I can't get enthusiastic about hybrid hard drives

I can't get enthusiastic about hybrid hard drives

Summary: Try as I might, I just can't work up any enthusiasm for Samsung's hybrid hard drives.

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TOPICS: Samsung
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Yesterday Samsung announced their new MH80 series of hard drives which incorporate between 128 and 256MB of flash memory to complement the standard magnetic media.  These drives offer faster boot and wakeup times, increased battery life in notebooks and greater reliability.  Despite this, I just can't work up any enthusiasm for them.

I think that like most things, hybrid drives will get better with future releasesThere are a number of reasons why I'm not rushing out to buy a hybrid drive.  First off, the claims of improved performance and battery life are somewhat vague.  According to the literature, boot times are cut by 50 percent and power usage in notebooks is down by between 70 and 90 percent, which according to Samsung translates into 30 minutes more battery life.  But I can't seen any benchmarks or system information backing up any of these numbers.  I guess it's possible that you can stick a few megs of cache on a drive and cut boot times in half, but when Vista only takes, what, about 30 seconds to boot up on a normal system I can't see cutting that in half boosting my productivity all that much.

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What about the reliability claims.  Here's a snippet from the press release:

"As the drive's platters are idle 99 percent of the time, the MH80 eliminates the need for the hard disk to constantly spin whenever a computer is operating on battery power. As a result, the drive is much less susceptible to shock damage, resulting in less data loss and fewer needed repairs." [emphasis mine]

How much less?  Compared to what?  Other Samsung drives?  Again, the data is vague.

I also have concerns about the lifespan, speed and reliability of the flash memory cache.  It seems that the lifespan of NAND flash is about a million cycles before it's dead, so given how hard this cache is expected to work the lifespan of the cache might be a lot less than that of the drive itself.  Deterioration of the flash cache could lead to all sorts of nasty problems that could be really hard to track down, and unless the cache is replaceable, rectifying the issue will mean trashing the drive.

Speed also needs to be put into perspective.  Reading data in the cache will be super fast (about 100 Megabits per second) but writing speeds are a lot more subdued, only about a quarter of what the magnetic media on the drive can handle.  What you gain in terms of reading from the cache you lose in writing to it. 

I think that like most things, hybrid drives will get better with future releases.  I'd like to see what the reliability of these drives is like in the real world, outside of Samsung's labs.  I'd also like to see drives that have larger-sized caches and diagnostic tools to check integrity of the cache.  Also, given that I'm somewhat skeptical of the benefits that this technology currently offers, it'll probably be a good a good idea to wait until the price come down a few dollars too. 

Oh, and pretty soon Seagate will release its own hybrid drives, before the end of Q1.

Interested in hybrid drives or will you wait for the technology to mature?

Topic: Samsung

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32 comments
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  • Some minor corrections.

    The drives in question will use SLC flash instead of MLC and therefore have a longer usefull life. The estimates of usefull life are the same as the devices used in ReadyBoost and should be about 10 years under normal use. This new technology was pushed for by Microsoft and they have a very efficient algorithm built into Vista called SuperFetch that will insure a high cache hit rate while the writes are performed in the background. This technology was demonstrated at Winhec last year and made a noticeable difference in the performance of Vista.
    ShadeTree
    • Yes

      Microsoft uses an algorithm similar to that used for ReadyBoost to make sure that the entire memory area is used. But trashing a flash drive on ReadyBoost is less of a hit that trashing a drive.

      Also, when it comes to say bootup, I like the idea but 256MB could become cramped once the PC is loaded up with software. A few GB would be better.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • The process manages bad memory locations and ...

        ... the drive doesn't fail as the flash does. It just decreases in size. I agree more would be better but there is always the cost versus benefit trade offs.
        ShadeTree
  • Hybrid Hard Drives

    Well I remember when hard drives went from 2mb of cache up
    to 8mb of cache. The articles were all the same asking to see
    the numbers....beauty is in the eye of the beholder and 256mb
    of cache sounds like a sweet thing to me. Especially when one
    considers the fact that these drives are geared for laptop users I would be very interested in placing one in my Dell Inspiron 8600. It uses a 7200 RPM 8mb cache 60GB Hitachi, which was fast at the time but seems "normal" now.

    And it makes a possible Vista Upgrade slightly interesting.
    Dragon3220
  • Hemi vs. Wedge

    Some people get really excited about what's under the hood and others just want to drive to the store and back.

    Until the second group starts adopting something, you're only going to have the grimy-fingernail penguin-logo crowd involved, and they're likely to spend most of their time arguing subtleties (e.g. Ubuntu vs. Mepis) that nobody else even knows about.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • 3rd group

      Actually the linux group would be a third group that really wouldn't care much because our operating system runs fine on old technology, it's the Vista users that need every upgrade possible to run smoothly and is unfortunate for the 2nd group that really can't afford these Vista upgrades.

