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back to article The return of the diskless PC

The diskless PC is to return - not as a thin client, but packing a 1TB solid state drive instead. OCZ is showing Colossus, a prototype of this, at Computex in Taiwan. Unlike OCZ's Z-Drive, a PCIe-connected 1TB SSD shown at this year's CeBIT, Colossus comes in a standard 3.5-inch drive bay form factor. This format is generally …

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Bronze badge

What's the reliability

So how reliable will the SSD be, assuming Windows will be constantly paging, and the virus scanner scanning, how long will the SSD last before it starts dropping bits?

What grade of Flash will we see in these, at £2,500, hopefully pretty good, but for volume production?

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Gates Horns

A quick note

Windows O/S are so slow because they forever thrash the HDD to death with the swap file... as well as keeping so much junk in memory.

Just how the disk copes with windows "read this chunk to memory.. then spit the same back out to the swap file" I never know

Opening the system moniter on this Linux powered box shows 2 gig memory, 2 gig swap of with 1.2 gig used and Zero on the swap.

The hdd goes off and stays off unless being read/written

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Can't wait

for these to become affordable. And by affordable I mean down to a price less than that of all the other components in the PC put together (whatever those components may cost several years from now)

It'll take a few years, maybe even as long as a decade, but it'll surely be worth it to finally ditch spinning disks for good.

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Happy

What speed PCI-e slot?

It's an interesting tech, but what speed PCI-e slot was used for their performance tests? I'm guessing it was a 16x slot, not a 1x. If i was a 16x then many current corporate PCs don't even have one! Some have 8x or 1x, which would probably be slower than and still much pricier than the SATA alternative, or they are using the existing 16x slot for a graphics card. With PC sales seeming to have fallen off a cliff, I can't see many corporates splashing out on new PCs with 16x PCIe slots just so they can have SSDs for a few years yet.

Besides, hasn't Larry Ellison told us we'll all be running Java-driven network computers by then?

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Oh the naivety

"No, the Windows O/S is a dog, and replacing the hard drive with an SSD looks to be the only practical way of turning our desktop mutt into a greyhound"

We know from history that whatever extra speed and resources we throw at microsoft they find a way to thrash them beyond their maximum!

It's funny how my windows user experience has changed very little since windows 95 on my 486 with 16MB ram and a 640MB hard-drive (to my far more highly specced system today) yet it has changed quite a bit since moving from slackware (using windowmaker as my WM) on that system to fedora now - hmm, I wonder what slackware's like these days!

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Anonymous Coward

fast?

"We all know that Microsoft just cannot write a fast system anymore..."

if microsoft are so crap at writing O/S then why hasn't anyone else done anything better?? and don't tell me Linux, that old dog is never going to take hold.

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Flame

What's wrong?

I don't see the usual reams of "But why not switch to Linux/Unix/BSD/Mac, it doesn't need as much blah blah and it's fast and light and blah blah" fanboi dribbling. Are you all ill?

As for SSDs, make them last longer and cost less and I might consider it. For now, I'll struggle with the bottleneck - for me, it really doesn't affect performance enough to be particularly bothersome.

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Coat

IT in circles

We won't need these high powered desktops in many coporate climates.

I predict that in 5 years time we'll mostly have thin client pc's, running web office applications or some form of terminal service to a server that'll have the application on.

Hmmm reminds me of dumb terminals and mainframes.....

In fact I would go as far as to say that as netbooks are cheap, and can support usb keyboards mice and have monitor connectors, we'll be using them instead of desktops. Saves a fortune on proper laptops. All it needs to run is Office and Terminal Services of some

description.

Hell I might get on and order 400 now and some new server hardware.................

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Colossus?

Does this mean that Bletchley Park will sue them for trademark infringement?

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Cheaper alternative

"the Windows O/S is a dog, and replacing the hard drive with an SSD looks to be the only practical way of turning our desktop mutt into a greyhound"

Also AC 11:42 "We know from history that whatever extra speed and resources we throw at microsoft they find a way to thrash them beyond their maximum!"

Yup both true. MS feels it is their right to consume all the resources in the PC, whether it be with their OS or their apps.

Thankfully there is a cheaper alternative to expensive SSDs: Run Linux. Even using a standard set up of Ubuntu (normally I use customised Debian-based setups) the interface is fast an responsive, whether on an old PC (K6-2 anyone?) or a new one, whether top end or bargain basement, and any extra resources you throw at it allow the apps to run better. Need a windows app? If WINE doesn't work for it, and it's amazing how many it DOES work for, and you can't find a suitable replacement Linux app, use a Windows install within KVM or Xen and you're laughing.

