September 29, 2006 10:36 AM PDT

Robson or hybrid hard drive? The battle is coming

Next year, we're going to see a battle of the titans over how flash memory gets incorporated into PCs and notebooks.

Intel is backing a technology called Robson. In Robson, a large amount of data and applications will be stored in flash memory so that the processor won't have to retrieve it from the hard drive, which takes far longer. With Robson, you'll be able to put your PC into hibernate, and come out and start work right where you left off almost instantly, said Dadi Perlmutter, who heads up Intel's Mobility Group.

Robson also cuts power consumption because the drive doesn't have to spin as much as it ordinarily would. The flash in Robson will come in an add-on card or be integrated onto the motherboard.

Samsung, Microsoft and Seagate, meanwhile, all have their eye on the hybrid hard drive, where the flash is inside the hard drive. It stores necessary applications as well as keystrokes, URLs and other material that you put into your computer. When the flash fills up, it wakes up the drive, which takes the data, stores it and goes back to sleep. Technically, drives already come with flash, but they don't perform these functions.

Hybrids could significantly cut power consumption in notebooks because the drive, one of the primary consumers of power, stays asleep the majority of the time.

The two technologies aren't contradictory--a PC manufacturer could implement both. But, that would raise prices and be overkill to a certain degree. Thus, companies are lining up on one side or the other.

Perlmutter claimed that the hybrid drive could get delayed. Seagate refuted that, saying it will come out with hybrids in the first half of next year. Samsung also has said it will come out with hybrids next year. Robson, meanwhile, will come out in the first half of next year, too, and be an option in notebooks based on Intel's Centrino "Santa Rosa" platform.

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13 comments

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I don't understand, why not just have a bigger paging cache?
I don't see the difference between storing memory on a hard drive vs a memory cache. I thought that Windows fist checks it's paging file, if the data isn't there it will then fetch it from the hard drive. I don't see how adding static memory to a hard drive will reduce power consumption. Why not simply add more memory to increase the page file?
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: I don't understand, why not just have a bigger paging cache?
Windows Page file is stored on the Hard drive.
If you run out of RAM, windows uses a page file on the hard drive.

current model
processor>>cache>>RAM>>page file on HDD

new model
processor>>cache>>RAM>>Flash>>page file on HDD
Posted by itworker--2008 (130 comments )
Link Flag
This is why...
Paging file is also on the hard drive, so hurts rather than helps.

Robson and hybrid is additional, fast nonvolatile memory, so enables fast boot and recovery from stand-by or hibernation. And will enable much faster launch of frequently used apps and user files. And will use much less power because the HDD won't spin up as often. It's all good... If the price is right.
Posted by woggs123 (22 comments )
Link Flag
Does anyone know how much memory it will have?
Like 512 mb, 1 gb, or 1.5 gb?

Obviously it's only a matter of time before they release 20 and 30 gig flash hard drives, and then work their way up to 60 and 80 gig flash hard drives. Loading time would be amazing! Combine that with a processor with 80 cores, and new batteries that recharge in 30 seconds, and DDR3 memory, and smaller, thinner laptops with WiFi everywhere.... the future will be sweet!

Maybe one day they'll be able to inject it right into my body and I'll be able to communicate with it as though it was an arm or a leg or one of my eyes. Of course I would not use Windows then, and would probably switch to an Apple or Linux OS.
Posted by coryschulz (326 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You're in the ballpark
I seem to recall hearing Intel say that the plan is for the new
chipset would start at 512MB per processing core. By that point
you won't be able to buy a single core processor, and the quads
will be out, so we're looking at 1-2 GB of flash.

Now, if we had a manufacturing breakthrough and managed to
slash the price flash memory (which several companies claim
they are close to doing), I wouldn't be surprised for that number
to spike dramatically. Flash is so well suited for mobile
computing, and laptop market share is rising so fast, they'll
cram as much in as we can afford.
Posted by No_Man (77 comments )
Link Flag
That's erroneous in my experience
No, Windows uses a pagefile regardless of how much memory you have unless you force it to not do so. A bare Windows system with stripped down services, no applications running and 2 GB of RAM will still have a gargantuan pagefile. Its ludicrous ...
Posted by Chibiabos (118 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh well!
Oh well, it is well known that flash drives have certain basic and inherent read /write cycle limitations!

Moore's Law rocks on!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Collaboration?
How many entities would have to be involved in this type of undertaking? Would OS developers, program developers, flash component manufacturers, hard drive manufacturers, and processor manufacturers all need to sit down in a room and hammer out a new integrated system? What if one of these doesn't get on board, does the idea fail? If so, this might take a while to come to fruition.
Posted by MarkBentley (33 comments )
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I'd say no for at least the hybrid
I would be tempted to say no for the hybrid, simply because if they can't get everyone on board, they can pretty much still control everything via the controller board built into the HDD.

This way, the computer would still request information from the HDD, and the controller on the HDD would simply know to check the flash before the platters.

Might be able to improve performance even more if everyone was on board, but even without, I could still see it being fully functional.
Posted by Brandon Bartelds (42 comments )
Link Flag
Great Idea
Actually, I'd like to see the OS and Major (i.e, Office) Apps be written to a 2GB Flash ROM. This way, no virus could orrupt the existing OS, without running a very ovious Flas Utility. The system could be set up so that a button would have to be manually pushed on the PC to allow any Flash Re-writes of the ROM. Think, from pushing the <On> button to Desktop in less than 3 seconds. Secure, too, since it is ROM. Here's an idea: Make a PCM-CIA style card with two partitions: a 2-8 GB ROM for the OS/Apps, and a 100 GB RW piece for your files. the ROM would have the basic hardware and printer drivers for say, the top 100 of whatever. Public PC's would have a port that you would insert this card, and you could push the <On> button, and Bob's your uncle, there you are at YOUR PC, with YOUR settings, and YOUR apps. Treos and Pocket PC's would have a port for this also, with Autodetect to boot a CE-version of Windows/Apple/Linux. All in one card, that, BTW, has a spot on it for your fingerprint. Technically useless to anyone else if lost/stolen. (Yes, there will be exceptional people who will be able to get in, but this still makes it a lot harder.)

What do you think? Are you in? Send checks, small untraceable bills, and M/O to:
-->Address removed by CNET News.Com<--
Posted by bettencourtt (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bad idea only because...
...you're looking at putting multiple OSes on the drives, and well, that means you are REQUIRED to pay Microsoft's prices, etc.

I'm not a Microsoft basher, as I run Linux and Microsoft depending on my needs, however I am very familiar with M$'s price gouging. So, i'd have to say no to your idea only on the amount of unneeded software you'd probably be trying to pack on there.

EIther that, or you'd end up having to put similar software, the sort of thing that you buy in the stores now that play 1000 of the old Nintendo games or whatnot.
Posted by Brandon Bartelds (42 comments )
Link Flag
 

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