A New Hybrid Storage Option Just Doesn't Make Sense - InformationWeek

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6/3/2010
04:20 PM
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A New Hybrid Storage Option Just Doesn't Make Sense

Faster, smaller, and cheaper is the PC industry's favorite mantra. And when you're talking about laptops, the ability to pack more stuff into less space is an especially big deal.

Faster, smaller, and cheaper is the PC industry's favorite mantra. And when you're talking about laptops, the ability to pack more stuff into less space is an especially big deal.But everything has its limits.

This week, Hitachi-LG Data Storage Inc. unviled the HyDrive -- an optical drive combined with up to 64GB of solid-state disk (SSD) storage. Optical drives already include a certain amount of memory, which is necessary to cache data for disk-burning operations or to ensure smooth DVD playback. But this is a completely different creature.

The idea here is to combine an optical drive with a primary desktop storage device, all in one ultra-compact form factor. It eliminates the need for a separate SSD device in a laptop computer, netbook, or all-in-one PC, allowing manufacturers to produce smaller and lighter machines. The HyDrive could also have uses in devices like tablet PCs, where space is really at a premium.

Sounds like a nifty idea, right? I'm not convinced.

While pricing for the HyDrive hasn't been announced, it's no secret that SSD storage isn't cheap. So the HyDrive will definitely carry a significant price premium over a traditional optical drive.

So what? You're getting more for you money, right? For laptop users and power users, the benefits of SSD -- portability, reliability, and performance -- are obvious. And the HyDrive will also allow makers of ultra-light laptops and netbooks to add optical storage back into models where it had been removed to save space. That's a hassle when it comes to installing software or an OS from CD or DVD.

Here's the thing: A device like the HyDrive marries two completely different pieces of hardware, each with its own reliability issues and average lifespan. Drop your laptop, and the SSD storage won't feel a thing -- but the optical drive definitely might. When that happens, you'll end up paying for both components again, even if only one is broken.

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And then there are upgrade concerns. If you want to expand your SSD storage, you can add a separate SSD drive if there's room, or you can replace the whole HyDrive. Either way, I don't see how the benefits outweigh the costs.

Like I said, there are plenty of times when this approach makes sense. Today's PC motherboards are marvels of innovation, integrating all sorts of hardware components into a seamless whole. Whether you're talking about integrated sound, video, or expansion slots, squeezing more features into less space is a great idea.

But at this point, SSD is just too expensive, and its relationship with an optical storage device is too awkward, for this approach to make sense. The manufacturers who build a device like the HyDrive into their products will tell you it's the best thing since sliced bread.

To me, though, it looks more like a pink elephant.

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