Characterizing Flash Memory: Anomalies, Observations, and Applications

Laura Grupp, Adrian Caulfield, Joel Coburn, Steven Swanson, Eitan Yaakobi and Paul Siegel
August 19, 2009

Despite flash memory’s promise, it suffers from many idiosyncrasies such as limited durability, data integrity problems, and asymmetry in operation granularity. As architects, we aim to find ways to overcome these idiosyncrasies while exploiting flash memory’s useful characteristics. To be successful, we must understand the trade-offs between the performance, cost (in both power and dollars), and reliability of flash memory. In addition, we must understand how different usage patterns affect these characteristics. Flash manufacturers provide only vague guidelines about these metrics, and this lack of detail makes it difficult to design systems that fully exploit flash memory’s capabilities. We have empirically characterized flash memory technology from five manufacturers by directly measuring the performance, power, and reliability. We demonstrate that performance varies significantly between vendors, devices, and from the data-sheet. We also demonstrate and quantify some unexpected device characteristics and show how we can use them to improve responsiveness and energy consumption of solid state disks by 44\% and 13\%, respectively, as well as increase flash device lifetime by 5.2x.

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