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Let's talk time scales real quick. Your computer's CPU lives by the nanosecond: most CPUs can get a few things done in each nanosecond – mostly simple math and comparisons. To make this easier to grasp, suppose you're the CPU and instead of nanoseconds, you live and work second by second. For clarity I'll keep this metaphor to a single-core of a single processor.

You can hold a few things in your head (register). Not more than a dozen or two in your active memory, but you can recall any of them pretty much instantly. Information that's important to you you'll often keep close by, either on sheets of loose-leaf paper on your working desk (L1 cache) a couple seconds away, or in a one of a handfull of books in your place (L2 and up cache) which is so well organized that no individual piece of information is more than a dozen or so seconds away.

If you can't find what you're looking for there, you'll have to make a quick stop at the library down the street (RAM, i.e. main memory). Fortunately, it's close enough that you can go down and grab a book and get back to work in only ~8 and a half minutes, and it's enormous, some are thousands of times the size of a typical strip-mall book store. A little inconvenient, until you remember that this library has a free delivery service, so it's really no bother at all so long as you can still find things to work on while you wait.

But the local library mostly just stocks things on demand (which is fair, your bookcases, worksheets, and even the dozen or two facts you hold in your head are mostly the same way). The problem is that when you need something that's not there, it can take a while to get it. How long? Think Amazon.com in the age of exploration. They send out an old wooden boat and it could be a week, could be a month, and it's not unusual to wait 3 years before you hear a response.

Welcome to the world of hard disk storage, where your information is retrieved by making plates of metal spin really fast. Many metric tons of sweat have been spent making this as fast as possible, but it's hard to keep up with electrons flowing through wires.

So when someone says that Solid State Disks are awesome, it's because they're able to turn that slow, unpredictable old sailing ship into a streamlined steam-powered vessel. A good SSD can often make the voyage in less than a week, sometimes in little more than a day. It can also make many thousands more quests for information per year.

(If you're looking for an SSD, I recommend you read http://www.anandtech.com/tag/storage , I recently got an OCZ Vertex 3 but it has been brought to my attention that they have unresolved and quite serious bugs.)

[credit inspiration for this post: 1) http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/Beowulf/beowulf_book/beowulf_book/node24.html 2) http://antirobotrobot.tumblr.com/post/17138289530/the-software-stack-and-latency 3) http://i.imgur.com/X1Hi1.gif]

Edited to fix a typo, and add in the third inspiration for this post, which I'd forgotten (click to magnify for it to make sense)
Edited again: Looks like the drive I recommended is problematic, I've withdrawn the recommendation. Linking to the site where I got the information to make my decision is better for folks who might stumble upon this post later.
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29 comments
 
I don't need any additional speed out of my computer, but it would be nice. Do they have any issues with durability?
 
They're practically immune to shock (i.e. dropping your laptop); the one I recommend is rated for 1,500Gs of acceleration, which is about the force of a golf pro's swing (thanks Wolfram Alpha!). If you read online you'll see much wringing of hands and clutching at pearls about maximum number of writes, but even with fairly aggressive use they should easily last >5 years, and that failure mode is very forgiving (you can still read your data, just not write any more, which is better than the average failure mode of a hard disk).

All that said, it's still a young field, SSDs do fail, and I don't have statistics. You should not trust your data to any one device. If you don't make backups then you shouldn't go to sleep until you do, I recommend Backblaze 'cause it's cheap, low maintenance, and offers client-side encryption.
 
...Different subject...

What do you see as the future for cloud-based office software? I work for a company that offers hospitals the cutting edge technologically, but internally, we're still spreading Excel spreadsheets and Word and PDF docs via e-mail. This just seems kinda wrong to me.
 
Google Docs, only faster, more features, and generally better. So just Google Docs in the future.

Caveat: I'm only a moderate docs user, though I put spreadsheets through its paces with personal project recently and got surprisingly far before I felt like I needed to whip out some actual programming.

That seems like the obvious answer though, so I'd guess that you've tried it and it didn't work out?
 
I use it personally, but getting it to work for a company seems like a different beast. i guess I need to investigate Office 360.
 
If your organization uses Google Apps it's really rather smooth. It's super easy to share documents, comment on them, build up a rough draft before making it more widely available, etc. all without making endless copies and all that mess. We use it internally a lot and it's yet to get in my way (though I do feel the lack of some sort of shared task management system, and no gmail tasks doesn't count).
 
To me this evoked the image of a monk doing work in a monastery with a huge library. If you picture this monk as your CPU, and assume he works 12 hours every day, over a lifespan of 60 years, thats about the work a 1GHz CPU is capable of doing every second.
 
The intel is also at more than half again the price of the ocz. I'd love to see some real world statistics on these drives reliability rates. On the other hand, Intel does have an amazingly impressive lab for testing, which I doubt anyone else (especially ocz) can match.

I guess I should have mentioned when I gave my recommendation that I consider a drive to be a rather limited lifetime product (especially with the rate of performance improvement the SSD market is seeing), and of course backed by a good backup.
 
+Alastair McDermott Vertex BSOD issues were fixed a while ago, you just need to update the SSD firmware if you have an old model.
 
