Questions Dog the Hybrid Disk Drive

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Is the hybrid hard drive (HDD) coming to a laptop, or even a desktop, near you? Some big names in the industry seem to think so, although a number of nagging questions remain over whether this technology really has legs.


Seagate became the second drive manufacturer to ship a hybrid design this week, turning out the 2.5-inch Momentus 5400 PSD, which combines a 160-GB drive with 256 MB of flash memory. The move follows the release of Samsung's SpinPoint hybrid drive, and is likely to be followed up by hybrid models from Hitachi and Fujitsu by the end of the year, says News.com.


The appeal of the hybrid drive is its low energy consumption, which makes it an ideal solution for laptops. Seagate claims the Momentus drive cuts power consumption by half by not having to access mechanical storage drives to pull up data.


There are also reports that hybrids are not very friendly with the Vista operating system, with some critics saying it has trouble accessing the flash cache and determining which data is supposed to go where. Microsoft disputes this, however, according to eWEEK, saying its newly optimized ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive drivers are suitable for both traditional hard drives and flash memory chips.


Still, it's interesting to note that despite having only launched this summer, hybrid drives are already starting to see specialized niche markets. Insyde Software and Silicon Storage Technology are working on what they call FlashMate technology designed to integrate an HDD with an offline media player, says PC Magazine. The system will feature a secondary co-processor that will either act as an HDD disk controller or allow access to media files through secondary display technology, like Microsoft's SideShow, when the PC is powered down.


But some folks are questioning whether HDDs are needed at all, says Gearlog. If the whole idea is to only use the mechanical disk drive when the flash cache is full, why not do the same thing in software using available RAM? The downside here is that RAM is volatile, so anything not saved to disk before shutdown, or even activation of a hibernation state, would be lost. But it would provide a low-cost solution for existing laptops, at least until hybrid drives scale up from a measly 256 MB cache to, say, the 8 GB range.