Of course this won'e suit everyone. Those who want to run the latest Windows games, or specific Windows apps, or similar, are tied down atm. But I reckon the majority would love it if they gave it a chance.

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Re: What's the reliability?

If they have solved the "limited lifespan" of SSDs, then the smart way to use the technology is simply to insert another layer in the cache hierarchy.

The average PC already has a kilobyte or two of L1 cache using register technology, a few hundred K of L2 cache, perhaps a few megs of L3 and a gig or two of DRAM acting with a little OS help as "level 4". There's no reason why a few tens of gigs of SSD couldn't be used (again with some OS-level management) as "level 5".

You don't need to *replace* the full capacity of the big, cheap spinning disc to enjoy the performance benefits of the SSD. Save a couple of thousand pounds and simply cache the most heavily used gigabytes. Indeed, looking at the large "step up" between L3 and DRAM, it might be even better to replace the (slow) DRAM with rather less of a slightly faster technology in front of a few gigs of fast SSD.

But SSD lifetime is the big problem and presumably they haven't solved it, or else *that* would have been the news story.

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Unhappy

@ Jason Togneri

Ignore AC - he lives underneath a bridge and eats people who cross and then don't give him a piece of silver.

Personally I can't wait for this technology to become affordable. Hard drives are noisier, slower and far more prone to failure than SSDs. Unfortunately I don't see it happening by the time I next buy a computer.

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More like 2015 before SSD=HDD pricing

We may have $100 1GB SSD drives in 2011, but by then we will have $100 5GB HDD drives. SSD's are slowly closing the gap on HDD prices, but won't catch up for many more years.

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@AC

PC companies don't want to sell a machine that is actually fast enough. They need to sell the promise of the next system being fast enough.

(Look what happened to Acorn - their 200MHz RISC OS systems still feel faster than all but the very best Windows systems, so no-one bought new ones.)

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Unhappy

To get a feel of what it's like ..

.. you should try an Elonex One. Trust me on this one..

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Happy

Don't know what systems you use

But all my windows boxes are fast and responsive. I run windows on 5 boxes at work (as well as solaris on 1); and run windows on 4 boxes at home. They are all very fast and responsive. The only thing that annoys me about Windows is the way they have tried to get machines to boot faster. It seems in order to make faster booting machines, windows brings up the UI too early, and there is still shed loads of background churning to go through before you can actually use the box. Of course, comparing boot times to other OSs, Windows is still excellent.

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Happy

@David Leivers

Yeah, but at I've got linux not thrashing my hard-drive for swap under here!

My objection is not to faster and (hopefully) more fail-resistant hard-drives, it's the suggestion that microsoft won't suck up every gain for themselves so the user notices nothing!

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Unhappy

Mines better

I have a SSD running in my shed that I have made myself from old electronic parts.

The only problem is size and layout of course. Its just cobbled together with wires everywhere,

it all works ok but I cant as yet free the 64GB cache without a reboot. The OS is a Debain port

and it runs so fast if u cant touch type u never see a screen change.

I have started a circuit schematic now and I will be posting it online when its finished, hopefully

someone can take it up. I dont have any interest in taking it further, electronics what a nightmare to patent.

Why use a cache well I'am interested in Database stuff and I like to cache stuff before saving

but where do I save too ? an array of 3.5 HDD that are daisy chained like fairy lights.

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Java Terminal

FInally, enough memory for Java Terms to work properly!

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Combine RAM and SSD/HD

I want a computer where the app does not 'load' into 'RAM', but the RAM and 'HD' are effectively the same thing so there is no loading - it just runs from where it is - surely this is where the technology should be heading (and yes I realise current flash memory is not suitable for this)

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Good and bad

MLC SSDs have one obvious downside that few people seem to address (or even want to think about) -- the limited write lifetime. In MLC, each location can only be written to 10,000 times. When talking about storage, that's not a lot. The wear-leveling algorithms can move data around to extend the life of the drive, but it still won't be anywhere near the lifetime of a magnetic-disk HDD.

SLC SSDs, with a 100,000 write lifetime, are better in terms of longevity, but are still far less than a magnetic-disk HDD.

Imagine you're running a high-usage database which is updated frequently. At 100,000 writes (SLC SSD), you can write to each location 273 times per day (11 times per hour) for one year. A frequently-updated database will most likely be updated much more than that. An MLC SSD will only only 27 writes to each location per day for one year. Again, wear-leveling algorithms will logically move the data around to extend the life, but the SSD will die much quicker than a HDD.

