Microsoft on Sept. 21 denied claims by hard drive industry executives and analysts that the worlds largest software company isnt providing optimized drivers for the new hybrid drives about to come into the market.
“Microsoft certainly does provide drivers for hybrid hard drives in Vista,” Matt Ayers, program manager in the Windows Client Performance group for Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., told eWEEK.
“Theyve been in there all along, and they work with any hard drive. I dont quite understand the issue here. And about optimized drivers—we never send out any drivers that arent optimized,” Ayers said.
Hybrid hard drives combine nonvolatile, solid state flash memory and traditional disk drives. The benefits of using hybrid drives include improved power efficiency, extended notebook battery life gained 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 reliability.
Click here to read more about claims that Microsoft hadnt provided Vista drivers for hybrid storage drives.
Ayers is in charge of Microsofts ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive drivers, which are designed to work in hybrid drives and are included in Vista. “They leverage flash memory to improve a PCs responsiveness,” Ayers told eWEEK.
ReadyDrive uses either native hard drive RAM or the nonvolatile flash cache Turbo Memory (formerly called “Robson”), but not both, Ayers said. Turbo Memory hardware, due to architectural requirements, requires special drivers supplied by Intel, he said.
Hard drive industry executives and analysts complained about a lack of Microsoft Driver support during the DiskCon conference Sept. 19-20 in Santa Clara, Calif. These critics claimed that to work optimally in a Vista system, the hybrid drives must be supported by better drivers that are not now available.
“If you talk to the hard drive manufacturers…” David Reinsel, director of storage research for IDC, told eWEEK, “I think the fact of the matter is that there are tweaks that need to be done, and each of the drive vendors is looking at how they can optimize the drivers to make it work even better.
“Will a hybrid drive work? Yeah. … If we start going to head-to-head comparisons where you pit a hybrid hard drive against a regular 2.5-inch, 5400 or 7200 [rpm] drive or against an SSD [solid state drive], is the hybrid going to shine as good as it can? The word were getting is no—that the drivers arent completely baked in, that they still need work.
“And again, the rumors still hold pretty hard that it looks like Microsoft is going to back off on its June 2008 requirement of applications to support hybrid hard drives in order to get the Premium Vista logo compatibility thing,” Reinsel said.
“Microsoft is sitting there saying thats not true; well, youve got to take them at their word that its not true, but thats certainly what we were hearing,” he said.
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Seagate Technology and Samsung are the two drive makers shipping a limited number of hybrids to OEMs now.
“At Seagate, we believe that hybrid drives bring real value,” said Josh Tinker, market development manager for the companys personal business unit, in Scotts Valley, Calif. “Is the hybrid ready for prime time now? Yes, it is.”
Just the fact that hybrid drives save a full 50 percent of power consumption is “huge,” Tinker said. “Were also seeing a 1.5x increase in reliability, according to the MTBS [mean time between stops] rating, plus a 20 percent improvement in boot-up time. Microsofts drivers are using the standard ATA commands and the T13 protocol for accessing flash memory. Those standards work all across the industry, so they should work fine in any hybrid drive,” he said.
“Now, is there room for improvement? Sure—theres always room for improvement. Theres room for improvement in just about everything. But this does not detract from the hybrids we are delivering now,” Tinker said.
The original discussion of the issue occurred at a luncheon meeting of HDD and solid state drive company executives, journalists, analysts and attendees of the conference at the Santa Clara Convention Center.
Market researcher IDC predicted in 2006 that hybrid hard disk drives will constitute 35 percent of all hard disk drives shipped with portable PCs by 2010.
Dell and Samsung now are marketing light, thin and fast 32GB solid state laptops. But theyre expensive; the SSD option costs an additional $995. Hybrid drives will add about $300 to the price tag.
Joel Hagberg, vice president of marketing and business development for Fujitsu, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., said Sept. 19 at DiskCon that the hybrid hard drive isnt far along enough in development and that hes not sure it has quite enough market value yet to justify the extra cost it would take to acquire it.
Fujitsu, though a member of the new Hybrid Storage Alliance, has not yet produced any of the new drives.
“Is booting up in 21 seconds [which is what hybrid drives are touted as doing] that much of a difference from Vista booting up in 28 seconds?” Hagberg asked. “I dont see anybody paying extra for that.” There arent that many near-term benefits at this point, he said.
The hybrid drive “goes to sleep easier and more often [to save power], but that also means it has to boot up more often, and that could impact its reliability. I think we need to drive them around the field and test them for a while. I dont see them as a real-world technology yet,” Hagberg said.
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