Storage Madness: Which Hard Drive Will You Be Having Today?

When it comes to workstations, speed reigns. Whether it’s graphical or CPU performance, users need to know that their applications will perform at the speed their business demands, and any latency can mean lost productivity and, ultimately, lost revenue.

Typically, engineers focus on the above components – CPU and GPU, along with memory – to gain a sense of whether their workstation will perform up to their needs. But one oft-overlooked area when it comes to overall system performance is the tried-and-true hard drive

Though viewed primarily as a storage component, hard drives – and their ability to communicate with the CPU – can actually have a sizeable impact on workstation performance, and it’s one that engineers often minimize when seeking which workstation to purchase, only to have it come back and hurt them later on. This is reflected in both the drive itself, as well as the method for communicating with the CPU.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from the days of PATA drives and their need to access the CPU via a controller in order to communicate. With the proliferation of SATA and the more costly SAS drives, engineers can purchase significantly faster drives than previously available. This has led to a lively debate in the industry over which of these drives offers better performance for the cost, and while it’s one that has yet to be settled, it’s clear the winner in the discussion is the user.

Yet now, even SAS and SATA technologies have been eclipsed by new hard drive technology – and, more importantly, game-changing interface technology that has become standard. Solid State Drives (SSDs) and M.2 cards have altered the landscape for hard drive technology, providing faster, more reliable storage at even lower cost. Furthermore, through the miracle of innovation that is the PCIe interface, users can connect their drives to the CPU without the need for a controller, enabling direct communication and minimizing latency.

The result? Screaming fast hard drives available without the bottleneck of the previously required controller, enabling engineers to experience superior application performance without worrying about lag time caused by hard drive communication with the CPU. And while SSDs have yet to see industry-standard adoption in the marketplace, those who have made the switch typically refuse to go back.

The point of all this is that users have myriad options when it comes to hard drive selection, and the drives they choose – and how their workstation is configured to support these drives – can have a big impact on the system’s overall performance. Thankfully, the way we’ve designed the ThinkStation allows for users to have the maximum flexibility in choosing which drives to install, and how to implement them for optimal performance.

With the P Series, we’ve built a machine that supports all different types of storage drives, from SATA to PCIe. With the FLEX connector, users can use a mezzanine card that connects directly to the motherboard without sacrificing PCIe slots in the back of the machine – more flexibility to mix and match the drives you need for your business.  By designing the system in this way with FLEX, we determined to give users the best possible array of options to support their drive of choice, whether they choose the P500, P700 or P900.

The hard drive landscape will only continue to grow more complex, and we’re already seeing similar kinds of discussion about which drives – SSDs or M.2 drives – are the most cost-effective option, much as we did with the SATA vs. SAS discussion. For those considering moving to solid state technology, I’d recommend looking into M.2 drives, as they can offer significant performance improvements over your SATA or SAS hard drives but at a cost that is very much within reach of the average engineer, and is more cost-effective than an SSD of a similar capacity. Though SSDs are the more popular alternative due to greater familiarity from engineers, M.2 drives are gaining as more engineers come to better understand their benefits.

Regardless, the good thing is that with ThinkStation, whichever drive is your personal preference, you can be confident knowing you have a machine that supports either option – or, for adventurous engineers, both.