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Seagate hybrid drive delivers SSD performance at HDD price

Lucas Mearian | May 25, 2010
Seagate has announced a new hard-disk and solid-state combination drive with as much as 500GB of capacity, but with a 250GB model starting at US$113.

FRAMINGHAM, 24 MAY 2010 - After failing to gain market traction with its first iteration of hybrid drives three years ago, Seagate today announced a new hard-disk and solid-state combination drive with as much as 500GB of capacity, but with a 250GB model starting at US$113.

While Seagate's last attempt to market a hybrid drive focused on energy savings, its new Momentus XT is all about performance and capacity.

The drive has special software that tracks a person's use trends and then uses the SSD component of the drive to optimize performance, and it can adjust that performance over time with changes in user behavior.

The Momentus XT is a 7200-rpm serial ATA (SATA) hard-disk drive combined with 4GB of SSD capacity and 32MB of DDR3 cache memory. Seagate was unable to offer read, write speeds on the drive.

The combination, Seagate said, blows by traditional 7,200-rpm and 10,000-rpm hard-disk drives for read and write speeds, and nearly matches pure-SSD performance for the same.

"We heard loud and clear from our user's feedback back [on our last hybrid drive] that our next drive had better be a high performance one," said Mark Wojtasiak, senior product marketing manager at Seagate.

Seagate said it tested the Momentus XT against three other industry-leading drives, included a pure-SSD, a 10,000-rpmWestern Digital Velociraptor hard drive, and its own 7200-rpm Momentus hard-disk drive. It used ASUS G51-series gaming notebooks running Windows 7 Home Premium, running identical scripts on each.

"We booted within 5 seconds of an SSDs boot time, and we were 15 seconds faster than a 300GB Velociraptor and 36 seconds faster than our 7200-rpm [Momentus] drive," Wojtasiak said.

When it came to loading applications, the Seagate Momentus XT was within range of a SSD drive, and it was "significantly" faster than the Velociraptor or Momentus hard drives, he said.

In the fall of 2007, Seagate launched its first and only hybrid drive, the Momentus 5400 PSD, or Power Savings Drive. The 2.5-in. PSD had a spindle speed of 5,400 rpm and only 256MB NAND flash capacity. That drive failed to sell well.

The purpose of the PSD's SSD component was to act as a type of cache so that boot times would be improved and the hard drive platters would only spin up about 10% of the time, consuming up to 50% less power than traditional 5400-rpm spinning drives. But the drive offered little capacity compared with hard-disk drives of its day, and performance was only modestly better.

Stephen Baker, vice president of computer hardware industry analysis at research firm NPD Group, said, "I think they've tried to address some of the issues around price, and they've tried to address the fact that pure SSD drives are pretty expensive, and hybrids in the past didn't offer you a lot of value -- they didn't perform mush better than SSDs, but they cost much more."


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