Hybrid Hard Drives

Almost two years ago we wrote about the then-emerging trend of flash-memory based hard drives with no moving parts. In the last two years as production levels increased and costs came down, flash memory manufacturers have been pushing into the hard drive arena. One even forecasts sales of 9 billion drives per year by 2010.

But as we mere mortals wait for costs to drop a bit further, sub-$100 desktop hard drives have provided plenty of capacity at an agreeable price. Now, the current and future generations of hard drives are set to cross paths, producing the "hybrid" hard drive, or HHD. An HHD drive combines a regular hard drive with a big chunk of flash memory, like on a USB memory stick. The drive, in concert with an operating system like Windows Vista, will keep frequently-used programs in the flash memory. The drives also save files to the flash memory, writing them to disk at a later time. Hybrid drives promise to use dramatically less power in laptops, since the disk drive does not need to be spinning, resulting in much longer battery life. In addition, if files can be read from the flash part of the drive, the "seek time" of finding the right spot on a rotating hard drive is eliminated, speeding up access.

Of course, solid state drives don't have anything to spin, but cost quite a bit more at this stage in their life. Still, as capacities increase to a more usable 32 or 64 GB, expect to see solid state drives appearing as options on higher end laptops.

May 2007

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