Tuesday, April 24, 2007

World's first hybrid notebook.

Everyone seems to be fascinated with hybrids these days. Hybrid cars are supposed to be more energy efficient and so are hybrid notebooks. Samsung has just launched the world's first hybrid notebook yesterday. The new Hybrid HDD Samsung R55 will cost 1.8M Won.

In case you don't know what a hybrid harddisk is, it combines flash memory with the traditional harddisk. Since some of the data is located in flash memory, the harddisk doesn't need to spin up as often, which results in power efficiency as well as higher access speeds. This will only work if the most common data is located in flash. So, the operating system would be a good candidate for flash storage.

However, there is a caveat. As flash memory works by essentially damaging portions of a transistor, there is a maximum number of times a flash cell can be written into before it breaks. However, it can be read from as many times as needed. Therefore, it is essential that only information that will not change often, such as operating system files, be stored on this portion of the harddisk. Otherwise, the flash memory will wear out quickly and those portions of data will be junk.

In order to fully capitalise on this technology, the rest of the machine would need to be optimal as well. There should be plenty of RAM on the system in order to avoid swapping memory pages between the harddisk and memory. It would be even better if you could run your computer without a swap partition/file. It is certainly possible to do this with Linux. The press release fails to mention how much RAM this baby comes with. Since it was running Vista, I would judge it to have at least 1-2Gb of RAM, which isn't necessarily enough for the beast.

In actual fact, you can already do something like this with present day technology. I have built many computers before that do not have a harddrive in them but run off compact flash (CF) cards instead. It is a poor man's version of such a system. If you wish to build such a system, all you would need is an adapter to connect the CF card to your computer. Unlike other flash cards, CF cards all come built in with the necessary hardware to emulate a standard harddisk drive. So, your computer wouldn't even realise that it was connected to a CF card. These connectors cost as little as $5 each (when bought in bulk).

Storage technology has certainly come a long way since the age of the floppy disk. However, I question the wisdom of building a more expensive and less reliable storage technology in order to speed up computer performance. When the main bottleneck of the computer is the operating system, you should just junk the software. It's generally easier to fix software than it is to fix hardware.

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