A solid-state drive (SSD, also known as a solid-state disk although it contains neither an actual disk nor a drive motor to spin a disk) is a solid-state storage device that uses integrated circuit assemblies as memory to store data persistently. SSD technology primarily uses electronic interfaces compatible with traditional block input/output (I/O) hard disk drives, which permit simple replacements in common applications. Additionally, new I/O interfaces, like SATA Express, have been designed to address specific requirements of the SSD technology.
SSDs have no moving (mechanical) components. This distinguishes them from traditional electromechanical magnetic disks such as hard disk drives (HDDs) or floppy disks, which contain spinning disks and movable read/write heads. Compared with electromechanical disks, SSDs are typically more resistant to physical shock, run silently, have lower access time, and less latency. However, while the price of SSDs has continued to decline over time consumer-grade SSDs are still roughly eight to nine times more expensive per unit of storage than consumer-grade HDDs.
As of 2014, most SSDs use NAND-based flash memory, which retains data without power. For applications requiring fast access, but not necessarily data persistence after power loss, SSDs may be constructed from random-access memory (RAM). Such devices may employ separate power sources, such as batteries, to maintain data after power loss.
Hybrid drives or solid-state hybrid drives (SSHDs) combine the features of SSDs and HDDs in the same unit, containing a large hard disk drive and an SSD cache to improve performance of frequently accessed data.
Development and history
Early SSDs using RAM and similar technology
SSDs had origins in the 1950s with two similar technologies: magnetic core memory and charged capacitor read-only storage (CCROS). These auxiliary memory units (as contemporaries called them) emerged during the era of vacuum-tube computers. But with the introduction of cheaper drum storage units their use ceased.
Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, SSDs were implemented in semiconductor memory for early supercomputers of IBM, Amdahl and Cray, but they were seldom used because of their prohibitively high price. In the late 1970s, General Instruments produced an electrically alterable ROM (EAROM) which operated somewhat like the later NAND flash memory. Unfortunately, a ten-year life was not achievable and many companies abandoned the technology. In 1976 Dataram started selling a product called Bulk Core, which provided up to 2 MB of solid state storage compatible with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and Data General (DG) computers. In 1978, Texas Memory Systems introduced a 16 kilobyte RAM solid-state drive to be used by oil companies for seismic data acquisition. The following year, StorageTek developed the first RAM solid-state drive.
The Sharp PC-5000, introduced in 1983, used 128-kilobyte solid-state storage cartridges containing bubble memory. In 1984 Tallgrass Technologies Corporation had a tape backup unit of 40 MB with a solid state 20 MB unit built in. The 20 MB unit could be used instead of a hard drive. In September 1986, Santa Clara Systems introduced BatRam, a 4 megabyte mass storage system expandable to 20 MB using 4 MB memory modules. The package included a rechargeable battery to preserve the memory chip contents when the array was not powered. 1987 saw the entry of EMC Corporation (EMC) into the SSD market, with drives introduced for the mini-computer market. However, by 1993 EMC had exited the SSD market.
Software-based RAM disks were still used as of 2009 because they are an order of magnitude faster than other technology, though they consume CPU resources and cost much more on a per-GB basis.
In 1989, the Psion MC 400 Mobile Computer included four slots for removable storage in the form of flash-based "solid-state disk" cards, using the same type of flash memory cards as used by the Psion Series 3. The flash modules did have the limitation of needing to be re-formatted entirely to reclaim space from deleted or modified files; old versions of files which were deleted or modified continued to take up space until the module was formatted.
In 1991 SanDisk Corporation created a 20 MB solid state drive (SSD) which sold for $1,000.
In 1994, STEC, Inc. bought Cirrus Logic's flash controller operation, allowing the company to enter the flash memory business for consumer electronic devices.
In 1995, M-Systems introduced flash-based solid-state drives. They had the advantage of not requiring batteries to maintain the data in the memory (required by the prior volatile memory systems), but were not as fast as the DRAM-based solutions. Since then, SSDs have been used successfully as HDD replacements by the military and aerospace industries, as well as for other mission-critical applications. These applications require the exceptional mean time between failures (MTBF) rates that solid-state drives achieve, by virtue of their ability to withstand extreme shock, vibration and temperature ranges.
