The slowest, most unreliable, and out-dated hunk of machinery in any computer, Mac, PC, laptop, whatever, is the hard drive. Computers today are like incredibly hi-tech cars driving around on wooden buggy wheels. Millions of dollars are poured into developing faster engines and fancy suspension systems but much of it goes to waste because the wooden wheels can only handle speeds under 30 miles per hour.
Hard drives are basically just shrunken down record players. They are no doubt marvels of engineering but they suffer from an unavoidable need to physically move an arm around, reading and writing data onto a spinning hunk of metal (see video). That’s all changing thanks to the emergence of solid state drives. These are a lot like the USB thumb drives stuck to countless key chains except they’re bigger, faster, and you can install your operating system on them.
Next Level Hardware just reviewed the latest generation solid state drive from MTron and it gives a really interesting glimpse into software performance on computers that are no longer bottlenecked by wooden wheels. I won’t get into the geeky details but the thing basically boots Vista more than twice as fast as the fastest mechanical hard drive. I had Vista on a pretty capable laptop with 2Gigs of RAM and it would take minutes of watching the hard drive light blink before I could actually use the thing. But what if Vista wasn’t such a slug? Would it be worth another look?
These drives are horribly expensive but prices are dropping fast. The NLH review is interesting because it’s now possible to imagine a world where there are no more computer bottlenecks and reliability is no longer a concern because of the durability of the new crop of drives.
If performance and reliability are no longer issues some obvious questions come to mind: Why would anybody ever buy a new computer? Will Vista finally find acceptance once the performance issues are solved by better hardware? If nobody needs to upgrade because even cheap PCs are just good enough will the hardware industry collapse?
I predict that people will continue to buy new computers because the cost will be much lower as we move towards system on chip processors from Intel, etc. near the end of the decade. Got a virus? Just buy a new computer for $40. Storage will be remote if Google keeps its promises so even a computer failure will cease to be a big deal.
I’m still skeptical about Vista. By the time these solid state drives are cheap enough for mainstream use Vista will have been declared dead. There are rumors that MS is working on a really solid new OS that could replace Vista but Linux distributions may be good enough by then that it won’t make sense to pay an extra hundred dollars for a DRM shackled OS. Apple is interesting because standards are making the OS of choice nearly irrelevant but they’re also opening up Apple to competition from Linux. Virtual machines are probably the most interesting development because they will make applications OS agnostic. Want to run Office 07 in Linux or Mac? No problem, just boot XP in a virtual machine and do what you need to do.
Soon computers will be nearly free, performance will be more than anybody can use, at least for today’s apps, and the prospect of spending $150 for an operating system running on a $100 PC seems unlikely. Technically, economically, philosophically, Linux would seem destined for world domination.