The Short, Happy Reign of CD-ROM

“Over at Fast Company, where we’re celebrating 1994 Week, I wrote about the year of Peak CD-ROM, when excitement over the medium’s potential was sky-high and the World Wide Web’s audience still numbered in the extremely low millions,” writes Slashdot reader and Fast Company technology editor Harry McCracken (harrymcc). “I cover once-famous products such as Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia, the curse of shovelware, the rise of a San Francisco neighborhood known as ‘Multimedia Gulch,’ and why the whole dream soon came crashing down.” Here’s an excerpt from the article: Thirty years ago, a breakthrough technology was poised to transform how people stayed informed, entertained themselves, and maybe even shopped. I’m not talking about the World Wide Web. True, it was already getting good buzz among early adopter types. But even three years after going online, Tim Berners-Lee’s creation was “still relatively slow and crude” and “limited to perhaps two million Internet users who have the proper software to gain access to it,” wrote The New York Times’ Peter H. Lewis in November 1994. At the time, it was the CD-ROM that had captured the imagination of consumers and the entire publishing industry. The high-capacity optical discs enabled mass distribution of multimedia for the first time, giving software developers the ability to create new kinds of experiences. Some of the largest companies in America saw them as media’s next frontier, as did throngs of startups. In terms of pure mindshare, 1994 might have been the year of Peak CD, with 17.5 million CD-ROM drives and $590 million in discs sold, according to research firms Dataquest and Link Resources.

You already know that the frenzy didn’t last. As the web got faster, slicker, and more readily accessible, CD-ROMs came to look pretty mundane, and eventually faded from memory. Myst, once the best-selling PC game of all time, might be the only 1990s disc that retains a prominent spot in our shared cultural consciousness. (Full disclosure: I do have a friend who can be relied upon to fondly bring up Microsoft’s Cinemania movie guide about once a year for no apparent reason.) Revisiting the discs that defined the mid-1990s — all of which are incompatible with modern operating systems — isn’t easy. To get some of them up and running again, I downloaded virtual CD-ROM files from the Internet Archive and used them with Windows 3.1 on my iPad Pro, courtesy of a piece of software Apple removed from the App Store in 2021. Spending time with titles such as Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia and It’s a Wonderful Life Multi-Media Edition, three decades after they last commanded my attention, was a Proustian rush. You may not want to go to similar extremes. But would you indulge me as I wallow in enough CD-ROM nostalgia to get it out of my system?

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WD Rolls Out New 2.5-Inch HDDs For the First Time In 7 Years

Western Digital has unveiled new 6TB external hard drives — “the first new capacity point for this hard drive drive form factor in about seven years,” reports Tom’s Hardware. “There is a catch, though: the HDD is slow and will unlikely fit into any mobile PCs, so it looks like it will exclusively serve portable and specialized storage products.” From the report: Western Digital’s 6TB 2.5-inch HDD is currently used for the latest versions of the company’s My Passport, Black P10, and G-Drive ArmorATD external storage devices and is not available separately. All of these drives (excluding the already very thick G-Drive ArmorATD) are thicker than their 5 TB predecessors, which may suggest that in a bid to increase the HDD’s capacity, the manufacturer simply installed another platter and made the whole drive thicker instead of developing new platters with a higher areal density.

While this is a legitimate way to expand the capacity of a hard drive, it is necessary to note that 5TB 2.5-inch HDDs already feature a 15-mm z-height, which is the highest standard z-height for 2.5-inch form-factor storage devices. As a result, these 6TB 2.5-inch drives will unlikely fit into any desktop PC. When it comes to specifications of the latest My Passport, Black P10, and G-Drive ArmorATD external HDDs, Western Digital only discloses that they offer up to 130 MB/s read speed (just like their predecessors), feature a USB 3.2 Gen 1 (up to 5 GT/s) interface using either a modern USB Type-C or Micro USB Type-B connector and do not require an external power adapter.

