I’ve heard you, those of you saying “Steve, come on, we don’t want to spend $600 for a SSD, isn’t there something more down to earth and that will still give us a big performance bump?”  I’m happy to say there is.  The Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid hard drive that comes in 250gb, 320gb, and 500gb models.  I purchased 2 of the 500gb models on Amazon for $124.00 USD’s each.

 

Introduction

I’ve heard you, those of you saying “Steve, come on, we don’t want to spend $600 for a SSD, isn’t there something more down to earth and that will still give us a big performance bump?”  I’m happy to say there is.  The Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid hard drive that comes in 250gb, 320gb, and 500gb models.  I purchased 2 of the 500gb models on Amazon for $124.00 USD’s each.

But let us be clear, these are for laptop computers.  Because the SSD portion of this hybrid drive is for the read” functions only, the “write” speeds remain well below the better desktop drives. 

 

Comparing Types of Drives

Laptop computer hard disks top out at roughly 50mbps read and write.  A super fast desktop drive can read at roughly 110mbps and write at 70mbps.  These new Seagate Momentus XT hybrid drives read at 115mbps+ and write at 50mbps+.  This means they read at speeds beyond even the fastest desktop drive such as the 10,000rpm Western Digital Raptor, but still write at the best laptop speeds.  The better SSD drives can read at speeds in excess of 355mbps, and write at speeds of up to 255mpbs!  However, these are ‘sequential read/write’ times and there are other measurements more meaningful to how a drive operates, and this of course depends on how you’ll use the drive.

Sequential read/write speeds are meaningful in the same way top speeds are meaningful to automobiles.  Unfortunately we don’t get to drive our cars at top speed everywhere we go, instead we have a lot of stop and go traffic and need to worry about such things as braking distances and merging speeds.  A hard drive or SSD is much the same.  Access time and the ability to transfer small blocks of data are much more important to the performance characteristics than sequential read/write speeds.

Let me give you an example.  This is probably the best utility  for measuring realistic drive performance out there, it’s so good most SSD manufacturers recommend it so a customer can tell if their SSD is operating properly and correctly configured.

A laptop with a regular hard drive takes about 5-6 hours to run the test to completion and earns a score of less than  1.   A Seagate Momentus XT drive equipped laptop about 15 minutes and earns a score of 40-50 depending.  An SSD equipped laptop using the Crucial C300 I reviewed earlier completes the test is roughly 30 seconds and earns a score of 565.  An SSD equipped laptop using the Intel X-25v 40g SDD I reviewed  just a few weeks ago completes the test is about 50 seconds with a score of 225.  The C300 SSD mounted in a desktop system equipped with a faster SATA III 6gbps interface completes the test in less than 10 seconds with a score of 665.   The differences are rather profound and very closely represent the differences you can expect using these different types of drives in laptops and desktops.

 

A laptop with a regular hard drive takes about 5-6 hours to run the test to completion and earns a score of less than  1.   A Seagate Momentus XT drive equipped laptop about 15 minutes and earns a score of 40-50 depending.  An SSD equipped laptop using the Crucial C300 I reviewed earlier completes the test is roughly 30 seconds and earns a score of 565.  An SSD equipped laptop using the Intel X-25v 40g SDD I reviewed  just a few weeks ago completes the test is about 50 seconds with a score of 225.  The C300 SSD mounted in a desktop system equipped with a faster SATA III 6gbps interface completes the test in less than 10 seconds with a score of 665.   The differences are rather profound and very closely represent the differences you can expect using these different types of drives in laptops and desktops.

 

Installation

 

Installation was a snap.  I made a disk image using Norton Ghost 15 (Another I recommend is Acronis True Image) and put the image on a USB powered external HDD.  I then replaced the laptops old hard drive with the new Seagate Momentus XT hybrid, booted off the CD-ROM using the Norton Ghost 15 Recovery Disk.  The recovery disk instantly saw the drive image on the external USB drive and asked me if I wanted to restore it to the new drive.  I hit the “yes” key and 45 minutes later we were done.  I removed the recovery CD and the USB external drive, and it immediately booted and nothing needed to be reactivated.  Installation really is that easy if you use a good disk imaging program.

