Many of you have seen Mark speak.  He's often the keynote at many of the technical conferences.  I like his style.  He pokes fun at us (Microsoft), gets the audience laughing and snickering, and obviously has fun doing his job.  You can get a lot of background on the man at http://www.minasi.com/.  He has written several popular books and from talking with the Mark, it's obvious he's confident when he weighs in on a subject.

Mark attended a couple of sessions I delivered at Windows Connections a couple of weeks ago.  During the course of one of the sessions, I started describing the platform I was using for the demos and I believe I offered some information on the next generation laptops coming that would be capable of using more than 4GB of memory.  I also mentioned when I get my hands on such a laptop, my next bottleneck was going to be disk capacity.

Mark chimed in that I should just use some of the new laptop drives recently released that use perpendicular recording.  I responded something to the effect that I don't use them because I want the low latency and speed from a 7200rpm drive.  He indicated the new drives running at 5400rpm, but using the perpendicular recording techniques are just as fast.

I tucked that away.  I hadn't really done the research yet on the subject so I didn't challenge his assertion.  I had planned to start checking into the subject anyway, so this was a good reminder to get off my duff and do so.

Research Mode On

Like many of you, I usually disregard certain technologies until they are within my reach.  In the case of hard drives, it means the price is low enough that I can afford the drive.  On rare occasions, the business and technical needs will outweigh the price.  Laptop drives can easily fall into that case because the number and size of virtual machines I use keeps increasing.  I think we need to adjust the data storage law as follows:

Keith's Law, "The amount of data you need to use will always be twice the hard drive space you have."

After my event last Thursday in El Paso, I started digging around on this subject.  As usual, I hit some of my favorite nerd buying sites to see how much per gig these 2.5" 5400rpm perp recording drives are going for.  My first stop is http://zipzoomfly.com.  I don't buy from them much anymore because their return policy is a bit too hard core for me.  But, I do like to check their prices. 

Pay Dirt

While at zipzoomfly, I spy the Seagate Momentus 7200.2.  Holy cow!!!  Mark is both wrong and right and he didn't even know it.  Now they are shipping 7200rpm larger capacity perp recorded drives.  Thank you Lord.  The problem is, that the 160GB drive is $300.  That's three times the price of a 100GB 7200rpm 2.5" drive.  I don't know about you, but the math doesn't add up.  More research is obviously needed.

I haven't even begun to do my research. At this point, there's really no need to get too detailed.  Why squabble over 5400 versus 7200rpm drives when I can just continue to buy 7200.  But I want to learn a bit more, so I start digging around.  I take a look at the Seagate specs at http://www.seagate.com/docs/pdf/marketing/po_momentus_7200_2.pdf.  I prefer Hitachi Travelstar so I peruse the website.  Unfortunately, Hitachi isn't yet making a 7200rpm drive using perp recording.  Hitachi does however have a basic explanation on perpendicular recording.  If you want a little more detail, see their expanded white paper.  What it really boils down to is that the drive makers have added some additional layers to the media, are using some new materials, and thus now have the ability to write and read from denser media.

SuperparaMagnetic Effect

The reason perpendicular drives and recording have been created is the wonderful phenomena called superparamagnetic effect.  The real effect is data loss which occurs when heat reverses the magnetic orientation of the tiny magnetic grains.  Uh, that's not good.  Hence the new materials and different recording methods.

Where Mark Minasi is right, is that the new recording methods and densities offer a very efficient method of data transfer.  However, in all of the benchmark data I looked at over the weekend, not a single 5400rpm perpendicular drive out performed a 7200rpm standard SATA drive.  HA !!!  I figured there was no way he was right.  However, the numbers were very close so as Mark indicated, the 5400rpm drives are certainly performing very well. You can look at benchmarks at tomshardware.com and other sites to see this.

Another thing that stood out in the research is that the new materials and recording methods have lowered the power consumption of the drives.  In fact, the power consumed was cut by more than half in some of the stats I looked at.  That is good news for us laptop users.

What's coming?

One thing is for sure, the research and development in the 2.5" form factor has lagged all of the other consumer drive segments.  This is now changing.  More powerful devices (UPMC, Tablets, and laptops) are driving this need and of course the size of our data keeps growing exponentially.  See Keith's Law above.

Fujitsu and Seagate already have 160GB 7200rpm 3Gb SATA interface 2.5" drives out.  I haven't seen those drives benchmarked, but I expect that they are the top performing drives currently on the market.  200 and 300GB drives have been announced by Fujitsu, Toshiba, Hitachi and others.  2007 and 2008 are going to be great years for higher capacity fast laptop drives.  That will make it easier to carry all my virtual machines around.  Save your pennies.  Bleeding edge 7200rpm perp drives aren't cheap.  Hopefully my managers are wisely budgeting for the next fiscal year.  Technology doesn't stand still.

Now if I can just get a 1TB 7200rpm 2.5" drive.  Anyone know how to shrink one of these?

[UPDATE]  Tom Wu sent me an email and pointed me to the Samsung press release.  A nice juicy 200GB 7200rpm perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) hard drive.  I guess I should use the PMR acronym since it appears to be a de facto standard.  I like perp better.  Oh, and Tom also pointed out that buy.com had the 7200.2 for ~$180.  That isn't bad.  Looks like I'll be able to afford this stuff after all. 

[UPDATE] Hitachi just announced their 200GB 7200rpm 2.5" laptop drive.  Details at http://www.hitachigst.com/portal/site/en/menuitem.9958814a08a37d75797ecae2eac4f0a0/.