In 1999, BiTMICRO made a number of introductions and announcements about flash-based SSDs, including an 18 GB 3.5-inch SSD.
In 2007, Fusion-io announced a PCIe-based SSD with 100,000 input/output operations per second (IOPS) of performance in a single card, with capacities up to 320 gigabytes.
At Cebit 2009, OCZ Technology demonstrated a 1 terabyte (TB) flash SSD using a PCI Express ×8 interface. It achieved a maximum write speed of 654 megabytes per second (MB/s) and maximum read speed of 712 MB/s.
In December 2009, Micron Technology announced an SSD using a 6 gigabits per second (Gbit/s) SATA interface.
Enterprise flash drives
Top and bottom views of a 2.5-inch 100 GB SATA 3.0 (6 Gbit/s) model of the Intel DC S3700 series
Enterprise flash drives (EFDs) are designed for applications requiring high I/O performance (IOPS), reliability, energy efficiency and, more recently, consistent performance. In most cases, an EFD is an SSD with a higher set of specifications, compared with SSDs that would typically be used in notebook computers. The term was first used by EMC in January 2008, to help them identify SSD manufacturers who would provide products meeting these higher standards. There are no standards bodies who control the definition of EFDs, so any SSD manufacturer may claim to produce EFDs when they may not actually meet the requirements.
In the fourth quarter of 2012, Intel introduced its SSD DC S3700 series of drives, which focuses on achieving consistent performance, an area that had previously not received much attention but which Intel claimed was important for the enterprise market. In particular, Intel claims that at steady state the S3700 drives would not vary their IOPS by more than 10–15%, and that 99.9% of all 4 KB random IOs are serviced in less than 500 µs.
Architecture and function
The key components of an SSD are the controller and the memory to store the data. The primary memory component in an SSD was traditionally DRAM volatile memory, but since 2009 it is more commonly NAND flash non-volatile memory.
Every SSD includes a controller that incorporates the electronics that bridge the NAND memory components to the host computer. The controller is an embedded processor that executes firmware-level code and is one of the most important factors of SSD performance. Some of the functions performed by the controller include:
- Error-correcting code (ECC)
- Wear leveling
- Bad block mapping
- Read scrubbing and read disturb management
- Read and write caching
- Garbage collection
The performance of an SSD can scale with the number of parallel NAND flash chips used in the device. A single NAND chip is relatively slow, due to the narrow (8/16 bit) asynchronous I/O interface, and additional high latency of basic I/O operations (typical for SLC NAND, ~25 ?s to fetch a 4 KB page from the array to the I/O buffer on a read, ~250 ?s to commit a 4 KB page from the IO buffer to the array on a write, ~2 ms to erase a 256 KB block). When multiple NAND devices operate in parallel inside an SSD, the bandwidth scales, and the high latencies can be hidden, as long as enough outstanding operations are pending and the load is evenly distributed between devices.
Micron and Intel initially made faster SSDs by implementing data striping (similar to RAID 0) and interleaving in their architecture. This enabled the creation of ultra-fast SSDs with 250 MB/s effective read/write speeds with the SATA 3 Gbit/s interface in 2009. Two years later, SandForce continued to leverage this parallel flash connectivity, releasing consumer-grade SATA 6 Gbit/s SSD controllers which supported 500 MB/s read/write speeds. SandForce controllers compress the data prior to sending it to the flash memory. This process may result in less writing and higher logical throughput, depending on the compressibility of the data.
Comparison of architectures
|SLC vs MLC
|NAND vs NOR
|10× more persistent
|10× more persistent
|3x faster Sequential Write same Sequential Read
|4x faster Sequential Write 5x faster Sequential Read
|30% more expensive
|The following Technologies should combine the advantages of NAND and NOR: OneNAND (Samsung), mDOC (Sandisk) and ORNAND (Spansion).