+Eric Matzner Take my response with a grain of salt and do your own research, but yes. If I were building a new desktop and didn't want to risk hard disk failure and the frustration that brings, I would build it with a 520. The Samsung 830 is also excellent and putting in numbers just under the 520 if you want to save a few bucks.

Having watched the SSD progression since the boom in 2009 and seeing the problems the different controllers and firmware versions have gone through, I have no faith in OCZ. They are trying to make a name, so they produce at a break-neck speed, but every new product they've released has shipped with critical problems (Vertex2 failure rate was REDICULOUS at a 1yr mark, something like 80%). The V3 shipped with BSOD bugs on Windows that took months to fix in the firmware.

Indilinx controllers did a hair better reliability wise, but their performance was garbage next to the SandForce chipsets that OCZ was using in the high end SSDs.

The one common denominator is that Intel maintains the reliability crown. You pay a premium for it as +Peter Burns correctly pointed out though.

More recently Samsung has come out from the OEM game (providing Apple and I think Lenovo most of their SSDs) and launched some retail SSDs in the form of the 830 series (http://www.anandtech.com/show/4863/the-samsung-ssd-830-review) which seems to be very solid. No major problem-trends I'm seeing online.

If you want another interesting brand to look at, Kingston is shipping SandForce-based SSDs in their HyperX series (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820139601) and so far they have been turning in great numbers and no stability trends to be worried about.

So there are a few options for you if you wanted to look around.
 
Nice analogy. I can never really give a good explanation on the difference between the storage mediums. I like the clock approach. Ill just reference this post in the future!
 
In regards to the Vertex 3 debate, I bought the 240GB version when they were first released (firmware v2.02) and have never had a problem with it. I did however have some friends who bought the 120GB version in the following months and had BSOD issues.

HOWEVER, these issues were resolved in firmwave v2.15 and after updating to this version, no one that I know has had any BSOD issues whatsoever. I highly recommend the Vertex 3 drives, and encourage anyone with older driver to make sure they're running the latest firmware. You can find everything you need here: http://www.ocztechnologyforum.com/forum/showthread.php?89670-Firmware-update-Tools-for-OCZ-Vertex2-3-Agility2-3-Solid3-Revo-and-Ibis-SSD-s
 
For reference, how fast would network calls be on a distributed system?
 
+Anthony Fernandez I think it would be like sending out a boat with your request, having kids, dying of old age, then having your middle aged son pick it up for you. That is just from the hip though, I am sure Peter can calculate something more accurately.
 
+Anthony Fernandez Shooting from the hip here.

Over the internet you're looking at no better than ~4 months to 3 years with a good connection. Dial up is more like 3-30 years. Wireless varies enormously but a spot of interference can cost you a century easy.

In a datacenter you should see between two months and a year round trip with bog-standard equipment and configuration, but the expensive specialized stuff can go much faster, from a couple days down to a couple hours, but they're sending around riders on horseback at all hours of the night and you'd better believe that won't come cheap.
 
Hey, there's a few folks +Oleg Kikin +Coen McClelland saying the Vertex 3 issues are fixed, especially with the v2.15 firmware. In my experience that is not the case - the drive still has frequent BSOD, even with those 2 partial solutions.

The Intel Enterprise RST storage drivers really does help - you can find a packed up version of these from Fernando here: http://www.win-lite.de/wbb/board195-windows-7/board198-win7-treiber/15558-gemoddete-intel-ahci-und-raid-treiber/?12e1fcce

I found that my BSODs reduced from one every 15-20 minutes down to one every 3-5 hours (and on 95% of Hiberation restore attempts). That's still far to much though, and I strongly recommend staying away from any SandForce controller based SSD until the problems are fully resolved.
 
+Michael Shapiro I posted my links there as a service to everyone who read the article and was wondering more information about the mentioned product. I myself had to open a new tab and search for the product, and so to save everyone else reading the thread the trouble, I posted the links. I am seriously interested in an SSD for my MB Pro which is why I asked the second question. Do you have a problem with that?
 
+Eric Matzner I think what Michael took issue with is embedding your Amazon affiliate code in the link to the hard drive you were asking about; you can only (easily) get this by logging into your affiliate account, navigating to a product page and clicking the "Link to this page" wizard to generate the link for you (meaning it takes some effort to put your ref code in there, which some people think is a bit disingenuous). That being said, I've noticed this trend among my friends as well and it doesn't change the price of the product for the purchaser so I just shrug it off. You could also think of it as "If I post a suggestion in a forum and someone buys the product because of me, why shouldn't I get $ for the recommendation?" -- which I think is a valid point.

So in short, maybe a social snafu, but nothing more.
 
+Riyad Kalla Indeed. Additionally, +Eric Matzner's post had zero content aside from the affiliate links, very spambot-like behavior.

+Eric Matzner Ah, if you're so philanthropic as to provide links to products mentioned as a service to the community, why not remove your affiliate codes?
 
+Michael Shapiro It's not like I'm trolling around threads looking for places to put my affiliate link, but I am an internet entrepreneur and I don't pass up opportunities, especially when I see that there is an actual need to be served. Some 230+ people clicked on the links, so that speaks for itself that they were needed.
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