via SATA and FW800.


So the question for portable speed freaks (i.e. anyone doing multiple SD video feeds or HDTV) is– how badly do you need flash media?

Do you need flash media to the tune of "about a grand" for 64gig versus about $122 for a Hitachi 100 gig HDD that offers higher read and right throughput rates.

Ryan Block summed it up with:

So is paying about a grand worth it to you… We have a feeling that until it’s 128GB, costs just a couple hundred dollars, and is available for purchase to end users as a part (instead of an upgrade in a new machine) most people won’t jump.

I’ll also add that, until solid state media also offers read and write performance commensurate with the premium price, its only applications will be those harsh environments where a spinning platter just won’t work. In reality, those environments are few and far between.

Remember,the data flight recorders used in jets, the boxes they recover after a crash… they use magnetic tape.

As much as Sony and Panasonic will continue to tout how their flash storage systems work in the freezing cold, remember that in 1919, Frank Hurley documented an Antarctic expedition that went horribly awry and that footage survived the weather, and even dunking in the frigid oceans.

When the Endurance sailed in October 1914, Hurley carried a range of cameras, including a Cinematograph motion-picture camera, a square bellows stand plate camera, a Kodak Folding Pocket Camera Model 3A, and a Vest Pocket Kodak camera… Hurley not only had the stamina to haul his cameras to the mountaintop of Duse Fell on South Georgia, but also was a talented artist and innovator. He was a pioneering practitioner of color photography with the Paget color process, and, when the long polar nights descended, he used multiple magnesium flares and long exposure times to capture images of the Endurance beset in darkness.

After they abandoned the debilitated Endurance, Shackleton ordered the crew members to pare their personal possessions down to two pounds each. Hurley had to leave his precious cameras behind, but Shackleton allowed him to keep a selection of photographs and motion-picture footage. Stripped to the waist, Hurley dove into the icy waters to retrieve his treasured images from the sinking wreck of the ship.

In 1919, his motion-picture footage of the Endurance expedition was released in the film In the Grip of the Polar Pack, which quickly became a critical and popular success. His photography also gained a wide audience when Shackleton featured it in his lecture tours.

Hurley’s work from the Endurance expedition has been well preserved, and many of these images are seen in Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure. South, featuring Hurley’s original 35mm cinematography of the Endurance expedition, was restored and re-released by the British Film Institute in 1998.

So flash media ain’t got NOTHING on talent or courageousness.

Go here:


I leave you with one of his images. Imagine where he was to take this picture:


Click on it for a larger version.



5 Responses to “Flash Hard Drives (SSD) are they worth it?”

  1. November 17, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    Besides cost, what are your objections to a flash drive? If Hurley shot today with a DSLR, he would use flash media, yes?

  2. November 17, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    Hurley is one of the greats that used ordinary equipment to produce extraordinary results- like the folding pocket camera. He went to great lengths (walking high up on the rigging) to give us viewpoints we would never have seen. He dove into icy waters to recover those images. He excellence is not about the latest technologies.

    Flash drives are currently incredibly expensive. Let’s say they weren’t. What do they offer that ordinary drives don’t? Massive space? No. Super fast read and write speeds? No. They do offer extreme ruggedness. The amount of applications that require that are extremely limited.

    Similarly, Sound Devices has tested the hard drives in their portable audio recorders by strapping them to vibration testing devices and found that they worked just fine.

    So what do you actually get in a SSD?

  3. December 2, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    But the page does note that impact resistance is a major issue. So if your problem isn’t vibration, then hard drives aren’t a problem, but if it’s shock, then they are a problem.

    I think the newest flight data recorders do use chips and not tape. I do know a small number of people in that and around that industry, so I’ll ask around.

    But I do agree with the point of the article, using SSDs as a computer hard drive doesn’t make sense except in incredibly specialized conditions.

  4. December 3, 2007 at 11:27 am

    because they are faster on seektime, use less power and make no noise. just to name a few things why they are better.

  5. December 3, 2007 at 11:48 am

    They are slower on read/write,
    Have not shown any dramatic battery life improvements on those laptops that have them, and
    Are slightly quieter than the barely audible 2.5″ drives that are much cheaper and already available.

    In fact, there are numerous hard drive- based consumer camcorders. With the internal hard drive often less than an inch from the two internal microphones, those hard drives have proven to be inaudible.

    So what are the advantages again?
    I missed your point.

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