Western Digital Hybrid Hard Drives: 5mm 500GB Sampling

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Storage | September 10, 2012 - 05:50 PM |
Tagged: ultrabook, ssd caching, ssd, Hard Drive

Western Digital has been sampling 5mm-thin 2.5” hard drives designed for Ultrabooks. They have currently announced partnerships with Acer and ASUS to include these drives in future ultrathin laptops. Western Digital has currently only listed capacities of 500GB for the spindle portion of the drive but no word how much MLC flash will be included to cache most used files. The product will be discussed during the company’s investor day on the 13th of this month.

At this stage SSDs are pretty much the missing link to a fast and responsive computer.

Prices have dropped to under one dollar per gigabyte ($1/GB) a few months ago with some models reaching 70c/GB – and those are the good ones too. The massive drop in price is still about an order of magnitude more expensive than spindle hard drives and consumers are using whatever space they can get. Several solutions exist to balance the speed of SSDs with the storage effectiveness of HDDs.

One solution is to include both in a single drive and keep the most used data in the SSD cache. Western Digital has just released samples of 5mm-thin hybrid hard drives for OEMs to put in extremely thin laptops.

I wonder if they're feeling chip-er...

Users who purchase laptops often have the mistaken assumption that a faster processor directly leads to increased response. That is certainly the case when comparing an Intel Atom to an i5 – but an i3 will probably spend just as much time idle and awaiting instructions from the hard drive as an i5 would.

Western Digital has not broken the SSD market despite their long success with spindle storage. It makes sense that Western Digital will push into the market with the starting point from which they are most comfortable. Western Digital has been shipping SSDs for over two-and-a-half years at this point but never really gained any traction.

It looks like Western Digital is realizing that they need to mix SSDs with what they know best and do something innovative to get a unique hook in the market – buying just a little more time.

The drive which has been announced today will contain a storage capacity of 500GB with an undisclosed amount of MLC NAND flash memory caching the most used data. The hook to differentiate themselves from other hybrid hard drives is its size: 5mm compared to the more common 9.5mm.

The Ultrabook market could be a lucrative wave to ride for the time being and give them even more capital to invest future SSDs. Hopefully they will not wait for solid state storage to creep up on them twice. Fool you once…

Western Digital is expected to discuss and showcase this product more at their Western Digital Investor Day on this Thursday, September 13th, 2012.

September 10, 2012 | 08:17 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If previous hybrid drives are anything to go by, there won't be enough nand to make it worthwhile plus you know you'll be paying for that massive 8GB of MLC. I don't see why they haven't spent more time refining their 7MM offerings; obviously it's great that they can get a hybrid drive working in the 5MM form factor, but I would much rather they let the 7MM drives mature for a while (Aka give them time to break) so they can learn from the inevitable mistakes.

September 10, 2012 | 09:17 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

There were some rumours that we would potentially see 20 or 32GB of flash cells... which would be good enough for Windows and a few applications if it were smart enough to cache the right things.

September 11, 2012 | 09:38 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I would like WD to make a hot swapable drive caddy/slot for
existing laptops, as this drive could easily fit into such a slot. It would be a much better use than my CD/DVD optical dinosaur!

September 11, 2012 | 08:05 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

You may actually be able to get an adaptor that converts your laptops optical drive bay into a second hdd bay. Windows 7 sort of supports hotswapping drives so it might just work if you really wanted it to.
@scott that's good to know; what would be really nice is if they released 2 firmwares - one where it does the caching like Intel SRT does and another that lets you make a partition of just the flash. Seems like it would mainly be a software type feature so I don't see any reason why it isn't possible? I thought your is gaming art article was very interesting btw.

September 12, 2012 | 03:13 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Cool thanks for the comments.

I am not too sure whether it would be too useful to choose between caching and partitioning.

Drives which are designed to cache are typically around 10-30GB which is a bit too small for a practical partition -- you couldn't just install the most used parts of Windows or an application to one drive and the rest to another. Once you get to a drive size that can install your most used full applications verbatem -- there is not too much point in having a cache at all -- just make it a full drive. That line between "big enough" and "too small, cache or bust" capacities is not fuzzy enough (in my opinion) that a product like that would be worthwhile to fill in the gap.

What *would* be nice is a way to flag folders or known applications (such as Windows) to always be cached... and let the controller fill up the rest of the cache with whatever it wants. That would likely need some Microsoft support however... so that as Windows gets patched the drive knows what parts change. Probably not worth it though as SSD prices will probably drop again at some point.

September 17, 2012 | 07:57 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Crucial, OCZ, and Corsair all offer very effective cache SSD's that can be added to any existing HDD-based PC. Ultrabooks are shipping today with that same SSD cache configuration; but there are no Ultrabooks that ship with a Hybrid-HDD - to slow, inefficient...