Most SSD manufacturers use non-volatile NAND flash memory in the construction of their SSDs because of the lower cost compared with DRAM and the ability to retain the data without a constant power supply, ensuring data persistence through sudden power outages. Flash memory SSDs are slower than DRAM solutions, and some early designs were even slower than HDDs after continued use. This problem was resolved by controllers that came out in 2009 and later.
Flash memory-based solutions are typically packaged in standard disk drive form factors (1.8-, 2.5-, and 3.5-inch), but also in smaller unique and compact layouts made possible by the small size of flash memory.
Lower priced drives usually use multi-level cell (MLC) flash memory, which is slower and less reliable than single-level cell (SLC) flash memory. This can be mitigated or even reversed by the internal design structure of the SSD, such as interleaving, changes to writing algorithms, and higher over-provisioning (more excess capacity) with which the wear-leveling algorithms can work.
See also: I-RAM and Hyperdrive (storage)
SSDs based on volatile memory such as DRAM are characterized by ultrafast data access, generally less than 10 microseconds, and are used primarily to accelerate applications that would otherwise be held back by the latency of flash SSDs or traditional HDDs. DRAM-based SSDs usually incorporate either an internal battery or an external AC/DC adapter and backup storage systems to ensure data persistence while no power is being supplied to the drive from external sources. If power is lost, the battery provides power while all information is copied from random access memory (RAM) to back-up storage. When the power is restored, the information is copied back to the RAM from the back-up storage, and the SSD resumes normal operation (similar to the hibernate function used in modern operating systems). SSDs of this type are usually fitted with DRAM modules of the same type used in regular PCs and servers, which can be swapped out and replaced by larger modules. Such as i-RAM, HyperOs HyperDrive, DDRdrive X1, etc. Some manufacturers of DRAM SSDs solder the DRAM chips directly to the drive, and do not intend the chips to be swapped out—such as ZeusRAM, Aeon Drive, etc.
A remote, indirect memory-access disk (RIndMA Disk) uses a secondary computer with a fast network or (direct) Infiniband connection to act like a RAM-based SSD, but the new, faster, flash-memory based, SSDs already available in 2009 are making this option not as cost effective.
While the price of DRAM continues to fall, the price of Flash memory falls even faster. The "Flash becomes cheaper than DRAM" crossover point occurred approximately 2004.
Some SSDs, called NVDIMM or Hyper DIMM devices, use both DRAM and flash memory. When the power goes down, the SSD copies all the data from its DRAM to flash; when the power comes back up, the SSD copies all the data from its flash to its DRAM. In a somewhat similar way, some SSDs use form factors and buses actually designed for DIMM modules, while using only flash memory and making it appear as if it were DRAM. Such SSDs are usually known as UltraDIMM devices.
Drives known as hybrid drives or solid-state hybrid drives (SSHDs) use a hybrid of spinning disks and flash memory. Some SSDs use magnetoresistive random-access memory (MRAM) for storing data.
In 2015, Intel and Micron announced 3D XPoint as a new non-volatile memory technology. Intel plans to produce 3D XPoint SSDs with PCI Express interface in 2016, which will operate faster and with higher endurance than NAND-based SSDs, while the areal density will be comparable at 128 gigabits per chip. For the price per bit, 3D XPoint will be more expensive than NAND, but cheaper than DRAM.
Cache or buffer
A flash-based SSD typically uses a small amount of DRAM as a volatile cache, similar to the buffers in hard disk drives. A directory of block placement and wear leveling data is also kept in the cache while the drive is operating. One SSD controller manufacturer, SandForce, does not use an external DRAM cache on their designs but still achieves high performance. Such an elimination of the external DRAM reduces the power consumption and enables further size reduction of SSDs.
Battery or super capacitor
Another component in higher-performing SSDs is a capacitor or some form of battery, which are necessary to maintain data integrity so the data in the cache can be flushed to the drive when power is lost; some may even hold power long enough to maintain data in the cache until power is resumed. In the case of MLC flash memory, a problem called lower page corruption can occur when MLC flash memory loses power while programming an upper page. The result is that data written previously and presumed safe can be corrupted if the memory is not supported by a super capacitor in the event of a sudden power loss. This problem does not exist with SLC flash memory.
