Today I saw a post over at Anandtech about Western Digital’s new 500GB Hybrid Hard drive. Now, you may not be a fan of hybrid drives for whatever reason; maybe its because the write speeds are lower or the cache is all t0o often too small. Maybe the data management software doesn’t write over unneeded information but rather nukes its copy of your boot files, slowing down your next few boots to regular HDD speeds. Maybe you own a powder-blue Toyota Pruis and realise that no-one will buy anything second-hand that has the “Hybrid” moniker attached to it (and if you somehow do own a powder-blue Prius, there’s no hope for you). However, for all the drawbacks we may be able to point out, hybrid drives have made their mark and are here to stay.
But where are the limits of traditional hard drive storage? Platters are getting denser and denser but performance isn’t any more improved from the previous generation. As more manufacturers follow Apple’s thinking by integrating solid state drives in ever-smaller form factors using special connectors, there’s less incentive for drive manufacturers to make smaller versions of their products to fit into Ultrabooks and tablets.
Western Digital’s hard drive seems to be going in the opposite direction, thinning down their 500GB drives to a mere 5mm on a single platter and 7mm for the 1TB model. The new drives come in two families, with the Caviar Blue eschewing the flash storage to fall into cheaper price points and the Black featuring up to 32GB of NAND storage. In the Ultrabook and tablet space, preference is given to models that have instant-on capabilities and fix the problem, or rather the perception, that laptops are slower than their desktop counterparts (performance-wise they are, but you’ll be hard pressed to see the difference today). Having faster flash storage makes you forget how slow the hardware you’re working on actually is. Sadly, most solid state drives in laptops and Ultrabooks today are either capped at 128GB to fall in budget, or are priced so far out of the realm of sensibility with drive sizes reaching up to 768GB.
Will hybrid drives of this sort fix both problems of flash storage in one fell swoop? Traditionally, per-GB prices of solid state drives are still pretty high, in the region of around R10 for 1GB of unformatted storage space. A cheaper hybrid drive, using 1.8″-size internal platters and up to 32GB of moderately fast flash chips, could address the lack of storage space on Ultrabooks while still offering the instant-on capabilities they boast as well as the slimmer form factor. After all, most users won’t reach the 32GB size limit for the caching part of the drive unless the files they’re loading reach gigabytes in size.
Its all much of a muchness, I guess, since these hybrid drives won’t be seen in the retail sector for quite some time. The specialised connector, for example, isn’t seen anywhere outside the enterprise market where connectors of that type are used with 1.8″ drives, making it hugely expensive. Western Digital hasn’t mentioned anything in the lines of speed or performance, suggesting that even for this technology the drives will be stuck at 4200rpm to save on power.
Time will tell if this will take off and with the ever-increasing popularity of Ultrabooks and the promise of superior experiences with Windows 8-based Hybrid tablets, there’s certainly a market where this drive could excel.
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