CES: Disk makers join to push flash-embedded drives

The technology is expected to come to market later in the first quarter

The five largest manufacturers of hard disk drives will work together to promote a new technology that promises to improve system performance, the companies said today.

2007 International CES

2007 International CES: January 8-11, Las Vegas

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies Inc., Seagate Technology LLC, Fujitsu Ltd., Samsung Electronics Co. and Toshiba Corp. have formed the Hybrid Storage Alliance to promote the technology, which is expected to come to market later in the first quarter.

Hybrid disks include flash memory that works as a buffer between the computer system and the disk. The memory will be used for short-term storage heading both to and from the disk and will mean an overall reduction in the amount of time the disk spins. That will reduce power consumption and boost performance 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 at Seagate. "When the PC comes out of hibernate, it has the correct data in the flash to come out much quicker."

The technology was developed by Microsoft Corp., and support for it is built into the new Vista operating system, which will be generally available Jan. 30. It's designed to eliminate the delay familiar to many computer users while a 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 plans to evangelize the technology and hopes 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 member companies have already demonstrated prototype drives with built-in flash memory.

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

Hybrid drives face competition from an Intel Corp.-backed technology called Robson, which seeks to achieve the same benefits by placing a flash memory cache in the computer. 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 said he thinks the hybrid will have an edge. "We're storage companies, and we know when best to get data. So we think we'll have the advantage," Noblitt said.

The Intel system is due in new laptops in the second quarter of this year. 

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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