Flash stalks Seagate's hybrid drives

Spinning disk spindoctor competes on size. Wrong move ...

Blocks and files Is Seagate in denial over Ultrabook solid-state storage and the rising capacities of flash drives?

In an interview with magazine Barron's at CES 2012, Scott Horn, Seagate's chief marketing officer, said that many people overrate flash. He added that hybrid drives, which use a mix of flash cache and spinning disk, will be popular in super-slim, low-power Ultrabooks because punters don't want to be limited by the 128 to 256GB maximum capacities of non-volatile memory chips.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, let's look at a few 2.5-inch SSD product capacities:

  • Anobit Genesis: up to 400GB with 2Xnm class MLC - and Apple has bought Anobit.
  • Crucial M4: up to 512GB
  • Hitachi GST Ultrastar 400M: up to 400GB - and WD is buying HGST
  • Intel 720: up to 400GB
  • Micron P400e: up to 400GB
  • Micron C400: up to 512GB
  • OCZ Octane: up to 1TB
  • OCZ Petrol: up to 512GB
  • Plextor M3: up to 512GB
  • SanDisk Lightning: up to 400GB (SLC) and 800GB (2-bit MLC)
  • SMART Optimus: up to 1.6TB
  • SuperTalent TeraDrive: up to 480GB
  • Toshiba MKx001GRZB: up to 512GB
  • Viking Elements SAS: up to 512GB

And the kicker, Scott? Look in your own backyard:

  • Seagate Pulsar XT.2: up to 400GB (SLC)
  • Seagate Pulsar.2: up to 800GB (MLC)

Seagate's Momentus XT gen 2 will have up to 750GB of spinning disk plus 8 or 16GB of flash, and that's with two disk platters being spun at high speed by an Ultrabook's battery.

Wake up and smell the coffee, guys: 2.5-inch flash SSDs are already past that capacity point - OCZ and SMART have reached 1TB - and OCZ say 3-bit TLC NAND will boost capacity by around 30 per cent. El Reg thinks 2TB 2.5-inch SSDs will arrive this year. If Seagate thinks its hybrid drives are playing a capacity game, and reckons it needs to win that for dominance in the Ultrabook arena, then Seagate has lost the game before it starts.

Hybrid drives are playing a price game, not a capacity game; they have to offer near-SSD performance at hard disk-level prices and pray the gap is large enough to withstand the arrival of cheaper TLC NAND. If OCZ and others can offer TLC flash SSDs at equivalent capacity and price to hybrid drives and enable longer battery life then it's surely game over. Who is in a state of denial here, Seagate or the flash drive industry? ®

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