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Storage giants to push hybrid hard drives

Seagate, Hitachi, Samsung, Fujitsu and Toshiba partner to promote combo of flash chips and magnetic platters. But where is Western Digital?

Several major hard-drive vendors have announced that they will work together to promote and develop a new type of storage: hybrid hard drives.

Seagate Technology, Hitachi, Samsung, Fujitsu and Toshiba are the five founder members of the Hybrid Storage Alliance. They say that the initiative is aimed at "communicating the benefits of hybrid hard drive technology to computer makers and end users."

Hybrid hard drives contain both traditional magnetic platters--as used in standard hard drives today--and flash memory chips. The flash chips are used to store certain data that would otherwise be written to disk. That means it can be accessed quickly, without having wait for the hard drive to spin up.

Hybrid drives will be able to take advantage of a new feature within Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system called ReadyDrive, which writes key system files to the faster flash memory chip rather than to the slower hard drive. This will allow a laptop to boot up and resume operations more quickly after it has been put in standby or hibernation.

The cost of flash memory chips has fallen sharply in recent years, and the Hybrid Storage Alliance claims they are now cheap enough to be included in hybrid drives without dramatically raising the price. However, they are still more expensive per gigabyte of storage than a magnetic hard drive. SanDisk announced earlier on Thursday that it has developed a hard drive based solely on flash chips, which will add $600 to the cost of a laptop.

Although the Alliance includes five of the six biggest hard drive manufacturers, it does not include Western Digital--the second-largest vendor, according to recent market share figures. A Western Digital representative couldn't immediately comment on why the company wasn't part of the alliance.

Graeme Wearden reported for ZDNet UK in London.