Anybody gone HD-less?

Silencing hard drives, optical drives and other storage devices

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Rebellious
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Anybody gone HD-less?

Post by Rebellious » Mon Dec 17, 2007 3:45 pm

I've been running Ubuntu Linux for a few months now off a bootable USB flash drive. It's a 4GB SDHC, it loads and runs fast and in complete silence! Ubuntu even parks my Windows HDs and leaves them alone. I've been thinking to ditch all my noisy hard disks and go completely diskless. There also adapters that will connect CF flash drives as PATA or SATA directly to the motherboard, (so the OS will see them as physical hard disks). That way you can install Windows to a flash drive without resorting to Bart PE and other tricks.

However, apparently flash drives have a limited life, about 100,000 writes. Has anybody run a flash disk till it died? I'm curious how long one can run a flash drive before it dies. I've noticed that they are very fast on sequential writes but not so fast in random access. Do they just crash suddenly and unexpectedly?

Also what do you do for storage once you abandon that noisy 320GB HD? How do you get a contiguous 50GB of reliable storage for a reasonable cost?

jojo4u
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Post by jojo4u » Mon Dec 17, 2007 5:42 pm

CF cards need to be set internally to physical instead of removable. This is the case with some new cards. See here.

About the write cycles: I wouldn't be too worried. The german magazine C't wrote on a simple USB stick over and over for weeks on the same physical adress on got no error so far.

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Post by PopCorn » Mon Dec 17, 2007 6:45 pm

eh i messed around with solid sate for alittle while, for storage use a file server, install the apps from your computer on to a share then u should get a icon in ur desktop that will launch it
And with that being said I have always been a bit proud of my 1337 computer sk1llz

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Post by Fat Bunny » Mon Dec 17, 2007 7:56 pm

If you are concerned about write induced failure why not write the Linux installation to CF and have the swap file on a cheapo 1GB USB thumb drive? When the thumb drive fails just have another handy to replace it.

Just a suggestion from the one who does not know!
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Post by PopCorn » Mon Dec 17, 2007 8:25 pm

and just in case you didnt know the average 100,000 read/write limit is per block of memory, say write a 1mb file to it only that one block that its one gets 1 cycle taken away, all the others still have 100,000, or so thats what iv read here
And with that being said I have always been a bit proud of my 1337 computer sk1llz

jojo4u
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Post by jojo4u » Tue Dec 18, 2007 6:52 am

Fat Bunny wrote:and have the swap file on a cheapo 1GB USB thumb drive?
You don't need swap. I run Linux happily without ;)

Rebellious
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Post by Rebellious » Wed Dec 19, 2007 3:32 pm

Ha, I've yet to find somebody that ran a flash drive to the ground. 6GB CF are quite inexpensive, if they last a couple of years it's worth it not having to listen to the hard disk whining. Hard disks usually give you signs before they fail, and you can rescue your data. But I wonder if flash disks put out errors or if they got out like a light.

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Post by ddlooping » Thu Apr 10, 2008 11:01 am

Hi all. :)

Sorry to revive this old thread but I'm quite surpised it didn't get more attention.
Especially considering the "silent" factor and current price of SDHC cards. :?

Any specific reason as to why most SPCReviewers don't seem interested by the idea?

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Post by Airshark » Thu Apr 10, 2008 12:24 pm

ddlooping wrote:Hi all. :)

Sorry to revive this old thread but I'm quite surpised it didn't get more attention.
Especially considering the "silent" factor and current price of SDHC cards. :?

Any specific reason as to why most SPCReviewers don't seem interested by the idea?
Too small. Too slow.

If you want to go diskless, try an SSD first. Much faster and larger. Much more expensive, but hey, they're worth it.

