New Alliance Touts Hybrid Storage for Laptops

Hitachi, Samsung, and Toshiba are among the founding members of a new group promoting the use of hybrid hard drives in notebook computers.

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

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

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

Hybrid hard drives combine nonvolatile, solid-state flash memory and traditional disk drives. Benefits include improved power efficiency; extended notebook battery life by powering off the spin motor and operating out of nonvolatile memory; faster system response time; and increased durability, since spinning the drive down creates less mechanical movement and increases its reliability.

Market research company IDC predicts that hybrid hard disk drives will constitute 35 percent of all hard disk drives shipped with portable PCs by 2010.

Laptops that are more like desktops

Hybrid hard drive technology is the industrys response to growing demand for notebook PCs that deliver the speed and durability of desktop PCs, Joni Clark, chairperson of the Alliance and a marketing manager at Seagate in Scotts Valley, Calif., told eWEEK.

Hybrid technology can be deployed in other mobile devices and computing systems, and it 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, greater system durability."

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about flash-based laptops.

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

"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. Formation of the Hybrid Storage Alliance by HDD industry participants is prudent to raise awareness of hybrid HDD technology benefits," Rydning said.

Microsofts Windows 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 with no problem.

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

Better data separation and security

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

The flash memory add-ons will add less than $100 to the cost of the hybrid laptops, one analyst surmised.

"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," Clark said.

The first hybrid laptops are expected to be available in mid-2007, Clark said.

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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...