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Seagate Joins the HDD Price Hike Party, Blames AI for Spike in Demand

Seagate has joined Western Digital in increasing the prices of hard drives, with rising demand due to the huge data requirements of AI taking the blame. AI is also behind a rapid growth in orders for Enterprise solid state drives. From a report: One of the big three makers of traditional rotating hard disk drives, Seagate informed customers that it is increasing prices effective immediately for new orders, but also for any changes to orders that are “over and above” previously committed volumes. This was disclosed in a letter from the company seen by analyst Trendforce, and comes just a couple of weeks after rival manufacturer Western Digital sent out a similar letter to customers informing them of price hikes.

According to Trendforce, the cause of the issue is two-fold: rising demand for high-capacity HDD products driven by the current craze for all things AI, and reduced production by hard drive manufacturers that means they are unable to meet the demand, leading to soaring prices. The rising demand comes from AI training requiring huge volumes of data: OpenAI’s GPT-3 model is said to have been trained using 45TB of data, which may have been surpassed for newer models. And while flash-based SSDs boast high-speed and low-latency, storing everything in flash would still be costly. Seagate launched a 30TB hard drive line last year. Hard drive production was cut by as much as 20 percent over the last two years or so because of falling orders during the pandemic, and now manufacturers are unprepared for a sudden uptick in demand.

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Report Reveals Decline In Quality of USB Sticks, MicroSD Cards

A new report from German data recovery company CBL found that devices using NAND chips from reputable brands are declining in quality, with reduced capacity and their manufacturers’ logo removed. Furthermore, some USB sticks use the old trick of soldiering a microSD card onto the board. TechSpot reports: Most of the janky USB sticks CBL examined were promotional gifts, the kind given away free with products or by companies at conferences. However, there were some “branded” products that fell into the same inferior-quality category, though CBL didn’t say if these were well-known mainstream brands or the kind of brands you’ve probably never heard of.

Technological advancements have also affected these NAND chips, but not in a good way. The chips originally used single-level cell (SLC) memory cells that only stored one bit each, offering less data density but better performance and reliability. In order to increase the amount of storage the chips offered, manufacturers started moving to four bits per cell (QLC), decreasing the endurance and retention. Combined with the questionable components, it’s why CBL warns that “You shouldn’t rely too much on the reliability of flash memory.”

The report illustrates how some of the components found in the devices had their manufactures’ names removed or obscured. One simply printed text over the top of the company name, while another had been scrubbed off completely. There’s also a photo of a microSD card found inside a USB stick that had all of its identifying markings removed. It’s always wise to be careful when choosing your storage device and beware of offers that seem too good to be true.

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Pure Storage: No More Hard Drives Will Be Sold After 2028

An anonymous reader shares a report: In the latest blast of the HDD vs SSD culture wars, a Pure Storage exec is predicting that no more hard disk drives will be sold after 2028 because of electricity costs and availability, as well as NAND $/TB declines. Shawn Rosemarin, VP R&D within the Customer Engineering unit at Pure, told B&F: “The ultimate trigger here is power. It’s just fundamentally coming down to the cost of electricity.” Not the declining cost of SSDs and Pure’s DFMs dropping below the cost of disks, although that plays a part. In his view: “Hard drive technology is 67 years old. We need to herald this technology that went from five megabytes the size of this room to where we are today. And even the latest HAMR technology, putting a laser on the top of the head in order to heat up the platters, is pretty remarkable … But we’re at the end of that era.”

HDD vendors sing a different tune, of course. Back in 2021, HDD vendor Seagate said the SSD most certainly would not kill disk drives. There’s a VAST vs Infinidat angle to it as well, with the former also stating disk drive IO limitations would cripple the use of larger disk drives in petabyte-scale data stores, with Infidat blasting back that it “must be joking.” Gartner has had a look in too, claiming that enterprise SSDs will hit 35 percent of HDD/SSD exabytes shipped by 2026 – though that would make Rosemarin’s 2028 cutoff unlikely. Pure recently stated SSDs would kill HDDs in a crossover event that would happen “soon.” Rosemarin, meanwhile, continued his argument: “Our CEO in many recent events has quoted that 3 percent of the world’s power is in datacenters. Roughly a third of that is storage. Almost all of that is spinning disk.

