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MS to demo Flash-HDD hybrid drive

Notebook Power Preservation Society

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Microsoft's plan to soup up notebook-oriented hard drives with Flash memory buffers appears to be moving beyond the theoretical. According to Samsung, the software giant will demo such a unit at its annual WinHEC conference this week.

The prototype drive incorporates 128MB of Flash storage - courtesy of a 1Gb Samsung OneNAND chip, hence the South Korean company's interest in Microsoft's idea - which is used to buffer data being read from the drive and written to it.

The idea is that the Flash writes and reads data using far less power than it takes to spin up a hard drive so this hybrid system will lead to much better a notebook battery life. Using non-volatile memory also means the data isn't lost if the power cuts out at any time.

Samsung claims its OneNAND chips offer sustained read speeds of 108MBps - not that far off a 5400rpm notebook drive might typically provide - and write speeds of 10MBps. Data is written to the drive when the buffer is filled.

Of course, Flash has limited writing longevity, and what with virtual memory swapping pages of memory back and between the RAM chips and the hard drive, it will be interesting to see how long the buffer will last before it needs replacing.

Microsoft is looking to tout this hybrid storage system in the Longhorn timeframe. That will be the first version of Windows to support the technology. Samsung said it expects notebooks equipped with hybrid drives to ship late 2006. The hybrid system ties in with the OS' SmartFetch data pre-caching system, and may be used, in part, to hold part of the OS' boot code, to speed system start-ups.

Microsoft's plan first emerged a year ago, but it's been working on the idea since 2003, it seems. ®

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