New hybrid drives promise faster Vista laptops, PCs, servers

Vista's support for flash-assisted hybrid hard drives sets the stage for faster, less power-hungry computers

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Panabaker said hybrid drives are a better design for ReadyDrive, since they keep the cache and disk under the management of the storage subsystem. “Microsoft has concerns about the issues associated with such a separated nonvolatile cache,” Panabaker said.

“We don’t see that as being an issue,” said Kishore, adding that Intel’s Matrix storage manager chip will safely handle all I/O operations. Disk drive makers say problems with flash on the motherboard will be harder to service, while Intel counters that the hard disk is more likely to fail, and when that happens the user must throw out the flash along with the disk.

“It’s difficult to predict how this is going to play out with PC manufacturers,” said Rydning at IDC. But users aren’t likely to care, as long as computers that use the technologies perform and cost the same.

Jack Weilandt, chief technologist and director at Westwood, Mass.-based NSTAR Electric & Gas Corp., sees an 8% to 12% increase in battery life as “marginal at best,” and added that faster boot times are mitigated by the fact that “more boot time is spent in authentication and managed desktop component loads than in the loading of Windows itself.” But he said the durability of hybrid drives is attractive.

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Sony's Vaio UX90 micro PC uses a 16GB solid state disk

 “The key feature to me is that the heads can stay locked for large amounts of time. We put laptops in trucks and carry them to work sites where they can get banged around quite a bit, so this technology would greatly reduce  [hard drive damage],” Weilandt said, adding that a solid state disk would be even better.

Beyond laptops

Performance benefits may be the main reason for using hybrid disks in desktops, but Panabaker said some large enterprise customers have approached Microsoft and said that they’d like to have hybrid drives in desktops so the disk drives will spin down during periods of inactivity, cutting power consumption and heat generation.

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