HLDS is prepping second generation Hybrid Drive

A different kind of solution

THERE HAS BEEN a lot of talk about hybrid storage solutions which incorporate an SSD element. So far, both Seagate and Samsung have launched hard drives with a small SSD used as a kind of cache to help boost the performance. Now HLDS or Hitachi-LG Data Storage Inc. (as they’re also known) is getting ready to launch its own solution, although the company claims to already be on the second generation of its Hybrid Drive.

Unlike Seagate and Samsung, HLDS isn’t putting an SSD inside a hard drive, however the company is fitting an SSD to an optical drive. No, this isn’t an April Fool’s joke as the company is actually showing off its new model at CEATEC 2010 that is kicking off in Tokyo, Japan tomorrow. We can’t say we ever heard of any products using its first generation of products which was then going under the name of HyDrive. We’re not sure what has changed since the announcement back in June, although the second generation product won’t be available for now due to some technical limitations.

For starters, the second generation of Hybrid Drives will use a SATA 6Gbps interface for the SSD part which means there’s a very limited choice of controllers now available. The current hardware is using a controller from Indilinx, but HLDS hasn’t announced who will supply the controller for the second generation products. Secondly, HLDS teamed up with Micron for the NAND Flash memory, and since they’re planning on using 25nm parts, there’s currently a lack of products in the market. HLDS will be using 8GB chips according to the press release, although it’s unclear as to what size the SSD part will be on the Hybrid Drives. Products presently are available as either 32 or 64GB solutions.

HLDS also has a quote from AMD stating “AMD’s latest 8-series chipsets have both the required hardware and driver support for HyDrive, including SATA port multiplier support, which enables combined optical and solid state functionality in the HLDS HyDrive.” The idea, in this case, isn’t necessarily to replace the hard drive. Instead, the SSD is meant to act as a buffer, once again, to improve the overall performance of the system. It seems like Shuttle, Averatec and Moneual are the only interested companies at this point, and we can’t say that we’re sold on the concept. Moneual is said to be launching a product later this month in Korea, which features the current generation Hybrid Drive. S\A

The first generation HyDrive features separate SATA and power connectors

One other feature that the Hybrid Drive offers is as a buffer for the optical drive, especially when it comes to media that is slightly damaged and would normally take longer time to read. HLDS claims that in these instances, the Hybrid Drive can help speed things up by storing the read data while the optical drive can then continue to try and read the remaining data from the disc. We’re not sure how much of a difference this would make and currently this appears to be limited to a special version of ArcSoft’s Total Media Theatre 3 which makes it a fairly uninteresting feature.

It’s also worth pointing out that the SSD part isn’t actually fitted inside the optical drive, instead it’s a small separate PCB that takes up the space where there’s normally a cut-out on slim-line optical drives. This means that notebook manufacturers that would want to take advantage of this solution would have to re-design their notebook chassis to make the drive fit. The SSD also require its own SATA port and power, which makes for even more work for the notebook manufacturers. In all fairness, this is a space saving design, but not one that we can see a lot of notebook manufacturers implementing due to the non-standard nature of the optical drive.

As much as we’d want to like HLDS Hybrid Drive solution, we can’t but wonder why it was ever made. Apart from installing the OS, most notebook owners don’t tend to use their optical drive much these days, with the exception for those that use them for watching DVD or Blu-ray movies. Many notebooks don’t even ship with an optical drive, especially at 13.3-inches and below. On top of that, the space taken up by an SSD is so small that it could easily be incorporated into a notebook alongside a hard drive without making the notebook significantly larger and it could still act as a buffer to speed up the overall system performance. But hey, HLDS is an optical storage drive manufacturer and I guess they want to show that there’s still life in the good old optical drive.

Update: Well, we’ve gotten some more details on the second generation Hybrid Drive from Micron of all sources and it seems like things have changed a fair bit since the first generation product. For starters the separate SATA and power connectors are now gone, which makes a lot more sense. There’s now appears to be a port multiplier on the drive itself and the SSD part is powered from the optical drive. The only problem that appears to remain is the extra space that the SSD module takes up, but this is going to be less of an issue in at least some products.

You can also see that the new Hybrid Drive uses different NAND Flash memory from Micron than on the previous model, although the controller appears to be from Indilinx again. It’s likely that this isn’t the final product design, but it should be fairly close to what will be shipping at some stage in the future. We’re still not sold on the concept, but this makes a lot more sense than the first generation product. Considering that notebooks that have enough space for an optical drive are likely to be able to fit a hard drive and even a mini card PCI Express SSD, we still can’t think of that many scenarios where this would be a product in high demand.S|A

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