Mobile storage ecosystem: Complexity and opportunity

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The performance of notebooks relies on major components such as the CPU, memory, and the hard drive (HDD). Thanks to the advance in semiconductor processes, the first two components mentioned have become increasingly faster. That leaves only the last component, or the HDD, that cannot break through its speed bottleneck due to being based on mechanical parts. This forces the system to have to wait for hard drive access during the operating system boot-up or accessing a large volume of data, which reduces efficiency. Although HDDs can be replaced by pricier SSDs, manufacturers nonetheless have offered several solutions that not only reduce costs while providing large-capacity and high-performance; it can also make the price of notebooks more competitive as well.

HDD is unbeatable and give data a safe home

The HDD has always played a critical role of system storage in the history of computer development. The HDD stores the operating system, applications, and user data so that the computer can function normally. In response to different market needs, HDD manufacturers have developed a variety of products in response to different situations for consumers to choose from.

The popularity of the mobile network has enabled notebooks to flourish, and various manufacturers have strived to introduce various notebook products to attract consumers. In recent years, under the influence of tablets, a lightweight and transformable trend for notebooks has been developing. The solid state drive (SSD) appears to be a good choice considering notebooks' emphasis on lightness, long battery life, and high performance. However, its capacity to price ratio ($/GB) is not cost-effective. Does the HDD industry have a better storage solution for the notebook industry? Lenny Sharp, Mobile Product Marketing & Planning, global director of HGST, introduced the latest solutions to participants of the event.

Smart mobile devices stimulate demand for external hard drives

Formally known as "Hitachi Global Storage Technologies," it is now a fully owned subsidiary of Western Digital (WDC) under the name HGST. To follow the anti-trust regulations, HGST and WD operate as two separate companies under WDC with separate distinct brands and product lines. HGST is committed to developing high-capacity HDD products and has recently launched the 2.5-inch Travelstar 5K1500 in single-platter 7mm 500GB , two-platter 9.5mm 1TB, and the industry's highest capacity three-platter 9.5 mm 1.5TB HDDs.

Sharp indicated that due to the popularity of mobile and cloud storage and under the influence of various smart mobile devices, notebook sales are flat. In contrast, the more smart mobile devices that people have, the better it is for the hard drive industry. Sales of the internal 2.5-inch HDDs is on the rise and IDC's research also found that this market will have an annual growth rate of 23.8% from 2012 to 2016.

Thinner and lighter high performance notebooks have driven the trend of hybrid HDDs

Lightweight, thin, and transformable notebooks are the current trend for the industry. The latest Intel ultrabook specification requires HDDs slimmer than 7mm. Therefore, manufacturers will gradually abandon the 9.5mm HDD and adopt 7mm or even 5mm HDD instead. According to IDC market research and a HGST internal analysis report, less than 10% of notebooks use 7mm HDDs currently, and by the end of 2013, 20% of ultrabooks will adopt 7mm HDDs and 7mm HDDs will be the mainstream in the future.

In terms of disk configuration, notebooks can use the total SDD solution, but small capacity and high cost can target the premium notebook segment only. Due to the considerations of cost reduction in the mainstream market, a lot of OEMs like the idea of dual drive (HDD and SSD) or hybrid drive (HDD with flash memory embedded, which is also known as the solid state hybrid drive (SSHD).

Dual drive has more advantages over hybrid drive

The "dual drive" combines the advantages of a HDD's high-capacity and the SSD's rapid access. It allows the computer system to determine where to store the data. The "hybrid drive" provides built-in SSD cache directly on the HDD and uses the HDD itself to manage data storage. The two solutions are all faster than the pure HDD model.

Sharp indicated that there are three considerations for the HDD combination design: "integration", "cost," and "performance." Dual drives and hybrid drives work quite similar on "integration" and "cost." As for "performance," the dual drives come with computer system chipset. Together with the driver and accelerator, it is able to deliver performance similar to SSDs. On the other hand, to the computer, the hybrid drive is like a disk drive, so its effectiveness depends on the speed of the processor inside the hybrid dive. That's why the performance level of a hybrid drive is not as good as a dual drive.

HGST's test shows the comparisons for the two solutions and found that the 7,200RPM dual drive system can perform almost the same as the benchmark score to mainstream SSD, and performs 70% faster than the latest and fastest hybrid drives in the market.

With the same degree of integration and cost, a dual drive is much faster than a hybrid drive. Furthermore, dual drive is more flexible than hybrid drive. Sharp also revealed that Asus will choose HGST Travelstar 7200RPM HDDs in all dual drive ultrabooks by the end of 2013. This configuration delivers the right balance among performance, cost and endurance.

Lenny Sharp, Mobile Product Marketing & Planning, Global director of HGST

Lenny Sharp, Mobile Product Marketing & Planning, global director of HGST