Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Storage Technology: Past, Present and Future

Published by Sunbelt Software FORUMS | RSS | MY PROFILE | PRIVACY  

Vol. 2, # 12 - Mar 25, 2010 - Issue # 28 
 Storage Technology: Past, Present and Future

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Storage Technology: Past, Present and Future
    • Follow-up: Win7 Starter for Netbooks
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • The Death of the Desktop? Not So Much.
    • Service Pack 1: Not Much to See Here
    • No Firefox for Windows Mobile
    • Oversized dynamic VHD can cause Windows 7 to crash
  4. How to: Using the New Windows 7 Features
    • How to add color coding to Windows 7 Media Center Program Guide
  5. Windows 7 and Vista Security
    • Fake antivirus targets Windows 7 users
  6. Question Corner
    • Why does quad core take longer to boot than dual core?
  7. Windows 7 Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • 20 Keyboard Shortcuts You Need to Know
    • Windows 7 upgrade fails and you can't boot into Vista
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • Create a Great Web Site in 3 Easy Steps with Web Easy.

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Editor's Corner

Storage Technology: Past, Present and Future

Modern computers have many components; the two most basic are processors to carry out the instruction set of computer programs and volatile random-access memory (RAM) for short term storage of data. You also need input/output devices (keyboard, pointing device, monitor) to be able to interact with the computer. And you need a way to store data long-term, after the computer is turned off.

For most of us, that last requirement is satisfied by a hard disk drive, which was so named to distinguish it from "floppy" disks that were used for storing data in the early days of personal computing. I still remember my first IBM PC, which had no hard drive at all - just two floppy drives. You could load the operating system and programs from one and store your data on the other. These were 5 1/4 inch floppies that held only 160KB of information. I remember how impressed I was when I upgraded to an IBM PC XT, which had a "fixed disk" (hard drive) capable of storing a whopping 10 MB of data. At the time, it seemed like unlimited storage - and light years more advanced than the cassette tapes on which my VIC-20 had stored its data.

Although hard drives didn't become common on consumer and small business computers until the mid to late 80s, the first ones were sold by IBM in 1956. It was about double the size of a refrigerator and consisted of a stack of fifty 24 inch discs. IBM leased it for $35,000 per year. You can see what it looked like here:

Fast forward to today: Hard drive capacity has exploded and you can buy a terabyte drive for much less than you had to pay for the 10MB drive for the PC XT. Amazingly, many of those ancient IBM PC XTs are still in use over a quarter of a century later. They might not be running their original hard drives; in fact, hard disk failure is still one of the most common hardware problems that bring computers down.

This makes sense when you consider how the traditional hard drive works. "Under the hood," the data is stored on platters that rotate rapidly (the platters comprise the "disk" and the motorized mechanism that rotates them make up the "drive"). The read and write heads are very precisely positioned just nanometers above the surface. The heads are mounted on a moving actuator arm. For more information about the construction and mechanics of hard disk drives, see:

Given all that, it's pretty amazing that hard drives are as durable as they are. Those early hard drives were much more fragile. In fact, you had to manually "park" the drives before you moved the computer, to prevent damage. Today's drives automatically park the heads when power to the drive is cut off. Laptops have built-in protection technology that senses if the computer is dropped while it's running and triggers a software applet that parks the drive heads.

But while there have been some significant improvements to hard drive durability and capacity over the years, performance has lagged behind. That's not to say today's hard drives aren't faster than those of a decade ago; they are. The typical hard drive today rotates at 5400 or 7200 rpm, and high-end drives can reach 15,000 rpm. But hey, the 10 MB Seagate ST-412 that was created in 1981 spun at 3600 rpm. Of course, rotations per minutes is not the only measure of a hard disk's speed. That old drive had a data rate of 5 Mbps and a seek time of 85 ms.

Today, Seagate's Cheetah SAS drive boasts 15,000 rpm, a 6 Gbps interface and 2 ms average latency. However, it costs more than a dollar per gigabyte of storage ($329 for a 300 GB drive at NewEgg), in comparison with slower drives, like the Seagate Barracuda SATA drive, that give you almost seven times as much storage space for less than half the price ($149 for a 2TB drive).

Even considering the high-end drives, the hard drive is often the bottleneck that slows down the rest of the system. If you check your Windows 7 Windows Experience Index (WEI) rating, it's likely that the lowest subscore will be for either your hard drive or your video card. I know that on my main desktop, my processor and memory both score a nice 7.5 - but my hard disk lags at 5.9.

Another consideration that has gotten a lot of attention recently is energy consumption. Smaller 2.5 inch drives are becoming more popular because they generally get better performance per watt. Most hard drive manufacturers have come out with "green" models, such as Western Digital's Caviar GP (which stands for "Green Power"). The company says it draws a little over half the power of its previous generation drives.

