A 10 MB HDD for USD 3 500 in 1980, was not an excessive price. The 1 MB of RAM on the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) VAX-11/750 mini computers I used cost over NOK 1 000 000 each in 1980. That is about USD 200 000 in 1980, or about USD 620 000 today (2019). The HDD pictured would cost over USD 10 000 today (2019) taking the value of money into account, which would make the cost of 1TB of storage equal to USD 1 000 000 000 today (2019). Yup, that’s one billion dollars!

SSD = Solid State Drive; HDD = Hard Disk Drive.

The Summary:

For daily operations on a desktop or laptop computer, SSDs are better (read: faster, quieter, more energy efficient, potentially more reliable) than HDDs. However, HDDs cost considerably (6.5 times) less than SSDs. Thus, HDDs are still viable for backup storage, and should be able to last at least five years. At the end of that time, it may be appropriate to go over to SSDs, if prices continue to fall.

The Details:

This weblog post is being written as I contemplate buying two more external hard disk drives (HDDs), one white and one blue. These will be yet more supplementary backup disks to duplicate storage on our Network Attached Storage (NAS) server, Mothership, which features 4 x 10 GB Toshiba N300 internal 3.5″ hard drives rotating at 7200 RPM. These were purchased 2018-12-27. While the NAS has its own backup allowing up to two HDDs to fail simultaneously, a fire or other catastrophe would void this backup. Thus, external HDDs are used to store data at a secret, yet secure location away from our residence.

The last time external hard disks were purchased was 2018-09-04. These were Western Digital (WD) My Passport 4TB units, 2.5″ form factor, rotating at 5 400 RPM, with a USB 3.0 contact. One was red (costing NOK 1 228) and the other was yellow (at NOK 1 205). However, we have nine other 2 – 4TB units, some dating from 2012-11-15. Before this we had at least 4 units with storage of 230 GB – 1 TB, dating to 2007-09-01. (We are missing emails before 2006, so this is uncertain territory, although if this information were required, we have paper copies of receipts that date back to 1980).

The price of new WD My Passport HDD 4TB units has fallen to NOK 1 143. New WD My Passport Solid State Drive (SSD) units cost NOK 2 152 for 1TB, or NOK 3 711 for 2TB. That is a TB price of about NOK 1 855, in contrast to about NOK 286 for a HDD. This makes SSDs about 6.5 times more expensive than HDDs.

I am expecting to replace the disks in the NAS, as well as on the external drives, about once every five years. Depending on how fast the price of SSDs sink in relation to HDDs, these proposed external HDDs could be the last ones purchased.

As the price differential narrows, other disk characteristics become more important. Read/write speed is especially important for operational (as distinct to backup) drives. Typically, a 7200 RPM HDD delivers an effective read/write speed of 80-160MB/s, while an SSD will deliver from 200 MB/s to 550 MB/s. Here the SSD is the clear winner, by a factor of about three.

Both SSD drives and HDD’s have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to life span.

While SSDs have no moving parts, they don’t necessarily last longer. Most SSD manufacturers use non-volatile NAND flash memory in the construction of their SSDs. These are cheaper than comparable DRAM units, and retain data even in the absence of electrical power. However, NAND cells degrade with every write (referred to as program, in technical circles). An SSD exposed to fewer writes will last longer than an SSD with more. If a specific block is written to and erased repeatedly, that block would wear out before other blocks used less extensively, prematurely ending the SSD’s life. For this reason, SSD controllers use wear levelling to distribute writes as evenly as possible. This fact was brought home yesterday, with an attempt to install Linux Mint from a memory stick on a new laptop. It turned out that the some areas of the memory stick were worn out, and the devise could not be read as a boot drive. Almost our entire collection of memory sticks will be reformatted, and then recycled, a polite term for trashed!

Flash memory was invented in 1980, and was commercialized by Toshiba in 1987. SanDisk (then SunDisk) patented a flash-memory based SSD in 1989, and started shipping products in 1991. SSDs come in several different varieties, with Triple Level Cells (TLC) = 3 bit cells offering 8 states, and between 500 and 2 000 program/ erase (PE) cycles, currently, the most common variety. Quad Level Cells (QLC) = 4 bit cells offering 16 states, with between 300 and 1 000 PE cycles, are starting to come onto the market. However, there are also Single Level Cells (SLC) = 1 bit cells offering 2 states, with up to 100 000 PE cycles and Multi-Level Cells (MLC) = two level cells with 2 bits, offering 4 states, and up to 3 000 PE cycles. More bits/cell results in reduced speed and durability, but larger storage capacity.

QLC vs TLC Comparisons:

Samsung 860 EVO SSDs use TLCs while Samsung 860 QVO SSDs use QLCs. The 1TB price is NOK 1 645 (EVO) vs 1 253 (QVO), almost a 25% price discount. The EVO offers a 5-year or 600 TBs written (TBW) limited warranty, vs the QVO’s offers 3-years or 360 TBW.

With real-world durability of the QVO at only 60% of the EVO, the EVO offers greater value for money.