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Post by frostedflakes » Thu Apr 10, 2008 1:04 pm

I think the EEE PC SSD runs Windows XP very well. Granted, I am using an nLite install and only use it for basic tasks (internet, word processing, etc.), but still. Performance of the disk is nothing to write home about, I believe max read is about 30MB/s. To be honest I am quite surprised, I remember users on SPCR claiming that even 266x (40MB/s) CF cards were unbearably slow with XP. Based on my experiences, this should be more than enough bandwidth for good performance. Perhaps the controllers on cheap CF card adapters just can't match the I/O performance of an SSD controller chip?
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ddlooping
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Post by ddlooping » Thu Apr 10, 2008 1:06 pm

Airshark wrote:Too small. Too slow.
Fair enough. :)
Airshark wrote:If you want to go diskless, try an SSD first. Much faster and larger. Much more expensive, but hey, they're worth it.
Sure, it would match my Ferrari quite well. ;)

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Post by Plekto » Thu Apr 10, 2008 1:23 pm

If you turn off the memory caching(swapfile in windows and whatever they call it in Linux) it will make it hit the drive a lot less.

The best method, IMO, would be to get a Gigabyte I-ram and use that as the main drive. Then use the CF cards as extra storage. That way the only time you're really hitting the CF cards is when you are accessing the programs/loading them.

Use a USB flash drive - leave it plugged in - and have it do a backup of the boot drive every few days automatically at night.

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Post by Spare Tire » Thu Apr 10, 2008 2:51 pm

My tablet pc is on a CF card. It's running WinXP Tablet edition, plus some necessary components taken from WinXP Embedded. I've put a write filter on top of the CF containing the system partition, so it should last me as long as i want. Being a portable machine by nature, running out of ram for the write filter was never a problem since it is turned off frequently during a day, but i did upgrade the ram to 1.5gig, and that's plenty. For data that needs to change (my class notes for example) i store it on another CF card with PCMCIA adaptor. Boots really fast, and pretty much invulnerable to viruses and anything because the changes to your OS wont perpetuate after reboot unless you specifically issue the command for it to commit to the CF. Basically it's just loading an old state of the OS each time.

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Post by andyb » Thu Apr 10, 2008 4:09 pm

I heard that the current gen of hardware (i.e. high end stuff) runs at 1,000,000 or more write before a failure, and next-gen will be 3-10 million.

In realistic terms it is thought of that modern, i.e. current cheap hardware (but not cutting edge) will work for at least 100,000 writes, and as meany reads as you want to try.

Performance and storage space are the major problems people face today, if you need performance, i.e.e gaming, photoshop etc, you are limited to very expensive SSD's, HDD, or super fast LAN storage (but even that has a lag).

For the average user, a 32GB SSD would be all they need, but at the current cost this is impractical.

The future beckons, and I am waiting, I would love to use an SSD in my main PC. Please update us with your finding.


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Post by kel » Fri Apr 11, 2008 12:32 am

I've been toying with the idea as well - don't really have the time to try this out atm, but I thought I'd post the idea if anyone's interested, so here's the plan:

- use an appropriately size SSD/Flash (transcend seems to be making sata SSD's now that are actually not that much more expensive than regular flash cards).
- use that for your OS, not sure how much windows would need but for linux 8gb should do, a typical ubuntu install takes only around 2gb and you then still have quite a bit of space for your most important files.
- as others have noted before linux can work perfectly without swap, not sure about windows though.
- for storage either use an external eSata enclosure or some sort of backplane/mounting bracket that allows you to easily switch the hd on or off.
- You also need a modern MB that supports sata hotswap (I know the intel P35 chipset supports it but most older intel boards don't - not sure about nvidia but I think they had this feature earlier.

You can then do most of your work just on the SSD and if you need access to larger chunks of data (movies, photos, games) you simply turn on your storage drive.

As I said I haven't tried this, but I do know that hotswapping sata discs works very well on my Intel DP35DPM under linux (ubuntu 8.04 - nautilus automatically picks up the drives so you don't have to manually mount anything). Did it a few times by just plugging in an additional disc by hand with the system running.

