Toshiba and WD to Come in Hybrid HDDs

After Seagate and Samsung
By Jean Jacques Maleval on 2012.05.30

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After Samsung and Seagate, Toshiba and WD declared they will enter into hybrid disk drives combining flash cache and HDD.

On May 17, 2012, Norio Sasaki, president and CEO of Toshiba Corp., speaking about Mid-term Strategies for Future Growth (FY2012-2014) at a briefing session in Tokyo, said the company will develop hybrid HDDs.

During an interview with WD's COO Tom Leyden on May 8 in Wien, Austria, at the question: "Will you enter into hybrid drives?", he answered: "Yes, we are going to have products." The information was confirmed by Matt Rutledge, VP and GM for WD client storage products. But they didn't reveal any information on specs and date of the announcement.

WD changes its mind on the technology. In an interview in 2007, John Coyne, who already was president and CEO of WD, told us about hybrid disk drives :"Right now, we don't see a value proposition."

The first hybrid HDDs was the Seagate Momentus 5400PSD revealed in June 2006 and from 40GB to 160GB ($190). The Samsung SpinPoint MH80 was announced in March 2007 with 128/256MB on flash, from 80GB to 180GB ($299)  on HDD. A number of issues prevented their success with Windows Vista.

Samsung decided to stop them but Seagate pursues this activity being today the only one offering these hybrid products. Its latest device, announced last November, is the 2.5-inch 6Gb SATA Momentus XT with 750GB on 7,200rpm HDD and 8GB of SLC NAND flash in 9.5mm z-height. It costs today $149.68 at ($99.99 for the former generation 500GB model.)

Toshiba could be in the best position in this market as it manufactures both HDDs and flash chips. Seagate has signed with Samsung a special agreement in the deal covering its acquisition of HDD business, probably to get chips. WD doesn't have such a special relationship with a flash chip maker. Note that all these three HDD makers have already launched their own pure SSD products.

Last August 2011, Seagate said to have shipped its one millionth Momentus XT hybrid drive after launching the product in spring 2010. It's a tiny portion if its total HDDs sold.

We continue to think that these hybrid units are a niche and transition market and will progressively disappear in favor of TRUE SSDs for laptop and smaller PCs. It's just a question of time as the prices are decreasing faster for SSDs than HDDs. Here the best example is Apple that pushed SSDs for all its small devices.

Standard rotational devices will be there for several years having an undisputed advantage in term of price per gigabyte for high capacities.

There is probably a brighter future for 3.5-inch SATA drives at 2TB and more as well as for SAS enterprise units with flash cache, but no one has already launched such products.