Driving toward a faster boot

Competing disk-drive technologies address Vista performance at CES

Maybe it's because of my fixation on storage gear, but lately it seems as if the IT world is revolving around disk drives more that ever before. CES 2007 is no exception, from what I hear.

[ MarioApicella's column is now a blog! Get the latest storage news from the Storage Adviser blog. ]

Before I dive into interesting CES news tidbits, let me go back a few days to an announcement from SanDisk about a solid state drive that could easily replace the ATA drive in your notebook.

The SanDisk SSD UATA 5000 stores just 32GB -- not much compared to spinning notebook drives, but its performance should more than compensate for the small capacity. Based on SanDisk's benchmarks (available here), the UATA 5000 gets top marks while running a resource hog like Windows Vista and uses much less power than a comparable spinning drive.

Looking to replace your laptop drive with the 5000 before jumping into Vista? That was my plan, but unfortunately, SanDisk is only selling UATA 5000s to OEMs for now. Moreover, SanDisk estimates that a laptop with the SSD drive will set you back an extra $600 or so.

SanDisk expects that price to go down eventually, of course. While waiting for that to happen, you may want to think about hybrid drives instead.

Hybrid drives are essentially a combination of flash memory and traditional disk drives that promises to be faster, more resilient, and less power hungry than old-fashioned, mechanical disks. We should see them popping into the market before spring.

Vendors are so convinced of the benefits of this new technology that they formed the Hybrid Storage Alliance to promote this new technology. The HSA chose the stage at the Storage Visions Conference in Las Vegas, a show within the CES 2007 show, to announce its presence to the world.

Did I say new technology? Well, it's sort of new: My earliest recollection of hybrid drives goes back two years to Samsung's (also a member of the Hybrid Alliance) partnership with Microsoft on hybrid drives.

Regardless, HSA spokespersons say hybrid drives will be hardware-compatible with laptops but will require dedicated drivers that come standard with Vista. The Alliance is not talking about price ("that will be up to each vendor"), but I was assured that hybrid drives won't cost a fortune, so the expensive SanDisk SSD is not really a competitive concern at the moment.

A more formidable contender for hybrid drives is Intel's Robson cache, a technology that speeds things up by using flash memory located on the motherboard instead of on the hard drive.

Robson caches and hybrid drives should produce comparable performance gain, according to the HSA, but an independent assessment of these two competing technologies and their cost won't be possible before Q2, when Intel is expected to make the Robson cache available.

For me, this is one more reason to wait before deploying Vista, but I'll refrain from cursing Microsoft for once again unleashing a monster OS. Regardless of which disk-speeding technology prevails -- if any -- I look forward to one day starting my laptop as quickly as my car.

Join me on The Storage Network with questions or comments.

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