Exploring Hybrid Hard Drives

By: Peter Stewart

Flash hard drives may be picking up in popularity, but they lose out when it comes to value for money. Currently for $300 you can get either a 750 GB traditional hard drive or a 32 GB non-volatile flash disk. For now there is an alternative that sits somewhere between the two.

Hybrid hard drives, or H-HDD combine these two technologies to offer an increase in performance as well as an improvement in power consumption. The flash memory is stored onboard the hard drive and picks up where a normal hard drive leaves off. Speed can be increased dramatically because there is no mechanical latency in the memory like there is in the hard drive. Power consumption can be improved because frequently used application data can be stored and then pulled from the flash memory.

These advantages apply mostly to notebook hard drives.

Laptop drives are much slower than desktop hard drives, and power drain is a big concern. With these additions H-HDD manufacturers hope to make laptop hard drives reach similar speeds to their desktop counterparts.

Currently, hybrid hard drives require that you run Windows Vista, not because it needs Vista, but because it needs ReadyDrive, a feature that comes with Vista. Which data is stored on the flash part of the drive is controlled by the operating system, and in Vista, ReadyDrive takes care of this. ReadyDrive sees how you use your programs and which ones you use the most, it then puts the most heavily accessed application data onto the flash memory part of the hard drive.

The power saving come when there is a read/write it happens onto the flash portion of the disk. Because there is no motor, flash media draws much less power. However, when the data is written to the disk the motor still needs to be used and therefore uses that power that was saved.

The super-fast access speeds of the flash disk more than make up for the lower transfer rates that is able to maintain. It also needs to be noted that the flash media still does not replace the fast cache that is almost a standard feature amongst hard drives these days.

In actual use there is not really much advantage to this kind of hard drive. Although it promises to improve performance and save a lot of power it really does very little in the real world. Waiting for a true flash-only drive would be the best best, or just stick with the traditional kind.

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