Hybrid harddrives to extend battery life in notebooks by 10 percent

San Jose (CA) - Flash could soon be the same to a harddrive what an electric motor is in a car: In fact the similarities of benefits are surprising: As in newer generation typical hybrid vehicles, hybrid harddrives (HHDs) promise higher performance while decreasing energy consumption. Samsung presented a first prototype at WinHEC and claims that HHDs also are more reliable than traditional drives.

It's no secret anymore that consumption of power is one of the most important research fields in mobile computing, whether you look at cellphones, PDAs or notebooks. In that respect, it is not really that shocking that someone came up with an idea to look at one of the most power hungry components in a notebook.

According to Ivan Greenberg, Director of Strategic Marketing at Samsung Semiconductor, it however was the search for new applications of Flash memory that led to the development of the HHD. The company found that the non-volatile memory was able to fill in the weakness of common harddrives and vice versa. The speed and immediate availability of data stored in Flash would not only accelerate the drive, but also keep it from unnecessary spinning, while harddrive technology still delivers massive amounts of storage space for relatively little money.

The integration of Samsung's OneNAND Flash also is not far-fetched, since NOR Flash (which offers slower speeds especially for deleting data) has anyway been used as memory in harddrives for many years. NAND simply replaces NOR with greater capacities between about 12 Mbit in entry-level drives to about 1 Gbit (128 MByte) in performance harddrives.

The Flash unit can be considered the primary storage space during typical computing: Since most tasks require usually reading and writing of small data amounts, these files are written into the Flash memory and also retrieved from it for faster access. The harddrive is only used for larger files or when the space in Flash is exceeded. As a result, Samsung expects the harddrive unit to spin significantly less, resulting in power savings of 85 to 90 percent for the harddrive. Considering the fact that typical harddrives are responsible for 9 to 12 percent of the the consumption of a notebook as whole, according to Samsung, users should see battery life to improve by at least 20 and as much as 45 minutes in their devices.

With Flash densities doubling every year, Greenberg said he could envision an operating system to be completely stored in the Flash unit of a harddrive - which could bring the industry a significant step closer to instant-on times of computers. In any case, a HHD already accelerates the start-up time while reading data during the 3 to 6 second look spin-up time of a typical harddrive.

The addition of OneNAND Flash in Samsung's harddrive however also means additional manufacturing cost. Greenberg however believes that in the end this cost will be "negligible".