Once upon a time, we thought the hard drive's days were numbered. Holographic storage was believed to be just around the corner. The potential capacity is large: several tens of terabytes per cubic centimeter, and it also has the potential to be very fast because millions of bits can be recorded and read in parallel. In the early 2000s, there was a lot of work being done on developing the technology, but it seems to have fallen by the wayside, or at least gone underground. InPhase Technologies was one of the major players, but its assets were seized last month by the Colorado Department of Revenue:

As the article above notes, there are quite a few "science project" storage methods out there, but we don't hear that much about them. Maybe we're just not ready for Star Trek technology yet. The biggest obstacle seems to be the cost; the 300 GB holographic drive that InPhase made had a high price tag: more than $10,000. Er, I think I'll pass.

But there is an alternative to the traditional hard drive that's here, now, and although still a bit expensive, it won't set you back thousands of dollars for a few gigs of storage space. Of course I'm talking about the solid state drive (SSD). They started appearing in netbooks because their small physical size (as small as 1.8 inch) makes it easy to reduce the size of the computer itself. They're also lighter in weight than a traditional hard drive of the same capacity.

Most SSDs use flash memory and don't need batteries. DRAM-based SSDs are faster, but need a battery or AC adapter and backup storage because their memory is volatile, so otherwise data will be lost if the electrical power is lost. Flash-based SSDs do use DRAM for a cache. Unlike traditional hard drives, SSDs have no moving parts. That makes them quieter and also more durable and less prone to failure. They are also less vulnerable to damage from vibration, shock or extreme temperatures, and they don't have to be defragmented. They are fast for read operations, but SATA-based SSDs are slow on write operations. PCIe SSDs provide faster write speeds.

Not all SSDs are created equal, though. The fastest SSDs come at a higher price. And price is a sticking point for SSDs - they still cost considerably more than their platter-based counterparts, and capacities are generally correspondingly lower. Most on the market now are in the 128 GB and under capacity range. You can buy a 1 TB SSD, but it costs almost $4000. For 512 GB, you'll pay around $1500 or more. Contrast that with the price of a 500 GB traditional hard drive, which can be had for as little as $55 (all prices are from

It's likely that SSD prices will fall in the next year, though. And the good news is that Windows 7 (along with Server 2008 R2) is optimized to work with SSD drives. Unlike previous versions of Windows, it supports the TRIM command, which maintains the speed of the SSD throughout its lifespan and eliminates a problem suffered by SSDs in the past, wherein they slowed down as they got older and all their cells had been written to. You can read more about TRIM and other Windows 7 SSD optimizations here:

Tell us what you think about the whole subject of data storage. We've hardly scratched the surface here; there are still many other ways of storing digital information: on optical discs (CD, DVD, Blu-ray), on portable flash ("thumb") drives and cards, local network storage options such as SAN and NAS, and, of course, "in the cloud." Are you still using traditional hard disks on your computers or have you upgraded to SSD? If not, is it because of cost or capacity (or both)? What would the price point have to be for a 500 GB drive before you would buy an SSD? What do you think the next big thing in storage will be - holographic or something entirely new and different? Will we see traditional hard drives become obsolete in the next ten years, or will they keep hanging in there? We invite you to discuss these questions and more on our forum at

Follow-up: Win7 Starter for Netbooks

In last week's editorial, I talked about the somewhat stripped down Starter edition of Windows 7 that comes on many of the low cost netbooks that are on the market today. Quite a few of our readers who bought netbooks loaded with Starter edition said they quickly upgraded to Windows 7 Home Premium, Pro or Ultimate. However, a few folks are using Starter and find that it fills their needs. It's all a matter of what you want the system to do and how much you want to pay. Overall, though, upgrading was the most popular choice.

As always, a big "thank you" to all of you who participated in the discussion.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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Quotes of the Week

"Don't go around saying the world owes you a living". The world owes you nothing. It was here first. - Mark Twain

"He who has a why to live can bear almost any how". - Friedrich Nietzsche

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day". - E. B. White

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Cool Tools


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Ultra Edit New Version 15.2 - Replacing Notepad or Looking for The Most Powerful Text Editor?

News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

The Death of the Desktop? Not So Much.

I posited in an editorial some time back that the rumors of the desktop computer's death had been greatly exaggerated. Now it seems that recent sales figures are proving me right. After a long period of portables leading the pack, there has been a resurgence of sales on the desktop side, with Windows 7 and its Media Center capabilities getting a lot of the credit. It's no surprise to me; I love my laptop but I would hate to have to use it for all of my computing tasks. I guess I'm not the only one.

Service Pack 1: Not Much to See Here

There has been plenty of speculation about what will be included in Windows 7 SP1, but according to Microsoft's recent announcement, don't get your hopes up for anything very exciting. Instead, it looks as if it will be just a collection of minor fixes and updates, many of which have already been released via Windows Update. Will this news encourage the overly cautious who usually wait for the first service pack to go ahead and upgrade now - or will it cause them to dig in and wait for SP2? Only time will tell.