 

Installation was a snap.  I made a disk image using Norton Ghost 15 (Another I recommend is Acronis True Image) and put the image on a USB powered external HDD.  I then replaced the laptops old hard drive with the new Seagate Momentus XT hybrid, booted off the CD-ROM using the Norton Ghost 15 Recovery Disk.  The recovery disk instantly saw the drive image on the external USB drive and asked me if I wanted to restore it to the new drive.  I hit the “yes” key and 45 minutes later we were done.  I removed the recovery CD and the USB external drive, and it immediately booted and nothing needed to be reactivated.  Installation really is that easy if you use a good disk imaging program.

 

How It Works

 

The drive for the most part is identical to a traditional hard drive.  The difference is a small board with 4gb of solid state SLC-NAND flash memory.  Using a technology called “Adaptive Memory” which is basically a very smart algorithm that keeps track of your latest disk accesses, and then quickly matches what gets stored on the SSD portion of the drive and what gets stored on the mechanical part, doing its best to keep your most accessed programs and data on the SSD.

 

The drive for the most part is identical to a traditional hard drive.  The difference is a small board with 4gb of solid state SLC-NAND flash memory.  Using a technology called “Adaptive Memory” which is basically a very smart algorithm that keeps track of your latest disk accesses, and then quickly matches what gets stored on the SSD portion of the drive and what gets stored on the mechanical part, doing its best to keep your most accessed programs and data on the SSD.

As you move from task to task, the Adaptive Memory quickly adapts and boosts your access times.  For instance, you might process images using Lightroom and Photoshop for a few hours and soon the Adaptive Memory will have all you’re using on the SSD portion and your work will go along very fast.  Then you finish your imaging and move on to playing a video game.  Almost immediately your gaming speeds will increase as the Adaptive Memory transfers the SSD resources to that purpose.

What about programs you use all the time, but only as you boot the machine.  Like Windows?  Adaptive Memory quickly learns which programs are used often and reserves a portion for them.  Windows will boot much faster using the Momentus XT hybrid than with a regular hard drive.

 

Performance

I wasn’t sure how to test this considering it wasn’t a full on SSD or mechanical drive.  I used the AS SSD drive utility above, but perhaps my observations would be more useful.

The first time I booted into Windows 7 Ultimate I noticed a speed increase, but not much.  The second time I booted into Windows 7 the speed picked up considerably.  By the third time and from them on boots into Windows were much faster than normal, in the 30-40 second range for a full bootup.  Compare that to a full 2 mins+ of the regular drive. 

My most used programs, my browser, my email client, my torrent client, Lightroom, etc, are all now loading much faster than before.  And as I move from task to task, the operations quickly are learned by the Adaptive Memory technology and become quicker as well.

Performance is much better than with a standard HDD, but it’s obviously not an SSD.

 

Further Testing and Explanation

s3

 

You guessed it, I couldn’t just run this exciting new drive in a laptop and leave it at that.  I had all sorts of things I wanted to try it on.  I slid it into my hot swappable bays of my workstation and really put it through a workout and compared it to many drives.

If you need a drive for functions that only involve reading such as a cache for images or image previews as used in Photoshop or Lightroom then it might make sense to install one of these drives just for this purpose and dedicate it for that use.  Otherwise I see no place for this drive in a desktop.

I spanned two of these drives in Disk Manager into just a single drive, hoping to end up with a 1tb hybrid drive.  I quickly learned the SSD portion of the drive wasn’t activated in this configuration.  I would guess the algorithm didn’t know what to do when two drives were spanned together.

I also tried putting one of these drives in several USB drive enclosures hoping to see the great read performance from an external drive.  Even though the USB 2.0 standard can easily handle speeds in excess of 100mbps I saw zero improvements with the hybrid drive mounted in this configuration.  This tells me the drive is optimized for the SATA II interface and not USB.  Fair enough, though this does limit the real use of this drive to being a primary laptop hard drive.

 

Summary

The bottom line is easy.  If you’re not ready to lay out the cash for a SSD, and you need to replace your hard drive anyway either for a capacity increase or whatever the reason, the Seagate Momentus XT hybrid drive is the drive you should buy.  There is nothing comparable in this price range.  This drive is tremendously faster than a normal drive.  And the cost is roughly $10-$20 USD’s more than the same drive without the hybrid capability.  This will be the best $10-$20 you ever spent.

Frankly, I feel it’s worth replacing your current drive at the full $124.00 USD cost for the performance benefits you’ll gain.  A full 500gb of storage with read speeds faster than the fastest desktop drive like the Western Digital Raptor?  Until the Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid it was unheard of.

And a 5 year warranty to boot?  What more could you ask for?