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WD works on hybrid drives

Seagate expands hybrid drive offerings

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Western Digital is working on developing a hybrid drive combining spinning disk and solid state storage, along the lines of Seagate's Momentus XT.

CEO John Coyne mentioned this in the earnings call for WD's second fiscal 2011 quarter, saying: "We also continue to evaluate the opportunity to combine rotating magnetic storage with flash into hybrid solutions."

WD's CFO, Wolfgang Nickl, repeated this idea when talking to an investor conference last week. Stifel Nicolaus analyst Aaron Rakers, present at the event, reports Nickl as saying

[C]ombining the good attributes of HDDs and SSDs at a reasonable cost makes sense. He did state that WD believes that the drives should be developed in concert with the operating system to give a hybrid drive its full potential. In addition, WD believes that hybrids could have “a lot of lags” and that it is unsure how much the mobile market will ultimately be serviced by hybrid drives, but the potential opportunity remains large. Mr Nickl believes the largest opportunity remains around a faster boot-time, resulting in an almost "instant on" experience.

Nickl also said that WD will introduce an enterprise-class solid state drive later this year. Given that Toshiba has both hard disk drives and sold state drive manufacturing operations, it wouldn't be surprising if it had a hybrid drive project as well.

Rakers also notes comments by Seagate's CFO, Pat O'Malley, at another investors' conference. Rakers wrote:

[W]ithin three to five years every product that Seagate has will have a hybrid option attached to it, including enterprise drives. [O'Malley] noted that Seagate really needs to work/partner with the operating system in order to make the hybrid offerings work.

[O'Malley] went on to note that the hybrid model will likely show up in gaming systems because of the better performance, in enterprise given the amount of flash that can be placed on it, and will likely be a player in the mobile compute space because of the options that it presents.

As of right now, Seagate only has a 2.5-inch hybrid drive available that is designed for the tablet market and expects to eventually penetrate the thin notebook market, but is currently being adopted primarily by the gaming industry.

If Seagate gets first mover advantages here it could rapidly ramp up its hybrid drive shipment numbers. ®

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