Gaming is driving storage innovation at WDC

I was at SFD19 a couple of weeks ago and Western Digital supplied the afternoon sessions on their technology (see videos here). Phil Bullinger gave a great session on HDDs and the data center market. Carl Che did a session on HDD technology and discussed on how 5G was going to ramp up demand for video streaming and IoT data requirements. Of course one of the sessions was on their SSD and NAND technologies.

But the one session that was pretty new and interesting to me was their discussion on how Gaming and how it’s driving system innovation. Eric Spaneut, VP of Client Computing was the main speaker for the session but they also had Leah Schoeb, Sr. Developer Manager at AMD, to discuss the gaming market and its impact on systems technology.

There were over 100M viewers of the League of Legends World Championships, with a peak viewership of 44M viewers. To put that in perspective the 2020 Super Bowl had 102M viewers. So gaming championships today are almost as big as the Super Bowl in viewership.

Gaming demands higher performing systems

Gaming users are driving higher compute processors/core counts, better graphics cards, faster networking and better storage. Gamers are building/buying high end desktop systems that cost $30K or more, dwarfing the cost of most data center server hardware.

Their gaming rigs are typically liquid cooled, have LEDs all over and are encased in glass. I could never understand why my crypto mine graphics cards had LEDs all over them. The reason was they were intended for gaming systems not crypto mines.

Besides all the other components in these rigs, they are also buying special purpose storage. Yes storage capacity requirements are growing for games but performance and thermal/cooling have also become major considerations.

Western Digital has dedicated a storage line to gaming called WD Black. It includes both HDDs and SSDs (internal NVMe and external USB/SATA attached) at the moment. But Leah mentioned that gaming systems are quickly moving away from HDDs onto SSDs.

Thermal characteristics matter

Of the WDC’s internal NVMe SSDs (WD Black SN750s), one comes with a heat sink attached. It turns out SSD IO performance can be throttled back due to heat. The heatsink allows the SSD to operate at higher temperatures and offer more bandwidth than the one without. Presumably, it allows the electronics to stay cooler and thus stay running at peak performance.

I believe their WD Black HDDs have internal fans in them to keep them cool. And of course they all come in black with LEDs surrounding them.

Storage can play an important part in the “gaming experience” for users once you get beyond network bottlenecks for downloading. For downloading and storage perform well . however for game loading and playing/editing videos/other gaming tasks, NVMe SSDs offer a significant performance boost over SATA SDDs and HDDs.

But not all gaming is done on high-end gaming desktop systems. Today a lot of gaming is done on dedicated consoles or in the cloud. Cloud based gaming is mostly just live streaming of video to a client device, whether it be a phone, tablet, console, etc. Live game streaming is almost exactly like video on demand but with more realtime input/output and more compute cores/graphic engines to perform the gaming activity and to generate the screens in “real” time. So having capacity and performance to support multiple streams AND the performance needed to create the live, real time experience takes a lot of server compute & graphics hardware, networking AND storage.

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So wherever gamers go, storage is becoming more critical in their environment. Both WDC and AMD see this market as strategic and growing, whose requirements are unique enough to demand special purpose products. They bothy are responding with dedicated hardware and product lines tailored to gaming needs.

Photo credit(s): All graphics in this post are from WDC’s gaming session video stream

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