Toshiba's hybrid drives, aimed at laptop users looking for a performance boost, bring some welcome competition into a market dominated by Seagate.
Toshiba has confirmed that sampling of its new hybrid hard drives, designed to combine the capacity of a spinning-platter disk with the performance of a solid-state drive, has begun, ahead of a planned release later this year.
When the company first announced its plans to take on Seagate in the hybrid drive market at the Flash Memory Summit in August, it predicated that the drives would be hitting the market in September this year. As the month approaches its end, Toshiba appears to have suffered a slight schedule slip - although it has successfully started sampling the parts, meaning that a retail release won't be too far into the future.
As with Seagate's Momentus XT series, the Toshiba hybrid drives combine a small NAND flash-based solid-state storage partition with a larger spinning-platter partition. All data is written to the platters, providing capacious storage out of the reach of all but the most expensive SSDs, while frequently-accessed data is cached in the NAND flash region for ultra-speedy access. The result is a drive which aims to strike a balance between the two technologies.
Designed for use in laptops, the 2.5" drives are 9.5mm thick - which likely means they won't be heading to any of Intel's Ultrabooks any time soon - using an energy-conserving 5,400rpm spindle speed. As well as the mechanical portion, which uses the 4K Advanced Format
, the drives pack an 8GB 32nm single-level cell (SLC) NAND flash region.
Two capacities will be available at launch, Toshiba claims, with the MQ01ABD075H offering 750GB of storage and the MQ01ABDH100H offering a full 1TB. While real-world performance figures have yet to be released, Toshiba claims an average seek time of 12ms and rapid transfers through a SATA 6.0Gb/s interface. The closest the company has come in its announcement to a formal statement of data throughput is a rather woolly claim that 'application start-up time is reduced by about 40 per cent
' using the hybrid drive compared to a similar-speed pure-mechanical drive.
The benefits may not be obvious immediately, however. As with Seagate's hybrids, the Toshiba drives use a self-learning algorithm which automatically copies frequently accessed data to the SSD portion. The more frequently the data is accessed, the more likely it is to stay on the SSD and not be shuffled out in favour of other data. As a result, the true performance of the drive may not be obvious until it has been in regular use for a few weeks.
Pricing for the drives, along with UK retail availability, has yet to be confirmed - but with some serious competition in the hybrid market at last, we're hopeful that Seagate will do the sensible thing and drop its Momentus XT prices accordingly.