      Also I begin to wonder if you're in IT or even interested in technology with comments like "...that nobody else even knows about" maybe if you don't know about something you should try it, use it, learn it. As far as I am aware knowledge has never hurt especially in technology. Rely on what you already know and you'll be swept out of a job come upgrade time or belong to the other group of unknowledgable that implement systems that are unstable and unproductive.
      obelix_z
      • Linux = less than .5%

        Linux = less than .5%

        As for old hardware ... who cares. These disk will come in new hardware as most companies do a regular refresh.

        And 2007 won't be the fabled "Year of Linux on the Desktop"
        NotParker
        • You are Dead Wrong! Negatory!

          [i]"And 2007 won't be the fabled "Year of Linux on the Desktop"[/i]

          What!!!!!!!!?

          Uh my God! You are so dead wrongamundatory.

          It just so happens, I've been evaluating [url=http://www.strangehorizons.com/2004/20040405/badger.shtml]Linux on Dead Badger[/url] and can tell you that it is too frickin' cool for words. It even smells like Dead Badger! Really Dead. For a long time.

          Sorry but, (trumpets.....)
          [b]This [i]IS[/i] the year of the Linux Desktop.[/b]

          BTW, Linux on Dead Badger is a 'distro', not the kernel!
          (or so everyone says, but I am not sure why--I may as well say it too!)

          Oh wait--this is an article about hybrid drives.
          Nevermind.
          Thank youz ;)
          D T Schmitz
      • Vista runs fine

        "it's the Vista users that need every upgrade possible"

        Vista runs fine on my 750$ PC ... the one with a dual core processor and ok video card and 1GB or ram etc etc.

        Linux people are cheap if they think 750$ is expensive.
        NotParker
    • Hemi!? Did you say Hemi?

      How 'bout 351 Cleveland with hemi heads w/canted 2 1/2" intake valves, 4 bolt mains, 3/4 trw race cam, edlebrock high rise manifold, holley 750 double pumper, molley rings and bearings, hi-vol oil pump, 1970 mustang rag top.

      yep, those were the days. woot.
      D T Schmitz
    • The hybrid drives were made to take advantage ...

      ... of technologies built into Vista. The performance gains will be greater running Vista but there will be a gain in Linux equivelent to increasing the drive cache. Once there is sufficient volume the price points will improve.
      ShadeTree
      • The one single advantage for Linux

        Is if these drives use standard nonvolatile flash ram, the kernel and base OS can be permanently loaded into the flashspace. Rather than being used as cache, it can be the partition that the system is booted on.

        You wanna talk about boot speed? That's where it's at.
        Sabz5150
  • Interested?

    Sure. Willing to spend the money? Nope. My needs are fulfilled by what I already have. Would I reject one if offered to me at a great deal or installed in say, a new laptop? Nope. Just not going to jump on the latest and greatest.... :-)

    Cheers
    mtgarden
  • Not if but When

    The thing that has me interested is the latest coming from [url=http://www.engadget.com/2007/01/04/sandisk-announces-32gb-ssd-prices-begin-to-fall/]SanDisk in solid-state drive technology[/url].

    In case anybody was interested. ;)
    D T Schmitz
    • Seek Time ++

      I should say --. SanDisk Solid State drives will own.

      As for the Hybrids, gimme. Think about caching files in the Flash. You wouldn't have to deal with all the thrashing you deal with when you have multiple hits on the drive.
      nucrash
      • There's a lot of chatter about using these in laptops...

        ... I'd before more interested in using them in desktops. If they could used as storage solutions in minis and mainframes are used then the performance boost to a desktop would be astounding.
        bportlock
        • Solid State Drives cost mucho dinero.

          A 32GB drive is about a $ 1,000.00 for about a 2X improvement in speed. Maybe in a very expensive high end laptop but the limited sizes for premium dollars does not make it practicle for the desktop market. A solid state drive is nothing more then flash made to look like a disk drive. Readyboost and Readydrive are compromise technologies that are designed to give you something in the middle.
          ShadeTree
          • I understand what you are saying...

            ... but from a systems point of view the hard drive is the biggest bottleneck in system performance. Any improvement there can have real knock-on effects and benefits.

            I've seen the adverts for the SanDisk 32Gb device and I'm not sure that it would be what I want. It seems to me that a HDD with a large memory cache of standard RAM and a builtin controller within the HDD would make a big difference - that's what many mainframes use with the dedicated IO subsytem in the storage array.

            Another option would be to move the virtual memory from HD to RAM
            bportlock
          • no need for virtual memory...

            "Another option would be to move the virtual memory from HD to RAM"
            there would be no need for virtual memory if we already had enouth mem
            (``-_-´´)
          • Yeah

            If you have to ask the price of a SSD, it's not for you!
            Adrian Kingsley-Hughes