Disk drive companies ally on hybrid drives

With Flash memory continuing to fall in price and increase in density, the future looks good for hybrid drives. Fujitsu, Hitachi, Samsung, Seagate and Toshiba certainly think so, announcing the formation of the Hybrid Storage Alliance.

This is intended to 'promote and educated industry enablers and influencers about the benefits and advantages of Hybrid HDDs', according to the Alliance's website, which can be found at www.hybridstorage.org.

As opposed to just a standard spinning hard-disk drive, hybrid drives employ a flash memory buffer to take the load off the disk, saving on power and increasing reliability. Working effectively, the platter in such a hybrid drive will often not need to spin, except when the Flash buffer is getting full and needs offloading or when a new file is accessed that is not already 'cached'.

One of the five founding members, Samsung, has just announced it has begun customer testing of the world's first 16Gbit NAND flash memory, using an ultra-dense 50nm process technology. The company said that the introduction of 16Gbit and higher density flash memories will accelerate the adoption of non-volatile memory technologies, such as hybrid drives. Samsung is expected to introduce its first such drives (for notebooks) early in 2007, with Seagate following.

Among others welcoming the formation of the new body was Microsoft, with a view to the support of Vista features. 'Microsoft is pleased to see the storage industry uniting to drive the adoption of hybrid hard drives,' said Bill Mitchell, Corporate VP of Mobile and Tailored Platform Division of Microsoft. 'Hybrid drives will leverage 'Windows ReadyDrive' features in Windows Vista to enable a new generation of mobile PCs that boot up and resume from hibernation faster, optimize battery life, outperform standard hard disk drives, and are more reliable and robust.'

The Alliance presents hybrid drives as a natural evolution of hard disk drive technology: 'Fifty years since the invention of the hard disk drive in 1956, the industry continues to evolve, offering solutions that transform the way data is accessed and stored,' it states online. 'Hybrid hard disk drive technology is another step into the future of possibilities that will continue to ensure the relevance of hard disk drives for decades to come.'

The Alliance declares that its hybrid drives will be compliant to the ATA T13 Open Standard and there should be no impact on existing form factors or current chassis design - the non volatile memory is added to the existing PCB on the drive.