In other words -- for SSDs to really succeed, they need to find a way to increase the write lifetime, and we need to come up with a filesystem that doesn't cause small transfers (such as Windows' 4KB paging file writes) to slow the system to a crawl.

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Coat

Opening sentence

Was I the only one who read the first line 'The dikless PC is to return'?

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@ fast?

""" if microsoft are so crap at writing O/S then why hasn't anyone else done anything better?? and don't tell me Linux, that old dog is never going to take hold."""

The computer industry is driven by revenue. Retailers especially offer for sale what they can make the most profit from. It happens that they can make more from selling Windows machines because they can sell add-ons such as anti-virus, MS Office and Games. They also get to sell each buyer a replacement machine in the shortest time because Windows gets slower as it clogs up over time.

Apple also gets sold at retail because it is more expensive and has a reasonable margin.

Both of these systems are 'better' (more profitable) for the supply chain, thus this is what is offered to the general purchaser. Of course this is more expensive for the user, but they are not offered a choice.

There are 'better' systems, such as Linux, BSD, BeOS, and such but these are much worse for the retailers because there are less opportunities to sell add-ons, and these systems don't generate on-going or repeat revenue, or not as much.

For me Linux systems _are_ better. After developing for both I found many annoyances in Windows which do not exist in Linux (or Unix). I can set up servers to work the way that I want, and can upgrade or use as many clients as I want with whatever software suits without having to worry about licenses or the BSA.

Because MS has a monopoly position it is also able to kill off competition. For example when BeOS was installed on Sony computers MS 'paid' Sony to not install it. Recently MS 'persuaded' ASUS to drop Linux and promote Windows. The suspicion is that this was necessary for ASUS to avoid having to buy every copy of Windows they install on their many machines at retail pricing.

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If you ever take the time to install windo$e properly ....

The OEM install of windo$e is typically the lazy way. Bung the whole lot onto a single partition. So we have internet cache (lots of small files, regularly changing) and the swap file. Add user data and with this truly crap setup it is no wonder windo$e is such a pig.

The solution is at least to have a system, internet cache, and swap partition, that's 3 separate partitions. Now this might seem a waste of disk space but the tendency for fragmentation is greatly reduced. You could add a user data partition as well if you have a big enough disk.

This does not get you round the next problem : the registry. The bunch of cretins that dreamt this up need to be tortured, electrocuted, tortured some more, made to lick bill gates ringpiece, tortured even more, and then shot. This not so little dollup of crap will eventually kill your windo$e performance, assuming it was respectable in the first place.

Solaris and Linux just don't have this problem ! OK, they have their own issues, but I know my choice. Similarly I presume Mac OS X, etc being basic Unix clones don't have the windo$e flaw either.

Now this is all important, because with SSD lifespan affected by use, the read cache has to be efficient , and the tendency to thrash virtual memory minimised. You'll probably have to reduce cache size and accept higher cache miss rates along with lower burst transfer rates to mitigate SSD lifespan issues. It may be that you want a system with a compromise, this being virtual memory and internet cache on traditional disk technology (which is a known phenomena, with well understood failure rates), and the O/S and user data on SSD.

So the most likely setup in future using this technology is windo$e with both SSD and HDD (defeats the point really ?) or non-windo$e carefully crafted systems (to increase SSD lifespan) using SSD only.

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Amazing boot times

I've got a 64Gb OCZ booting Ubuntu 9.04 and the thing takes about 10 seconds to boot from the grub menu.

If it wasn't for the stupid Promise fake raid card futzing about for ages before that then the machine would go from off to ready faster than you could wake it from sleep!

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Anonymous Coward

engineer

SSD's have an issue with writing. They MUST write an entire block (4K) every time. In order to change a smaller chunk of memory you must first read the larger block, change the appropriate bits and write it all back.

Erase a file and it's marked as available. Not erased. In order to actually *use* that block you have to first erase the block then write the new content.

Bottom line is that writing to SSD is a problem for sure.

The SSD firmware will do 'housekeeping' when the system is idle. It goes about erasing blocks marked as available. But on some machines (servers) those idle times are really rare.

I ran a test: measure read speed (~200 MB/Sec). Then write to the disk all weekend long. Then immediately (on Monday) test read speed. How about 35MB/Sec?