It should also be pointed out that both the EVO and QVO have a 42GB cache that allow for exceptionally fast writes up to that limit, but slow down considerably once that limit has been reached.

In contrast to SSDs, HDDs rely on moving parts for the drive to function. Moving parts include one or more platters, a spindle, an read/ write head, an actuator arm, an actuator axis and an actuator. Because of this, an SSD is probably more reliable than an HDD. Yet, HDD data recovery is better, if it is ever needed. Several different data recovery technologies are available.

The Conclusion:

The upcoming purchases of two My Passport 4TB external HDDs may be my last, before going over to SSDs for backup purposes, both on internal as well as external drives. Much will depend on the relative cost of 10TB SSDs vs HDDs in 2023, when it will be time to replace the Toshiba N300 10TB HDDs.

For further information on EVOs and QVOs see Explaining Computers: QLC vs TLC SSDs; Samsung QVO and EVO.

The Charm of Podcasting

A Zoom H6 Handy Recorder at the heart of a future podcasting system. Photo: Zoom

This weblog post is mainly about acquiring podcast equipment (purchasing) and software (downloading). Perhaps the best place to begin is with the generation of sound in and around the mouth. This results in the production of waves in the air that can be sensed by microphones. Here, it is an advantage if a microphone does not have a frequency range exceeding that of a human voice. Recorded noise will only have to be removed during the editing process. It is claimed that a range between 80 and 4 kHz, should be sufficient.

The next question has to do with the number of voices in a podcast. If there is a single voice, and if production takes place in a quiet environment, a single condenser microphone can be used. I have a Røde NT1 that can be used for this purpose. Only a fool would attempt to record more than four voices. These can be recorded separately, using dynamic microphones, for example Samson R21’s. Dynamic microphones require users to speak/ sing/ perform directly into the microphone, because these microphones will fail to pickup sounds, including noise, originating outside of a narrow cone. Condenser microphones should be avoided, because they will pick up everything and anything.

Not all podcasts can/ should be made in a studio. This means using a portable recorder. Computers are subject to software glitchs. In far too many programs, files are only saved at the end of an event. Thus, if a computer crashes prior to someone hitting save, that content is lost forever. This is why it is best to record everything on a recorder, even if the content is fed immediately into a computer.

The Zoom H6 Handy recorder is ideal for the field, powered by 4 x AA (rechargeable) batteries. On top of the recorder, there is space for one of four interchangeable input capsules: X/Y, Mid-side (both of which come with the recorder), shotgun, and a dual XLR/TRS combo input (available as accessories). These will probably be used more by videographers who will place the recorder on their camcorder hotshoe.

Podcasters will focus on the four XLR/TRS combo inputs on the sides of the recorders , each with its own preamp, gain knob, and phantom power switch. At the bottom there is a 2-inch color LCD (320 x 240 pixels) display. The H6 can use an SD card up to 128 GB. It has a USB 2.0 connector, line in and audio (headphone) out using 3.5 mm jacks.

One of the main reasons for acquiring this particular type of recorder is its operational characteristics. Once a channel is record-enabled, the H6 is constantly creating a 2-second buffer. If you hit Record late, it will still capture the 2 seconds prior to this. Clipping is always a potential problem in sound recording. Enabling backup-record duplicates tracks of the L/R inputsat 12dB lower than that set for input gain.

Headphones use drivers (miniature speakers) to create sound waves, that then enter the ear. Headphones used for podcasting should fully surround each ear, to prevent sound leakage. Today’s choice is a Samson SR950 enclosed reference headphone, that effectively insulates sounds. It has 50 mm drivers, reproduces sound both above and below the human hearing range (10Hz-30kHz) has a standard 32 ohm impedance, 2,5 m cable, and a 1/4″ jack adapter.


Audacity is an open-source audio editor. While it has advanced features, such as multi-track editing and support for live recording, the user interface is simple. It supports the WAV and MP3 audio formats used on the Zoom H6.

Audacity allows cut and paste editing, has noise reduction and navigation control features. While I intend to use this on a dedicated Linux workstation, Audacity is available for Mac and Windows machines as well.

LMMS, previously Linux MultiMedia Studio, is another open-source audio editor software, that works on Windows, Mac and Linux machines. It offers a large number of features, including an FX (effects) mixer, automation editor, support for a MIDI keyboard, some in-built audio effects and instruments and compatibility with some popular standards in digital music production and editing. The user interface is more professional than that found on Audacity. It also offers a variety of plug-ins that can improve productivity. It is also better able to integrate music into a podcast, than Audacity is capable of.

The Future

Hopefully, in 2020 interested listeners will be able to enjoy the stories of Brigand Brewer, narrated by Claude Hopper. Somehow, the art work of Billi Sodd will also have to be included, and possibly the music of Wes Honeywell & the Thermostats. Some of the tales will feature Alice Angel, potter, vegetarian and philosopher, and other residents of Beef, Cascadia. These will probably be featured in a new blog, possibly titled: