It is quite an exciting time in the world of storage, that is, if you can call storage exciting at all. Hard drives of the future will still be plain and boring boxes, but we’ve already covered that. Just last week, Samsung shipped the first hybrid hard drives.
While they’re only available in the 2.5” form factor, and topping out at a relatively unremarkable 160GB of mechanical storage and 256MB of flash memory onboard, this is simply a taste of things to come. I expect we will begin to see the amount of on-board flash memory on drives increase exponentially going forward, along with moving over to the 3.5” form factor and the terabyte capacity it will soon offer.
Flash memory is indeed the future, but I don’t think mechanical storage is disappearing any time soon. It’s not an unpopular belief that mechanical storage, i.e. the magnetic platters spinning at high speed that have been the staple of mass storage for over twenty years, is on its way out in favour of faster solid state storage. I don’t see this happening in anything but the quite distant future. The cost per GB of solid state storage is many times higher than mechanical storage and it won’t be feasible for affordable mass storage for quite some time.
High-speed storage is just unnecessary for the digital media that is chewing up the masses of space on many of our hard drives. Of course, progress with mechanical storage will begin to slow in terms of capacity, and eventually hit a wall where current designs just can’t get any bigger. Progress in flash memory is moving at quite a rate, will continue to do so, and will eventually start to compare to mechanical storage in terms of price per GB, but we have a while to wait before its feasible to buy a terabyte of flash-based storage without selling off siblings and/or body parts on eBay.
Solid state storage has only recently reached a price point where small drives are economically feasible (though still very expensive). Their low-power characteristics mean that small flash memory drives are already being used in higher-end ultra-portable notebooks. Before long, flash memory will reach a price point where one could have a small system drive for applications and the operating system while leaving the mass storage to a mechanical drive. This idea of tiered storage is nothing new, many enthusiasts today run their OS and applications on a high speed, but low capacity 10,000 RPM drive while throwing hundreds of gigabytes of ‘stuff’ onto a larger, but slower 7,200 RPM drive.
Hybrid technology will eventually move across to desktop drives at which point we will all be able to enjoy lighting fast boot times and that ever-pursued snappiness on the desktop. Flash memory storage can easily be integrated on-board a high-capacity traditional mechanical drive. This solid-state storage, say around 16-32GB (for now), can be used for the things on your system that would benefit most from fast storage.