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2015.11.10 One Last HDD/SSD/SSHD Rant

posted Nov 10, 2015, 10:18 AM by Troy Cheek   [ updated Nov 10, 2015, 10:19 AM ]
Not too many years ago, I specced a new desktop system and had to make some decisions about storage space.  I ultimately went with a 100 GB SSD boot drive for about $100 and a 2 TB HDD storage drive for about $100.  I installed the OS and some commonly used programs on the SSD, put my video collection and less-used programs on the HDD, set Windows 7 to default to thinking My Documents and similar folders were on the HDD, and off I went.

Things were fine for a while, but as I installed more programs and collected more data, I found that more and more often I was having to uninstall old programs from the SSD or move them to the HDD.  "Hey, that new game everyone is talking about is on sale!  Not enough space on the SSD!  Well, I'm not using this old game anymore, and this latest video project is finished, so..."  I'd end up spending the whole evening shuffling files around.  By the time I got the game installed, I was too tired to play it.  The thought occurred to me many times that I was doing a lot of work making things easier for the computer, when it was supposed the be the other way around.  The computer is supposed to be working hard to make things easier for me.

I heard about SSHD, a hyrbid of SSD and HDD technology.  In theory, frequently used files are kept on the SSD and other data is kept on the HDD, giving you the best of both worlds automatically.  However, the SSD parts of these drives seemed ridiculously small, like 8 GB.  That may not be enough to store a whole OS install to speed up boots and system operations.  If you have 8 or 16 GB of system RAM, that's not even enough to store a hibernation file to speed up returning from hibernation mode.  Obviously, the SSHD concept was flawed, or at least not implemented effectively.

There was another option.  Combining separate SSD and HDD devices at the OS level.  Basically, it was a roll-you-own SSHD where you combined your existing SSD and HDD into a single device.  All the advantages of an SSHD with sizes you set yourself.  Except that if you're running Windows, you have to shell out big bucks for an "enterprise-level solution" or switch to Linux to have this capability.

My suggested solution was a utility program that did the "whole evening shuffling files around" thing automatically.  You'd install all programs and save all data to the SSD.  The utility program would monitor the SSD.  When it started getting full, the utility would seek out the oldest, least used "stale" programs and data and move them over to the HDD.  With the proper use of symbolic links and similar tricks, the OS and the user don't even realize that the files have been moved.  If it turns out that the moved files are needed again, they can be moved back just as easily.  Again, such a thing exists, but only very expensively or for other operating systems.

I wrote a proof of concept program in BASIC of all things in a few hours, just to show that such a thing was possible.  It worked well enough, but it wasn't something I wanted to trust my data to.  I almost considered hiring a programmer friend to write a bullet-proof version of it for me, but I figured if I was going to spend that much money, I could go with one of the existing solutions.  No one else seemed interested in such a utility, so I went back to shuffling files around manually.  I figured a solution would eventually present itself.

Just the other day, a family member was complaining how slow his laptop was.  I had an unused SSD laying around so I offered to install it for him, the caveat being that he'd have to pare down his data because his HDD was 500 GB and the SSD was 100 GB.  He wasn't willing to do that, but the idea did intrigue him, so we checked current prices.  It turns out you can get a 500 GB SSD for around $150 now.  I ordered one for him, along with a cable that should make cloning the old drive easier.  I ordered one for myself, too.  I'll replace my boot drive and probably spend many an evening shuffling files around.  The unused 100 GB SSD drives will probably become USB backup drives or replace the even smaller drives on the older laptops laying around.

You win again, Moore's Law!