In terms of personal data storage, hybrid hard drives--which marry high-speed flash memory to traditional spinning discs--will likely make a greater impact on our lives than any fancy new technology cooked up in an R&D lab. Hybrid drives deliver the storage capacities of traditional hard drives along with some of the performance benefits of SSDs, but at only twice the price per gigabyte of standard hard drives.
Seagate is already in the hybrid drive game, and Toshiba and other drive manufacturers have recently weighed in with plans for hybrid drives. Toshiba sent samples of its 1TB and 750GB hybrid drives last fall to manufacturing partners. Toshiba expects 3 million of the hybrid drives to be produced by the end of 2014. However, unless the products can approach the tangible kick in performance delivered by SSDs, they may be relegated to being a stopgap solution.
Next Up: The future of flash memory
The future of flash memory: speed and price reductions
Smartphones, tablets, USB flash drives, digital cameras, video recorders and SSDs all rely on fast, rugged, nonvolatile NAND flash memory. Gartner predicts that yearly NAND sales will reach 200 petabytes by 2016, up from just 50 petabytes in 2012. Much of the memory will go into the SSDs for servers and desktop PCs, as well as laptops, tablets, and other mobile devices.
The difference in speed between an SSD and a fast hard drive is obvious even to the untrained eye. In PCWorld's December 2012 roundup, the fastest consumer SSDs read at almost 500 MBps and wrote at over 600 MBps. Meanwhile, a high-end, 10,000-rpm hard drive averaged around 200 MBps reading and writing. That's a three-fold advantage in performance, and enterprise-grade SSDs are even faster.
With NAND's limited number of write cycles rendered moot by advanced operating system support and techniques such as wear-leveling, SSD technology's only constraints are cost and capacity.