So if I can eliminate the spinning disk, and I can move to flash, and I can in essence reduce the power consumption by 80 or 90 percent while moving density by orders of magnitude in an environment where NAND pricing continues to fall, it’s all becoming evident that hard drives go away.” Are high electricity prices set to continue? “I think the UK’s power has gone up almost 5x recently. And here’s the thing … when they go up, they very seldom if ever come down … I’ve been asked many times do I think the cost of electricity will drop over time. And, frankly, while I wish it would and I do think there are technologies like nuclear that could help us over time. I think it’ll take us several years to get there. We’re already seeing countries putting quotas on electricity, and this is a really important one — we’ve already seen major hyperscalers such as one last summer who tried to enter Ireland [and] was told you can’t come here, we don’t have enough power for you. The next logical step from that is OK, so now if you’re a company and I start to say, well, we only have so much power, so I’m gonna give you X amount of kilowatts per X amount of employees, or I’m gonna give you X amount of kilowatts for X amount of revenue that you contribute to the GDP of the country or whatever metric is acceptable.”

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First PCIe 5.0 M.2 SSDs Are Now Available, Predictably Expensive

The first PCIe 5.0 SSDs are slated to ship this year with massive heatsinks and predictably high prices. Tom’s Hardware reports: There are multiple M.2 PCIe 5.0 SSDs slated to ship this year, and the first model looks to be the Gigabyte Aorus Gen5 10000, which as the name inventively implies can deliver up to 10,000 MB/s. Earlier rumors suggested the drive would be able to hit 12,000 MB/s reads and 10,000 MB/s writes, so performance was apparently reigned in while getting the product ready for retail. The Gigabyte Aorus SSD uses the Phison E26 controller, which will be common on a lot of the upcoming models. Silicon Motion is working on its new SM2508 controller that may offer higher overall performance, but it’s a bit further out and may not ship this year. The other thing to note with the Aorus is the massive heatsink that comes with the drive, which seems to be the case with all the other Gen5 SSD prototypes we’ve seen as well. Clearly, these new drives are going to get just a little bit warm.

The Gigabyte drive is currently listed on Amazon and Newegg, though the latter is currently sold out while the former is only available via a third-party marketplace seller — at a whopping $679.89 for the 2TB model. That’s almost certainly not the MSRP or a reflection of what MSRP might end up being once the drive becomes more widely available, which should happen in the coming month or two.

The other PCIe 5.0 M.2 SSD that’s now available is the Inland TD510 2TB, available at Microcenter for just $349.99 — assuming you have a Microcenter within driving distance. Inland is Microcenter’s own brand of drive, and while the cooler that comes with the SSD isn’t quite as large as the Aorus, it does feature a small fan for active cooling. Word is that the fan can be quite loud for something this small, so not a great feature in other words. Like the Aorus 10000, the Inland TD510 uses the Phison E26 controller and has the same 10,000 MB/s reads and 9,500 MB/s writes specification. Where Gigabyte doesn’t currently list random read/write speeds, the Microcenter page lists up to 1.5 million IOPS read and 1.25 million IOPS write for the Inland drive. Both drives also have an endurance rating of 1,400 TBW, with read/write power use of around 11W.

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New Nonprofit ‘Flickr Foundation’ Hopes to Preserve Its Billions of Photos For 100 Years

“Content of every type disappears from the internet all the time…” writes Popular Photography’s long-time “gear editor” (for photography equipment).

But someone’s doing something about it: the newly-founded Flickr Foundation, which has announced plans “to make sure Flickr will be preserved for future generations.” Or, as Popular Photography puts it, to stop photos “from suffering the same ill fate as our MySpace photos” — providing the example of important historical photos.

