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Samsung, MS to demo Flash-fitted HDD - again

Ready to ship, just waiting on Vista

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Samsung and Microsoft first demonstrated a hard drive containing Flash memory as well as magnetic storage just over a year ago, and next month the pair will show the technology again, this time in a form that they claim will be ready to come to market.

Once again, the system will be demo'd at WinHEC, which this year kicks off on 24 May. But don't expect the drive to debut soon after the show: the operating system code that supports the Flash package will ship with Windows Vista.

As a major Flash producer, Samsung is keen on the idea. The unit it showed off last year contained 128MB of Flash, used to cache start-up data and other frequently accessed information not only to make loading the data into RAM faster but to boost the battery life of notebook computers.

Flash memory has a limited write capacity, of course, and it's likely Vista uses the same sort of technology Microsoft added to Windows Mobile 5.0 to reduce the number of times the system writes to each Flash memory location. Unfortunately, that's led to quirky Windows Mobile performance. The system is designed to write information to the Flash memory when the CPU is idle, and most of the time this works. Sometimes, however, the OS has to write data to Flash when the user's running a processor-taxing application, and then he or she can see a slowdown.

Come Vista and Intel will be promoting its own take on the technique, this one incorporating the Flash memory on an add-in card rather than building it into the hard drive. Such an approach allows the Flash to be replaced without trashing the hard drive, and should keep hard drive prices down, but raises the system price.

Intel is also putting in place the Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI) initiative, which will seek to develop a standard method of implementing and using such a system in PCs - and presumably Macs now. Intel's pitch is that ONFI will do all the hard work, allowing notebook manufacturers to implement the technique easily and cheaply.

It will be interesting to see which alternative system vendors adopt. ®

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