Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Finding New Ways To Smash Solid State Drives...

Posted by Tom Foremski - December 19, 2011

If Alan Frost loves solid-state drives so much, why does he relish throwing them, smashing them and, yes, even cooking them?

"Awareness," said Frost, and he doesn't mean for himself. Although these solid-state drive (SSD) beatings are available on YouTube for the world to see, he doesn't want star billing.

"It's all about the SSD," said Frost of Intel's NAND Solutions Group.

For the uninitiated, solid-state drives are a storage device without moving parts, making them significantly less susceptible to damage from impact than traditional hard disk drives.<

Manufacturers such as Kingston and OCZ tout myriad benefits of solid-state drives, and a Forrester Research report hailed the deceased power consumption and seek time, but it's the sturdiness of SSDs that drives the "Adventures with Intel Solid-State Drives" video series.

Guided by a formula of taking working SSDs from a laptop, torturing them with fervor and then seeing if they still work, the demonstrations test the drives' brawn in a number of far-out ways, including a stunt that had a sedan nearly side-swiping Frost.

"The car came 5 feet away from me going 82 miles an hour," Frost said. "Wasn't the smartest move I've ever done."

Perhaps not, but that video got more than 100,000 views on YouTube in the first few months.

That was the first of six segments shot in Northern Nevada's Black Rock Desert, a place not unfamiliar with the bizarre, being home of the annual Burning Man event.

In one test, an SSD is run over by a wheel of the 13,000-pound North American Eagle, a converted jet fighter that had its wings lopped off and wheels added to challenge for the land speed record. In another demonstration, an SSD is strapped to the Eagle's frame for a 2 1/2 -mile test run, and survives -- something Frost said a hard drive could not due to the tremendous vibration alone.

In the final ordeal at Black Rock, an Intel SSD and a hard drive were loaded side-by-side in the Eagle's parachute launcher, and after being shot out after the craft reached about 700 mph, both drives were tested and only the SSD, to borrow a line from the classic Timex commercials, took a licking and kept on ticking.

After the success of the Black Rock series, Frost went to Japan to film martial arts experts doing their best to inflict harm on SSDs and hard drives. Karate chops of a 20-year-plus martial arts expert and strikes by sword-wielding men dressed as samurai proved fatal only for the hard drives.

Frost, co-creator Bryce Sanders and other team members are planning even more ways to test SSDs in 2012. Frost is hesitant to divulge what's on the horizon, but he's hoping stars align for Tom Dickson and his Blendtec line of blenders to use an SSD in a future "Will It Blend?" video.

"We contacted him and he asked for too much money, of course. People ask all the time for us to go on that program. I don't see it happening, but we'll keep trying," said Frost, adding that he doubts an SSD will blend. "SSDs can't get wet, so there's nothing wet in them [to blend]."


If the avid sports fan gets his wish, one of Frost's next videos will involve the San Jose Sharks of the National Hockey League.

"The one I really want to do is go to a Sharks practice and have players hit an SSD with a slap shot like they do with a hockey puck," Frost said. "We tried to make this happen a few years ago but the financials never worked out. The Sharks wanted more money than we wanted to spend."

So far, Frost has had to make do with two amateur hockey players shooting an SSD and an HDD into a goal net at a public ice skating rink. The SSD won.

SSDs may be victorious on the ice, but they still have a way to go before they eclipse HDDs in the marketplace. According to market research firm iSuppli, second-quarter2011 shipments of SSDs climbed "a hefty" 21.4 percent to 3.4 million units, but the market "faces the challenge of a crowded manufacturer base" and "teething pains on the way to becoming a stable market with healthy revenues and margins."

For comparison, HDD shipments in the second quarter totaled 167.1 million units, according to iSuppli. Still, the firm noted, "SSDs continue to deepen their penetration into the market, and the technology is expected to pick up more steam with the recent debut of consumer NAND caching technology from Intel."

For his part, Frost will continue to produce videos guided by a mission to educate and entertain audiences on the ruggedness of SSDs.

"Anyone who looks at the videos will at least be aware of them," he said. "They are a fun way to raise awareness. If half never heard of SSDs before we're serving our point."


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