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WD to parade flash-disk mutant for Wall St moneybags this week

Thinner, 'extreme' capacities promised

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Western Digital will face investors on Thursday and tell them what the world's new number-one disk drive supplier is going to do to stay at the top.

That means products, products and more products. Having acquired Hitachi GST and its enterprise drives, WD can't wait to put competitive pressure on Seagate and dive deeper into the flash drive (SSD) market. It says its product development agenda includes:-

  • Hybrid drives integrating flash and disk
  • Thin 5mm and 7mm drives for tablets and Ultrabooks
  • Enterprise disk drives with "extreme capacities and significantly improved total cost of ownership"
  • 12Gb/s SAS enterprise-class SSD for servers and storage arrays
  • Personal cloud storage hardware (aka external hard drives) and associated software
  • G-Technology external storage drives for artists and Apple Mac users.

Up until now Seagate, with its Momentus XT, has been the pioneering hybrid drive vendor. No more.

Toshiba demonstrated a 2-platter 1TB hybrid drive at last month's Flash Memory Summit, with an 8GB non-volatile RAM cache. Now WD is joining the fray, and is going to sample a 5mm-thick hybrid drive, pairing a 500GB single platter disk drive with an unknown amount of flash memory.

That means thinner disk drives, with 7mm ones first and 5mm ones after that. WD is already shipping a 7mm drive and a 5mm sample being shown at the Thursday conference implies we should have a 4mm-5mm announcement before the end of the year. These thin drives are essential for Ultrabooks, Intel's svelte laptop specification.

WD tells us that it uses MLC flash to store the most active data and minimises the number of writes to preserve its working life. Effectively the flash is a read cache with all data stored on the disk platter. WD says it should perform better than the Seagate hybrid, which is a tad surprising as the Momentus XT is in its third generation and its algorithms have been tuned and tuned again.

There is computer manufacturer support: ASUS is building a notebook using WD's hybrid spinner.

WD says the new enterprise-class drive is a new platform and not a development of an existing product line. Its use of the term "extreme capacities" implies more, to El Reg, than a single TB jump from the current 4TB max capacity to 5TB. We're looking for 6TB or more. Perhaps it spins down, and thus draws less energy, to lower ownership costs.

The addition of a 12Gbit/s SAS interface to Hitachi GST's Ultrastar SSD is logical, but they max out at 400GB of fast SLC or cheaper MLC flash and that's not enough. Hopefully Hitachi GST will say things about an SSD range expansion, such as an 800GB SLC model and a 1.6TB MLC product. Competitive developments from STEC and others are ongoing and strong, and it's perilously easy to be left behind. Perhaps Hitachi GST will say things about lessening its reliance on Intel for SDD development.

Up until now WD has been pretty silent about product developments, announcing products close to ship dates. This investor event marks a change of course. If you're interested in watching a demo or two of the new gear, a webcast will go live at www.investor.wdc.com on 13 September from 12pm ET. A second session will run for about 75 minutes from 5.15pm ET. ®

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