If you wanna make your PC fast, load it up with RAM so you don't need a swap file (page file). Then use an SSD for the OS. And use a standard hard disk for your file storage.

Tom S.

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Linux

Build your own!

This drive is awesome, but I'm sure it will be priced a lot higher than buying the equivalent in the form of 2x 250GB OCZ Vertex drives (Indilinx controller) and a cheap PCIe RAID card.

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Coat

@Adrian Jones

No, the city of Rhodes will...

Mine's the 30 meter bronze one...

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Gates Horns

Co$t

That much money could buy a ton of motherboard RAM. I don't know about Windows, but UNIX based systems eventually run out of interesting things to swap-in if given enough RAM. Until the price comes down, it sounds like there's a narrow market between what onboard RAM and a disk RAID can do.

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@ Jess Thursday 4th June 2009 13:07 GMT

LOOK here http://www.riscos.com/ now on version 10 so alive and kicking

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Re: Co$t

"That much money could buy a ton of motherboard RAM."

So much, in fact, that you'd have to spend most of it on a motherboard that could actually take the enormous amount you could buy with the remainder. But it was ever thus. For as long as I've been in the business, the most cost effective way of creating a fast system has been to use the cheapest processor you can buy and spend the money on RAM instead. Over the same period, beige box makers have followed the opposite strategy. Go figure.

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Bronze badge

Co%t etc

@ 'Windows O/S are so slow because they forever thrash the HDD to death with the swap file...'

That just looks like you don't have enough RAM for the OS or what your doing on the system. Windows should only need to use the swap file if there isn't enough system RAM available.

Granted Windows isn't very good at managing swap memory when it needs to use it, but as long as you've got enough memory in your system, it shouldn't need to use swap memory.

The swap space is only there as a backup for exceptional circumstances, to stop your system from falling over because you've run too many apps at the same time or some app has decided it needs more memory than you actually have installed.

If your system is using swap all the time, then you need to get the system sorted out first.

I'm at work now using an XP Laptop, Got Word, Excel, Lotus Notes, IE, Firefox, half a dozen explorer windows, UltaEdit and two other bespoke apps all running at the same time (I rarely close an app once I've opened it) and the swap file hasn't been touched since I booted up this morning. 840MB of 2GB still fee.

@Ken Hagan: Fully agree about your comments around memory being more important than processor speed. It amazes me how many people buy PC's that are essentially crippled from new because the supplier wanted to shave 10 quid of the selling price (or increase their margins) and only supply the system with 512MB rather than 1GB of memory.

The amount of people who've brought Laptops to me to look at, because they are running really slow, to find out they've only got 20MB of memory or less free after just booting up, either because the system didn't have enough to start with, or they've got too much crap loading on boot, or both. £20 spent 2GB of memory and a bit of a clean up of the system and they think they've got a brand new machine, because it's finally running as the speed it should have been running at in the first place!

For me, if you using XP, 1GB should be your minimum for light work, 2GB min for heavier work. Vista or newer 2GB min, and when you consider that 2GB of memory is typically less that £20, even for Laptop memory, there really is no excuse for crippling your own machine by skimping on it. Even if your a gamer, 2GB of decent branded SLI memory is still only around £40-£50.

Even Linux appreciates the extra memory (I dual boot my PC's) :-)

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Joke

how much storage do we really need ?

does anyone , that doesn't play games or edit video really actually need a machine either faster or with more storage than has been available for the last five years ?

I personally don't believe so.

The slowest component in a system (when I'm not playing games, or video / photo editting) is ME, (as in myself, the human being , and not a brain damaged Microsoft OS, circa 2000 ). And personally I am getting slower, coz I'm an old middle aged fart these days, so me needing a new faster PC with more storage is like giving an OAP a Ferrari with the carrying capacity of a juggernaut to go down to the shops to get their weekly groceries.

now where did I park my zimmer frame ? I could do with some new neurons.....

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Paris Hilton

The diskless PC never went away

I have 9 active PCs in the house - 4 desktops, a media center, firewall/PBX and kitchen PC (cookbook/media/stereo) and the house server. Only the house server boots from its own RAID set - everything else is diskless using Linux (there was a period when the firewall ran BSD). Quiet, low power (7W to 30W),maintainable, reliable and it JUST WORKS (TM). No data loss for 9th year straight and counting.

So as far as I am concerned the diskless PC never went away and is not going anywhere anytime soon. Yeah, fine it is not supported by Microcrap. So what, who cares? Microsoft is not the answer, Microsoft is the question and the answer is NO.

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