Most consumer-class SSDs do not have built-in batteries or capacitors; among the exceptions are the Crucial M500 and MX100 series, the Intel 320 series, and the more expensive Intel 710 and 730 series. Enterprise-class SSDs, such as the Intel DC S3700 series, usually have built-in batteries or capacitors.
An SSD with 1.2 TB of MLC NAND, using PCI Express as the host interface
Apart from associated connectors, the host interface is not physically a component of the SSD, but it is a key part of the drive. The interface is usually incorporated into the above-discussed controller, and is many times one of the interfaces found in HDDs. They include:
- Serial attached SCSI (SAS, > 3.0 Gbit/s) – generally found on servers
- Serial ATA (SATA, > 1.5 Gbit/s)
- PCI Express (PCIe, > 2.0 Gbit/s)
- Fibre Channel (> 200 Mbit/s) – almost exclusively found on servers
- USB (> 1.5 Mbit/s)
- Parallel ATA (IDE, > 26.4 Mbit/s) – mostly replaced by SATA
- (Parallel) SCSI (> 40 Mbit/s) – generally found on servers, mostly replaced by SAS; last SCSI-based SSD was introduced in 2004 Besides the host interface, SSDs also use different logical device interfaces, including Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI), NVM Express (NVMe), and certain proprietary interfaces. Logical device interfaces define the command sets used by operating systems to communicate with SSDs and host bus adapters (HBAs).
The size and shape of any device is largely driven by the size and shape of the components used to make that device. Traditional HDDs and optical drives are designed around the rotating platter or optical disc along with the spindle motor inside. If an SSD is made up of various interconnected integrated circuits (ICs) and an interface connector, then its shape is no longer limited to the shape of rotating media drives. Some solid state storage solutions come in a larger chassis that may even be a rack-mount form factor with numerous SSDs inside. They would all connect to a common bus inside the chassis and connect outside the box with a single connector.
For general computer use, the 2.5-inch form factor (typically found in laptops) is the most popular. For desktop computers with 3.5-inch hard disk slots, a simple adapter plate can be used to make such a disk fit. Other types of form factors are more common in enterprise applications. An SSD can also be completely integrated in the other circuitry of the device, as in the Apple MacBook Air (starting with the fall 2010 model). As of 2014, mSATA and M.2 form factors are also gaining popularity, primarily in laptops.
Standard HDD form factors
The benefit of using a current HDD form factor would be to take advantage of the extensive infrastructure already in place to mount and connect the drives to the host system. These traditional form factors are known by the size of the rotating media, e.g., 5.25-inch, 3.5-inch, 2.5-inch, 1.8-inch, not by the dimensions of the drive casing.
Standard card form factors
Main articles: mSATA and M.2
For applications where space is at premium, like for ultrabooks or tablets, a few compact form factors were standardized for flash-based SSDs.
There is the mSATA form factor, which uses the PCI Express Mini Card physical layout. It remains electrically compatible with the PCI Express Mini Card interface specification, while requiring an additional connection to the SATA host controller through the same connector.
M.2 form factor, formerly known as the Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF), is a natural transition from the mSATA and physical layout it used, to a more usable and more advanced form factor. While mSATA took advantage of an existing form factor and connector, M.2 has been designed to maximize usage of the card space, while minimizing the footprint. The M.2 standard allows both SATA and PCI Express SSDs to be fitted onto M.2 modules.
Disk-on-a-module form factors
A 2 GB disk-on-a-module with PATA interface
A disk-on-a-module (DOM) is a flash drive with either 40/44-pin Parallel ATA (PATA) or SATA interface, intended to be plugged directly into the motherboard and used as a computer hard disk drive (HDD). DOM devices emulate a traditional hard disk drive, resulting in no need for special drivers or other specific operating system support. DOMs are usually used in embedded systems, which are often deployed in harsh environments where mechanical HDDs would simply fail, or in thin clients because of small size, low power consumption and silent operation.