One particular collection their article notes is The Flickr Commons, “started back in 2008 as a collaborative effort with the Library of Congress to make publicly held photography collections readily available online for people seeking them out.”

It’s a massive, eclectic, fascinating archive that pulls images and content from around the world. This new organization hopes to integrate more partners and ensure that everything remains available and easily accessible…. If you’re not already familiar with The Commons, it’s a really fascinating online resource. It grants access to everything from historical portraits to scientific images and everything in between. It’s easy to get lost in the sheer volume of images available on the site, but Flickr relies on curators in order to bring notable images to the forefront and keep things organized and available.

With the establishment of the new foundation, Flickr hopes that it can keep this archive running to 2122 and beyond. It will doubtlessly add countless more images along the way.

Flickr is currently hiring a new archivist, according to their announcement (which also points out that the Flickr API was one of the first public APIs ever).

Among other things, it says that the foundation hopes to “investigate preservation strategies that could last for the next century,”

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US State of Virginia Has More Datacenter Capacity Than Europe or China

The state of Virginia has over a third of America’s hyperscale datacenter capacity, and this amounts to more than the entire capacity of China or the whole of Europe, highlighting just how much infrastructure is concentrated along the so-called Datacenter Alley. The Register reports: These figures come from Synergy Research Group, which said that the US accounts for 53 percent of global hyperscale datacenter capacity, as measured by critical IT load, at the end of the second quarter of 2022. The remainder is relatively evenly split between China, Europe, and the rest of the world. While few would be surprised at the US accounting for the lion’s share of datacenter capacity, the fact that so much is concentrated in one state could raise a few eyebrows, especially when it is centered on a small number of counties in Northern Virginia — typically Loudoun, Prince William, and Fairfax — which make up Datacenter Alley.

“Hyperscale operators take a lot of factors into account when deciding where to locate their datacenter infrastructure,” said Synergy chief analyst John Dinsdale. “This includes availability of suitable real estate, cost and availability of power supply options, proximity to customers, the risk of natural disasters, local incentives and approvals processes, the ease of doing business and internal business dynamics, and this has inevitably led to some hyperscale hot spots.” Amazon in particular locates a large amount of its datacenter infrastructure in Northern Virginia, with Microsoft, Facebook, Google, ByteDance, and others also having a major presence, according to Synergy. The big three cloud providers — Amazon, Microsoft and Google — have the broadest hyperscale bit barn footprint, with each of these having over 130 datacenters of the 800 or so around the globe. When measured in datacenter capacity, the leading companies are Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Alibaba and Tencent, according to Synergy.

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Vietnam Demands Big Tech Localize Data Storage and Offices

Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications updated cybersecurity laws this week to mandate Big Tech and telecoms companies store user data locally, and control that data with local entities. The Register reports: The data affected goes beyond the basics of name, email, credit card information, phone number and IP address, and extends into social elements — including groups of which users are members, or the friends with whom they digitally interact. “Data of all internet users ranging from financial records and biometric data to information on people’s ethnicity and political views, or any data created by users while surfing the internet must be to stored domestically,” read the decree (PDF) issued Wednesday, as translated by Reuters. The decree applies to a wide swath of businesses including those providing telecom services, storing and sharing data in cyberspace, providing national or international domain names for users in Vietnam, e-commerce, online payments, payment intermediaries, transport connection services operating in cyberspace, social media, online video games, messaging services, and voice or video calls.

According to Article 26 of the government’s Decree 53, the new rules go into effect October 1, 2022 — around seven weeks from the date of its announcement. However, foreign companies have an entire 12 months in which to comply — beginning when they receive instructions from the Minister of Public Security. The companies are then required to store the data in Vietnam for a minimum of 24 months. System logs will need to be stored for 12 months. After this grace period, authorities reserve the right to make sure affected companies are following the law through investigations and data collection requests, as well as content removal orders. Further reading: Vietnam To Make Apple Watch, MacBook For First Time Ever

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