First Hybrid Cars, Now Hybrid Hard Drives

Coming on the heels of SanDisk’s plans to replace hard drives with a Flash memory-based drive is the Hybrid Storage Alliance, which seeks to marry Flash memory in a platter-based drive for notebooks.

By adding 256MB of Flash memory to a 2.5-inch notebook laptop, the members of the alliance — Hitachi, Seagate, Fujitsu, Toshiba, and Samsung – hope to extend the life of mobile laptop batteries, reduce heat and improve laptop performance.

“The notebook market is where the crying need for this technology lies today. We will look at other platforms after that,” Michael Hall, a spokesman for Seagate, told

The alliance cited research from IDC, which predicted that hybrid hard disk drives will constitute 35 percent of all hard disk drives shipped with laptops by 2010.

Details are still somewhat sketchy, as it will be a few months before products appear. Hitachi and Seagate declined to give any indications on how much these drives will cost, but Albert Kim, senior manager of storage products at Samsung estimated the hybrid drives will carry a 15 percent price premium over traditional hard drives with the same storage capacity.

Having the Flash memory serving as a very large cache will benefit laptop users in several ways. For starters, part of the boot or sleep sequence can be written to Flash memory, thus cutting the boot or wake up time significantly.

Also, it means longer battery life, because hard drives can spin down due to decreased use. The Flash memory will handle all of the immediate reads and writes and dump all of the data to the hard disk when memory fills.

How much power this saves seems to depend on whom you talk to. Kim Nguyen, a spokesperson for Hitachi, said battery life can be extended by six to 12 percent, while Samsung’s Kim estimates, a 20 to 25 percent battery savings.

The other benefits of the hybrid drive that the alliance are touting is longer lifespan for the drive, since there is less usage and wear and tear, less heat as the hard drive is used less, and improved durability. If a hard drive will be damaged, it will likely happen during use, and by reducing drive activity, you reduce the chances for damage. Or so the theory goes.

The initial plans for the drive makers is to sell to laptop OEMs first, then enter the aftermarket for existing laptop users to install. Hitachi and Seagate both said they would consider entering the desktop market at a later date but nothing is set at this point.

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