No Firefox for Windows Mobile

Mozilla has been working on development of mobile version of the Firefox web browser for Windows Mobile 6.5, but apparently they've decided to abandon those efforts. That comes in the wake of the announcements that Windows Phone 7 Series won't run previous WinMo apps and that Windows Phone 7 Series applications will be "closed" like iPhone apps, available only through Microsoft's app store. Some speculate that this will discourage some developers from creating apps for Windows Phone 7 Series. You can read more here:

Oversized dynamic VHD can cause Windows 7 to crash

One of the new features in Windows 7 Pro, Enterprise and Ultimate is the ability to boot from a virtual hard disk (VHD). But you may find that if the VHD is too large, it will crash the computer with an error message that says "A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer. An initialization failure occurred while attempting to boot from a VHD. The volume that hosts the VHD does not have enough free space to expand the VHD." This only happens when the VHD is configured to dynamically expand. You can read more about it here:

How to: Using the New Windows 7 Features

How to add color coding to Windows 7 Media Center Program Guide

If you use the Windows Media Center in Windows 7 to record your favorite TV programs, you know that it can sometimes be difficult to find the shows you want in the Guide. What if you could easily identify programs by categories in the Guide? You probably know that you can sort by category, but did you know that you can also use color coding to make programs of a specific type (such as movies or sports or children's programming) stand out in the full Guide listing? Here's how:
  1. In Windows Media Center, scroll to Tasks and click the Settings option.
  2. In the Settings list, click TV.
  3. Click Guide.
  4. Click Guide Page Options.
  5. Check the box that says "Apply colored backgrounds to shows, based on their category."
  6. Click Save.
Now your programs will be color coded as follows: Movies will be purple, sports will be dark blue, children's shows will be light blue, specials will be orange/brown and news shows will be green.

Windows 7 and Vista Security

Fake antivirus targets Windows 7 users

It's not a new ploy; in fact, it has a name: scareware. It's malicious software that pretends to be an antivirus program, telling you that your computer is infested with all manner of nasty viruses. Now there's a new one out there that's targeting Windows 7 computers. If you fall for its rouse and click to "remove all threats," it will download more malware that tries to get you to enter your credit card information to pay for the "disinfecting." Don't do it! You can read more about it here:

Question Corner

Why does quad core take longer to boot than dual core?

Does anyone know why booting up a quad-core Win 7 system (about 3 minutes) takes 1.5 times as long as a dual-core system (about 2 minutes)? One thing I noticed on the quad-core systems is that shortly after the welcoming message appears, the screen goes black for about 70 seconds. On the dual-core system the screen may go black for a second or not at all. What is happening while the screen is black? Shutdown on the quad systems takes about 11 seconds while shutdown on the dual-core system takes about 22 seconds. I would expect shutdown on the quad-core systems to be twice as fast as the dual-core systems. But why is startup on the quad-core systems so slow and why isn't it twice as fast as on the dual-core system? - John S.

The only way to get an accurate comparison is to have two systems that are identical except for the processors. There are many variables that can affect the boot time, including the programs that load at start-up, your hardware peripherals (because the drivers have to load), and various configuration settings. It may be that your quad-core system has additional or different hardware devices such as number of hard drives, different video cards and/or sound cards, extra cards such as TV tuners, USB devices, Bluetooth devices, and so forth. Driver issues are a common cause of slow bootup.

There is a somewhat controversial fix. Windows is supposed to use all your processors during the boot process by default. However, quite a few people report that they've been able to speed things up by changing the settings in msconfig.exe. Go to the boot tab and click Advanced Options. It will probably "number of processors" as 1. You can change this by checking the box and selecting from the drop-down list. Again, this is not supposed to have any effect, but so many folks have said it made a difference for them that you might as well give it a try.

You might also check the system log in Event Viewer, to see if it shows any problems being encountered during boot-up.

Windows 7 Configuration and Troubleshooting

20 Keyboard Shortcuts You Need to Know

Keyboard lovers, rejoice! Windows 7 has support for more keyboard shortcuts than ever before. I'm not saying you'll never need to touch your mouse again, but you can definitely keep your fingers on the keys more, and get your work done faster, with these handy key combos.

Windows 7 upgrade fails and you can't boot into Vista

On those rare occasions when the Windows upgrade installation fails, you get the message "This version of Windows could not be installed, your previous version of Windows has been restored and you can continued to use it." The problem is that sometimes, when you reboot, the Windows 7 setup starts again, with the same message. Ouch - how do you fix that? You'll have to restore the BCD database. Luckily, it's not hard to do, as long as you have the Vista installation disc. Find the instructions in KB article 974078 at

Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: VistaNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

Product of the Week

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