You might even try to wire up your own off/on switch which would then allow you to softmount the data disc (backplanes as well as external enclosures are rather noisy usually)

The advantage with this solution is that you have all the speed you could want and only get any noise if you actually need your data disc.

ddlooping
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Post by ddlooping » Fri Apr 11, 2008 6:03 am

Exactly what I had in mind, kel, thanks for putting it so well into writting. :)

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Post by Vicotnik » Sat Apr 12, 2008 1:47 am

kel wrote:- use an appropriately size SSD/Flash (transcend seems to be making sata SSD's now that are actually not that much more expensive than regular flash cards).
The Transcend SSDs are rather slow though. I went for a more expensive but faster solution (Mtron MOBI).
kel wrote:- as others have noted before linux can work perfectly without swap, not sure about windows though.
Works well with WinXP too (but not with Win2k).
kel wrote:- You also need a modern MB that supports sata hotswap (I know the intel P35 chipset supports it but most older intel boards don't - not sure about nvidia but I think they had this feature earlier.
ICH9R doesn't handle hotswap that well. More about that here.
I had to connect my backplane to the Gigabyte controller and an extra SiI3112 PCI controller because of this. :(
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Post by biodome » Tue Apr 15, 2008 12:53 pm

i'm sick and tired of the noise of my 5000AAKS. i wanna give it a go and be diskless for OS.

I'm thinking of 8GB Extreme III Sandisk 200x CF as the card (30mb transfer rate), will this be enough for XP?
It should cost me about $90, and combine it with a CF to SATA adapter like the cheap ones on ebay.

And arrange eSATA for storage. what's the maximum length of eSATA cables?

Though I am fearing what will i do with downloads, doing it on a remote pc isn't so convient, but if the eSATA drive will be remote enough it won't matter.

Should I consider a 2.5" 120gb SATA 5400RPM instead, if so which? are they quiet enough? price will be about the same.

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Post by Plekto » Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:50 pm

The gigabyte I-ram is also another option if you have a ton of DDR1 ram lying around. The idea is to use this for the swap file - 2 gigs is all you need. Windows won't ever stop using that swap file, even if you are running Vista64 with 32Gb ram(about the max I've seen short of some 8 memory slot Frankenstein board).

In a 24 hour burn-in session, I ended up with several million swap file writes. Now, load-leveling is fine and all, but I get a dead CF drive in well under a year if you keep that up.

Done this way, you can even safely use cheaper CF cards.

The original I-ram goes for about $100 used without memory last I checked.

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Post by DrJ » Tue Apr 15, 2008 5:11 pm

Just curious, but is no one considering a diskless computer that boots using PXE and load applications from a server? Latencies might be a bit of an issue, but Ethernet speeds are pretty good these days (even for swapping). I ran my Sun workstation like that back in the day (even with 10Base-T networks) and it worked really well. I've been considering doing that for my next box.

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Post by biodome » Thu Apr 17, 2008 12:34 am

I-Ram isn't very good solution considering the DDR1 and 4gb limitation.
I mean even if some of us got DDR400 lying around from old systems, it's usually just a couple of 512mb sticks, and buying some isn't realstic at it's price point.
Even if Gigabyte does move ahead and release a DDR-II varaint with SATA300 support, it will have to be at a good price point and support 8gb to be usuable. And no one will care to use it as an OS drive, because if you're out of power for more then 16hrs and battery runs out all your data dies. it's only good as a swap disk. Though i think for serious photoshoppers, even 8gb ain't enough.

Anyway i'm really gonna try and get a 16gb 233x CF card and hope that it pulls through. I still wish to have my HD for storage on eSATA, anyone knows if i can get extension eSATA cable longer than 6ft? that's all i can find on ebay. I think i need around 10ft.

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Post by lm » Thu Apr 17, 2008 2:08 am

No local mass storage whatsoever is possible.

In linux, that is. But you can then run windows in a virtual machine, if you need it. I already did it 5 years ago, my file server was in a storage room, and the PC in my room had _no_ _mass_ _storage_ _whatsoever_. No floppy, no optical, no flash, no hard drive, nothing!

The network interface card boots from it's bios, does a dhcp query and downloads the kernel from a server in a separate room. Finally the root file system is mounted over network file system from the server.

This way there is NO problem with limited writes, less cost per system, and you can put all your hard drives in a big server that you can locate to some distant room or big closet.

