Life is full of compromises, and that’s especially true when it comes to picking out storage for your desktop or notebook PC. You could spend X amount of dollars on a blazing fast solid state drive and enjoy snappy performance, or purchase a much larger mechanical hard drive that, while not nearly as responsive, will hold an ocean of data. Hybrid drives, like the one introduced by Toshiba today, attempt to offer the best of both worlds by pairing the platter(s) with a small amount of NAND flash memory, but do they really provide an affordable end-around?
Before attempting to answer that question, let’s take a moment to examine Toshiba’s virgin entry into the hybrid space. Available in 750GB and 1TB capacities, Toshiba’s MQ01ABDH Series Hybrid Drive (wow, what a mouthful) stuffs a pair of platters into a 2.5-inch enclosure that measures 9.5mm high. Each drive is equipped with 8GB of NAND flash memory, which is used to store and dish up frequently accessed data in a hurry.
This isn’t groundbreaking stuff. Seagate offers a similar solution with its Momentus XT hybrid drives, and so does Samsung. Hybrid hard drives (HHDs) have been around for several years, so why the sudden interest? For one, the technology has had time to mature, and secondly, NAND flash memory is now more affordable than ever before. Towards that end, Toshiba points out that it’s the only storage company which designs and manufactures HDDs and NAND flash, so it’s in a unique position to capitalize on both (or so the company says).
Toshiba’s “self-learning” algorithms shuttle frequently accessed data to the drives 8GB NAND flash memory for faster access.
Toshiba’s other spin on the hybrid storage model is that its drive rotates at 5,400 RPM and thus consumes less power than 7,200 RPM drives, like Seagate’s hybrid solution. The company also claims that its “self-learning” caching algorithms are more sophisticated, resulting is less frequent calls to access the hard drive. Compared to a traditional hard drive, Toshiba says [PDF] its hybrid drive can cut applications load times roughly in half.
Problem solved? Not so fast
Cool stuff, and the fact that these are z-height drives than can fit inside ultrabooks is promising, but I’m not ready to crown Toshiba the king of affordable, fast storage. Part of the reason is because Toshiba has yet to announce any pricing information.
My main hesitation, however, is because ultrabook makers have already begun pairing mSATA SSDs with traditional hard drives with impressive results. In our own testing, too, we’ve found that with the right software, smaller SSD “cache drives” can provide almost the same level of speed-up as a larger SSD.
These solutions are affordable, too. In fact, the least expensive ultrabook on Best Buy’s website is a $680 Acer Aspire with a 500GB HDD 20GB SSD. After that, there are nine other ultrabooks priced $800 or less that also take this approach, several with 32GB mSATA SSDs, or four times the amount of NAND as Toshiba’s hybrid drive.
In any event, we’ll find out soon enough how it stacks up. Toshiba says its new drives will be featured in various notebook PCs, starting with systems shipping in time for the holiday season.
Copyright © 2010 Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc