Group Backs Hybrid Hard Drives

The Hybrid Storage Alliance says the technology will improve laptop battery life and reliability.

In what could be a preview of the future of laptop computers, a group of top hardware companies have banded together to tout the benefits of hybrid hard drive technology to computer makers and users.

And it wont hurt their own bottom lines if the new computers become hot commodities.

The Hybrid Storage Alliance, introduced Jan. 6 at the Storage Visions Conference in Las Vegas, begins its mission with founding members Hitachi, Samsung, Seagate Technology, Fujitsu and Toshiba. Other major players, such as Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, have been invited to join.

Hybrid hard drives combine nonvolatile, solid-state flash memory and traditional disk drives. The combination will help notebook makers improve the power efficiency and extend the battery life of their systems. Because there are fewer mechanical components moving within the hybrid drives, the systems also are more durable and reliable, group organizers said.

In addition, users can expect a faster boot time and quicker recovery time when the system is coming out of hibernation, they said.

Research company IDC predicts hybrid hard disk drives will constitute 35 percent of all hard disk drives shipped with portable PCs by 2010. The first hybrid products are expected to hit the market in the middle of 2007.

Hybrid hard drive technology is the industrys response to growing demand for notebook PCs that are as fast and durable as desktop PCs, said Joni Clark, a product marketing manager at Seagate, in Scotts Valley, Calif., and chairperson of the Hybrid Storage Alliance.

Hybrid technology can be deployed in other mobile devices and computing systems, and the technology combines the capacity and cost-effectiveness of hard drives with the responsiveness, power efficiency and durability of flash memory, Clark said.

"The hard drive industry is continuously looking for ways to bring greater value to the systems in which our technology resides and to those who use them," Clark said. "Adding nonvolatile memory to the hard drive brings about a host of mobility benefits that increases the value users want in notebook PCs—longer battery life, faster response [and] greater system durability."

NAND flash caching will emerge as an important technology enabler, especially to improve the performance of portable PCs running Microsofts Windows Vista operating system, said IDC analyst John Rydning.

"Hybrid hard drives combine the best features of two storage technologies in a single product to deliver high-capacity, responsive storage for portable PC users," Rydning said.

Vista is the first operating system to take full advantage of the benefits of hybrid technology, Clark said, although hybrids can also be run on Linux and Unix systems.

"Hybrid drives will leverage Windows ReadyDrive features in Windows Vista to enable a new generation of mobile PCs," said Bill Mitchell, corporate vice president of Microsofts Mobile and Tailored Platform Division, in Redmond, Wash. "These will boot up and resume from hibernation faster, optimize battery life, outperform standard hard disk drives, and [they] are more reliable and robust."

From a system standpoint, there are several advantages of hybrid hard drive technology over similar approaches, including ease of installation and improved data separation and data security, Clark said.

"Incorporating flash memory directly onto the hard drive greatly simplifies installation and does not require additional real estate on the host system," Clark said. "Installing hybrid drives in Windows Vista systems is as simple as installing traditional drives."

Having flash on the hard drive keeps all the system information stored in one location so that security or encryption mechanisms can be employed to protect all the data centrally, Clark said.

The new technology will add about $100 to the price of a laptop, Clark said. "We think adoption will start at the enterprise level and eventually move out to the consumer market as time goes by and prices start coming down," she said.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...