I did this with 100Mbps ethernet, but nowadays RAM is so cheap and you can use even gigabit ethernet, so that speed should not be an issue.

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Post by biodome » Thu Apr 17, 2008 4:27 am

hmm apperntly the 233x RiData card i almost bought doesn't get such good reviews in newegg, users claiming it to be slow:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductRe ... 6820183190

So Lexar is kinda too expensive. think I'll have to settle for an 8gb Sandisk Extreme III with 30mb/s.
Just ordered the CF to SATA adapter from ebay.
still ain't sure how i'm gonna handle the page file and remote storage.

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Post by DrJ » Thu Apr 17, 2008 6:11 am

lm wrote:No local mass storage whatsoever is possible.

In linux, that is... I already did it 5 years ago, my file server was in a storage room, and the PC in my room had _no_ _mass_ _storage_ _whatsoever_. No floppy, no optical, no flash, no hard drive, nothing!
That's what I meant. It is not limited to Linux -- Unix and the BSDs can do the same. I did this with Sun Unix (which as BSD-based at the time) almost 20 years ago, so it certainly is not new. I'm not sure about Windows, since I am less fluent with its details.

Another option is simply to execute applications off the server by running a remote X session. It is the same sort of idea -- boot from the server, but the only local application you run is X11. Everything else is executed off the server.

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Post by wayner » Thu Apr 17, 2008 7:08 am

What all this talk about eSATA? Would you not have the PC on a LAN? If so then if you need mass storage you just access a network drive on a file server or another client on the LAN. It's not like you would be using such a system for transcoding DVDs!

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Post by mark314 » Thu Apr 17, 2008 7:21 am

I've thought about using this for a diskless Media Center.

Since I have IPTV and not cable I can't do DVR recording, so the only thing I would need out of a media center is blu-ray/DVD playback and media playback.

I would connect over a gigE network to my media on a WHS box.

So then all that would be in my HTPC would be a 16gb USB key ($70 CAN) and perhaps a 4gb USB key ($20 CAN) for swap/temp/buffer

Both connected via onboard internal USB.

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Post by nutball » Thu Apr 17, 2008 7:42 am

I've done discless, using a DiscOnModule doo-dad to boot Linux from and having the larger partitions NFS mounted across the network. I've done network booting.

To be frank, they're a whole load of hassle and a small laptop drive can be just as inaudible and is a hell of a lot simpler to set up.

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Post by Plekto » Thu Apr 17, 2008 10:12 am

biodome wrote:I-Ram isn't very good solution considering the DDR1 and 4gb limitation.
I mean even if some of us got DDR400 lying around from old systems, it's usually just a couple of 512mb sticks, and buying some isn't realstic at it's price point.
It now comes in a box/drive bay version that supports 8gb. (4X2GB).

The advantage is that there is essentially zero latency, so it's perfect for Photoshop or the OS as a swapfile drive. If it gets nuked, reformat it in a couple of seconds, put the swap file back on it, and reboot.
Even if Gigabyte does move ahead and release a DDR-II varaint with SATA300 support, it will have to be at a good price point and support 8gb to be usuable. And no one will care to use it as an OS drive, because if you're out of power for more then 16hrs and battery runs out all your data dies. it's only good as a swap disk. Though i think for serious photoshoppers, even 8gb ain't enough.


The next version, if it supports DDR2, will handle 4Gb memory modules for sure. 16Gb of instant access. SATA2 maxxes out at the same bandwidth as most on-board memory, so it will work like a software ramdisk. The advantage, though, is that this works like a drive.

Windows won't work right with virtual memory disabled. If it's on, it will use that as a swap file for the OS, your programs, or whatever it feels like quite happily. So the only way to get around this is by having a ram disk allocated for the swap file. ie - use real memory to fool it. You can blame Apple, actually. They used to use virtual memory with a passion and then Microsoft got on the bandwagon.