As of 2010, storage capacities range from 32 MB to 64 GB with different variations in physical layouts, including vertical or horizontal orientation.
Box form factors
Many of the DRAM-based solutions use a box that is often designed to fit in a rack-mount system. The number of DRAM components required to get sufficient capacity to store the data along with the backup power supplies requires a larger space than traditional HDD form factors.
Bare-board form factors
Viking Technology SATA Cube and AMP SATA Bridge multi-layer SSDs
Viking Technology SATADIMM based SSD
MO-297 SATA disk-on-a-module (DOM) SSD form factor
A custom-connector SATA SSD
Form factors which were more common to memory modules are now being used by SSDs to take advantage of their flexibility in laying out the components. Some of these include PCIe, mini PCIe, mini-DIMM, MO-297, and many more. The SATADIMM from Viking Technology uses an empty DDR3 DIMM slot on the motherboard to provide power to the SSD with a separate SATA connector to provide the data connection back to the computer. The result is an easy-to-install SSD with a capacity equal to drives that typically take a full 2.5-inch drive bay. At least one manufacturer, Innodisk, has produced a drive that sits directly on the SATA connector (SATADOM) on the motherboard without any need for a power cable. Some SSDs are based on the PCIe form factor and connect both the data interface and power through the PCIe connector to the host. These drives can use either direct PCIe flash controllers or a PCIe-to-SATA bridge device which then connects to SATA flash controllers.
Ball grid array form factors
In the early 2000s, a few companies introduced SSDs in Ball Grid Array (BGA) form factors, such as M-Systems' (now SanDisk) DiskOnChip and Silicon Storage Technology's NANDrive (now produced by Greenliant Systems), and Memoright's M1000 for use in embedded systems. The main benefits of BGA SSDs are their low power consumption, small chip package size to fit into compact subsystems, and that they can be soldered directly onto a system motherboard to reduce adverse effects from vibration and shock.
Comparison with other technologies
Hard disk drives
SSD benchmark, showing about 230 MB/s reading speed (blue), 210 MB/s writing speed (red) and about 0.1 ms seek time (green), all independent from the accessed disk location.
See also: Hard disk drive performance characteristics
Making a comparison between SSDs and ordinary (spinning) HDDs is difficult. Traditional HDD benchmarks tend to focus on the performance characteristics that are poor with HDDs, such as rotational latency and seek time. As SSDs do not need to spin or seek to locate data, they may prove vastly superior to HDDs in such tests. However, SSDs have challenges with mixed reads and writes, and their performance may degrade over time. SSD testing must start from the (in use) full disk, as the new and empty (fresh out of the box) disk may have much better write performance than it would show after only weeks of use.
Most of the advantages of solid-state drives over traditional hard drives are due to their ability to access data completely electronically instead of electromechanically, resulting in superior transfer speeds and mechanical ruggedness. On the other hand, hard disk drives offer significantly higher capacity for their price.
Field failure rates indicate that SSDs are significantly more reliable than HDDs. However, SSDs are uniquely sensitive to sudden power interruption, resulting in aborted writes or even cases of the complete loss of the drive. The reliability of both HDDs and SSDs varies greatly amongst models.
As with HDDs, there is a tradeoff between cost and performance of different SSDs. Single-level cell (SLC) SSDs, while significantly more expensive than multi-level (MLC) SSDs, offer a significant speed advantage. At the same time, DRAM-based solid-state storage is currently considered the fastest and most costly, with average response times of 10 microseconds instead of the average 100 microseconds of other SSDs. Enterprise flash devices (EFDs) are designed to handle the demands of tier-1 application with performance and response times similar to less-expensive SSDs.
In traditional HDDs, a re-written file will generally occupy the same location on the disk surface as the original file, whereas in SSDs the new copy will often be written to different NAND cells for the purpose of wear leveling. The wear-leveling algorithms are complex and difficult to test exhaustively; as a result, one major cause of data loss in SSDs is firmware bugs.
The following table shows a detailed overview of the advantages and disadvantages of both technologies. Comparisons reflect typical characteristics, and may not hold for a specific device.