Hard Drive Rivals Promote New Hybrid Technology

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TOKYO -- The five largest hard drive manufacturers will work together to promote a new technology that promises to improve system performance, the companies announced today.

Hitachi, Seagate, Fujitsu, Samsung, and Toshiba have formed the Hybrid Storage Alliance group to promote the technology, which is expected to come to market later in the first quarter.

How It Works

Hybrid disks include flash memory that works like a buffer between the computer system and the hard disk. The memory is used for short-term storage heading both to and from the disk and reduces the amount of time the disk spins. That will reduce power consumption; a performance boost is also expected because reading and writing data from flash memory is significantly faster than from a disk.

"It takes advantage of the capacity of the hard-disk drive and the snappiness of solid-state technology," said Marc Noblitt, senior interface market development manager with Seagate. "When the PC comes out of hibernate it has the correct data in the flash to come out much quicker."

The technology has been developed by Microsoft and support is built into the new Vista operating system that goes on general sale on January 30. It's designed to eliminate the delay familiar to many computer users while the machine locates and loads a file from the hard disk. By anticipating the next required file and having it in flash memory the system can get it immediately.

The group will evangelize the technology to users and seeks to expand beyond its five members to companies such as chip set vendors and benchmark system makers, said Joni Clark, product marketing manager for notebooks at Seagate.

Several of the companies have already demonstrated prototype drives with built-in flash memory.

Last year Samsung demonstrated drives with 128MB and 256MB of embedded flash at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle in May and followed up in July by announcing the development of a drive with 4GB of flash memory. Both Seagate and Hitachi are planning drives.

Intel's Rival Technology

Hybrid drives face competition from an Intel-backed technology called Robson, which seeks to achieve the same benefits by placing a flash memory cache in the computer. The Intel system is due in new laptops starting in the second quarter of this year. It has the advantage of working with any current hard disk but requires a new interface card, said Noblitt.

"On-boot performance and overall performance both should be comparable," said Noblitt. When it comes to battery performance, he thought hybrid will have the edge: "We're storage companies and we know when best to get data, so we think we'll have the advantage."

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