But Windows won't allocate the swapfile to a device unless it sees it already ready to go when it boots up initially. Bad programming on their part. ie - it has to be seen as a physical drive plugged into a SATA or IDE controller(s). Hence the reason why this "trick" is needed. If they had included an auto-format or ramdisk utility in the OS, this wouldn't be an issue.

And it's an astounding increase in speed. The machine switches gears and goes from one app to another, plus exits and cleans up after itself... done done done. :) The machine feels very quick as a result. You only need 2Gb for a typical setup. 4*512Mb wold work fine. 8Gb of course would allow for 2 as a swapfile and the rest as remapped temp and swap directories. 6Gb isn't a lot, but it's far better than using the hard drive for pseudo-memory.

Plus, your CF drive never gets hammered. You're probably looking at an extra $100 or more for a CF drive that has all those advanced load-leveling features.

P.S. It's not perfectly silent, but a CF Hard Drive might also be a more affordable option:

http://www.cameratown.com/news/news.cfm/hurl/id%7C4859
Just came out. 40Gb 1 inch CF drive. Probably will be shipping in a few weeks. The article says that the 30Gb model will be $199. This seems to be a better option than CF flash by far. I can't imagine that it would be audible over anything else in the system.

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Post by biodome » Fri Apr 18, 2008 5:37 am

mark314: You can't use usb disk on key as a swap file, as Plekto explained, it has to be a physical drive plugged into sata or ide for the windows to work with it.

Hmm is there an adapter to connect USB to SATA? would that work :?:
I know there's an adapter the other way around.

Plekto: Even supporting 8gb of DDR1 it isn't a logical investment on the i-Ram, it will cost a little fortune, better off waiting for fast SSD to get cheaper.
I also saw a review Tom's hardware did on the first device, performance weren't that much impressive over a raptor hd. Though of course for us it's the silence that matters. and those that do have a 2gb DDR1 lying around mind find it worthy.. but for me spending 180$ on the i-Ram doesn't seem like it will really pay off. If it were DDR2 it would be a different story.

As for compact flash HDs, dunno if these new ones gonna be faster than the older MicroDrives, but those were quite slow i believe.
You can already get a 32gb flash CF 133x for $160 today:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6820208389

Transcend isn't a great brand here - it should give about 8mb/s write, and about 40mb/s read with this one. but I believe we'll see the more expensive sandisk drop in price as well in the coming few months.
Though the real advantage of hd over flash is the life span (and thus fitting to be swap file holder).

Found a good site that does benchmarks on CF cards with cameras and card readers:
http://www.robgalbraith.com/bins/multi_ ... p?cid=6007

Unfortunaley, It approved the RiData Lightning 233x isn't worthy with pathetic write capabilities of about ~7mb/s (although read is ok, we'll give 'em that).

As I thought before, the 8/16gb Sandisk x200 Extreme III 2008 edition gives pretty good results, of 20mb/s write and 30mb/s read for about $90/190 - seems to me like the sweet spot between performance and price right now, as anything faster costs A LOT more, and doesn't give much higher write speeds (read speeds however do go as high as 45mb/s on the fastest cards).
I think i'll buy the 8gb version this week and give it a shot. Hopefully prices will drop, as speed and quantity will rise, which will enable upgrading within a year.

As for remote storage, i decided to do a test and use my htpc to store the files, already did a little test and i can download directly to it at my full 5mbps bandwidth, which gave me some hope to forget about eSATA for now.

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Post by mark314 » Fri Apr 18, 2008 7:53 am

biodome wrote:mark314: You can't use usb disk on key as a swap file, as Plekto explained, it has to be a physical drive plugged into sata or ide for the windows to work with it.

Hmm is there an adapter to connect USB to SATA? would that work :?:
I know there's an adapter the other way around.
Biodome:

I intend to mount the USB key inside my case with a USB PCI header that I will just adapt and clip to the inside of my case. So the USB key will never be unplugged, intentionally or otherwise.

I use Win Vista, which offers readyboost - it puts a copy of the HDD swap file onto the USB key and swaps off of USB with HDD as a fallback.

Since the readyboost uses only 4Gb max, I have 4Gb to use as temp space as well.

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