Hybrid drives go mainstream

Hybrid drives go mainstream

Summary: Toshiba and Western Digital (WD) will join Seagate in producing hybrid - NAND flash + disk - drives. No dates or prices, but this is good news for customers and the drive industry.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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Storage Newsletter reports that both companies said they would develop hybrid drives. Seagate's early bet on hybrids is paying off.

What is a hybrid? The only ones shipping today come from Seagate. There's a disk, some NAND flash - currently SLC, but that has to change - and some clever algorithms that figure out what data to cache.

The algorithms analyze disk traffic to figure out which data is 1) often requested and, 2) small. This data is cached in flash, where it noticeably speeds I/O performance.

I've played with 2 generations of the Seagate drive. While I'll never mistake it for the SSD in my MacBook Air, it definitely perks up performance on bootup and often used apps. If you want disk-like capacity and better performance, it's the way to go.

Why it works Flash is really good at small random reads - and disks are lousy. But disks are good at large reads and writes that are expensive for flash drives.

It's a match made in heaven, I/O-wise.

The Storage Bits take WD and Toshiba have no doubt done thorough competitive analyses of the the Seagate hybrids. So why wait until now to build them?

Some customer has clearly decided to go big with hybrids. Lenovo or HP, it doesn't matter, but the driving force is almost certainly Ultrabooks.

As vendors struggle to cut costs enough to put pricing daylight between them and Apple's MacBook Airs, it must have become clear that a drive + a separate flash cache didn't make sense for both space and cost reasons. It's just easier to build the cache into the disk.

Users get faster drives, PC vendors get to claim 16GB of flash - though few consumers will have any idea what that means - and drive vendors get to extend the life of disk technology.

What's not to like? Would you use a hybrid?

Comments welcome, of course. Seagate gave me review copies of 2 hybrid drives.

Topic: Hardware

About

Robin Harris has been a computer buff for over 35 years and selling and marketing data storage for over 30 years in companies large and small.

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5 comments
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  • I think

    it can only result in a good thing. I believe it has all the ingredients to be successful.
    xpect
  • Not to be confused....

    with a true SSD. SSD's have far better shock tolerance and energy usage, so in mobile environments, they rule the roost.

    Hybrid drives wouldn't be so bad for things like nettops and mini-PC's where you might need more space than an SSD, but want better performance than just a stock 2.5" hard drive.

    One thing remains to be seen though: are these companies going to reduce the RPM speeds of these drives due to having a bigger cache? WD's green drives are like this already. Seagate quit making green drives though because they didn't see any merit in taking the performance hit over a standard drive, and the energy cost savings could barely even be registered.
    Joe_Raby
  • Price, price, price ...

    These have been on everyone's radar since June 2006 when Seagate launched it's first hybrid. A hybrid with 16gb flash has about $15 more hardware than a standard HDD. If the drive manufactures price them accordingly we'll all be on board.
    Programmer1028
  • To MLC?

    [i]The only ones shipping today come from Seagate. There???s a disk, some NAND flash - currently SLC, but that has to change[/i]

    I'll believe that when I see it.
    ScorpioBlack
  • we can only hope they'll ditch the flash memory

    for DDR or some other technology that doesn't wear out. 8 gb of ddr is a lot of cache, and only 40 dollars at this point. A flash cache for boot would be necessary I guess, but why not just a flash boot drive, really a 4 gb drive is like four dollars. boot from flash, load the ddr, heaven!
    sparkle farkle