PCIe and Other New Interfaces for SSDs

The Solid State Drive industry is working at enabling users to take better advantage of the high speeds that SSDs can deliver.  A group of companies, including Intel, Fujitsu, IBM, EMC, Dell, has formed the SSD Form Factor Working Group.  This group is defining a different way to connect to computer systems than with the standard SATA connection.

The new connection method being developed uses the PCI-E (Peripheral Component Interconnect – Express) interface.  The PCI-E interface has become a standard component in most desktop computers and motherboards and most users recognize it as a connection for high performance video cards.

The PCI-E isn’t only for video, however.  With the emergence of USB 3.0 devices, add-on (host adapter) cards have been created that are designed to be connected to a PCI-E connector on the motherboard.  This connection enables fast communication between the motherboard and the USB 3.0 devices that are required to take full advantage of the high speed of the devices.   External SSDs with USB 3.0 interfaces will help speed the data transfer between computer and SSD.

The SSD Form Factor Working Group is developing standard ways to connect SSDs to the PCIe connections on desktop computers and in future notebook computers that include PCIe.   Once the connectors for the SSDs are standardized, manufacturers will produce SSDs that can be easily connected.

SSDs are also being paired with other interfaces that provide higher performance than typical SATA.  Hitachi announced new SSDs with capacities up to 400 GB that feature SAS (Serial Attached SSCI) or Fibre Channel interfaces.  These interfaces are typically for use in Enterprise computers.

The high speed data throughput enabled by the SAS, Fibre Channel and PCIe interfaces will allow users – and organizations that require extremely high performance – to take better advantage of the fast speeds and other attractive features of the SSDs.  We will be seeing the use of SSDs where they are most useful or most practical.  SSDs are well suited for use as boot drives, and for storing operating systems and application software.  For applications that require intense access to data, SSDs will also shine.

In organizations and Enterprises, SSDs will find a firm place in applications that are data intensive, require high performance data transfers or rapid booting, and in locations where their other strengths are required.

The SSD is here to stay, and adoption of SSDs will continue while prices drop and availability of larger drives increases.  Migration to SSDs for booting, application launch and operating systems is already happening.  Over the next few years, the industry will undoubtedly sort out the best mix of SSDs and HDDs in a wide array of devices.

Mark Brownstein is a technology journalist and technology consultant who specializes in explaining and interpreting new technologies, and clarifying how to integrate these new products into current systems. He has been Editor-In-Chief at computer technology and networking publications, has held significant editorial positions at major technology magazines, and is a frequent contributor to various technology magazines. He has written seven books. He is Microsoft Certified, and spends much of his time testing hardware and software products, running his own networks, and learning the best ways to get computer systems running and to keep them running.

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