The allure of an SSD is one that’s difficult to ignore, but with pricing still in the realm of limited adoption, many are choosing to wait things out. But what about taking a baby step into the SSD world, with a hard drive that equips a mechanical design with some NAND flash to speed things up? We’re taking a look at Seagate’s solution.
The idea behind Hybrid SSD/Mechanical drives is very sound. Enthusiasts already prefer to install a standard SSD for OS and data purposes while also installing a large mechanical drive to keep the majority of their stuff stored. For the most part, the average consumer is still unwilling to set their PC up this way as SSD drives are not easy to maintain and they must be kept clean as possible in order to maintain their performance levels. For most, it is just more sensible to keep one large mechanical drive which is nearly painless to maintain in an optimized state.
Seagate has done an excellent job combining the two into such a small package. Mainstream notebook/netbook users simply do not have the luxury of multiple bays for installing multiple drives. I know there are a few models out there that will allow this, but they are generally very expensive and out of the reach of the average user. The Momentus XT will install in a regular 9.5mm deep HDD storage caddy making it able to be installed into any machine that comes with a 2.5″ storage drive. My testing shows that this drive is even able to be installed in a desktop machine with great results.
Admittedly, most of the synthetic benchmark results were underwhelming and average when taking in comparison with all the drives I have tested. There were no gains to be seen with them and if these are your only concerns, you’d obviously not need to go the route of buying one. With the exception of Futuremark’s Vantage and actual Windows Vista load time test, there is just not much to see here.
However, it is my firm opinion that synthetic benchmark testing, while having a place in all comparison, should never be taken as the sole source for determining how well something performs. Real-world testing must also be considered, especially when we are talking about a product such as a hard drive since there are many factors that will just not show up in a synthetic world. When it comes to the Momentus XT, real world testing is where it shines and where it simply demolishes the competition. For comparison sake, I also installed this drive into my ASUS UL80VT laptop just to offer some further insight into real world usage results.
Windows loading time was dramatically and consistently reduced. There was no randomness at all, once given the chance to “learn” the loading sequence, times stayed low. When installed into my notebook, I was consistently on a workable and useable desktop in well under 40 seconds even with over 70 processes loading. I am not just talking about being able to move the mouse cursor, I mean I can open programs and access the internet in under a minute with no lag. No normal laptop drive can reproduce these results. The 5400.6 drive that my notebook came with took over 2 minutes for the same job and the 7200.4 only took about 20-25 seconds off that time. To me, this made it worth it alone to step up to the XT.
Overall system feel is also dramatically different when using the hybrid drive. Programs do open noticeably faster. Game levels loaded faster. Anything I accessed on a regular basis would indeed speed up with more use and it made my mainstream notebook feel like a high-end machine. I found myself using it over my desktop just because it was more enjoyable to have no noticeable lag while trying to get my work done.
Maintaining it is also a breeze. I run weekly defrags on my machines so once a week the drive would need to relearn my usage as defragging tends to clear the NAND memory, but this was hardly noticeable. After a few reboots as well as an hour or so of normal desktop usage, everything is back to full speed. After a few weeks I don’t even notice the transition anymore.
With densities of 320GB and 500GB you can buy the amount of storage you need and for a reasonable price too, with all three coming in at $109, $115 and $130 respectively. Compare that to the conventional Momentus drives at $50 and $70 and you see that there is a noticeable jump in price, but also noticable jump in some performance. With prices coming down all the time as well as rebates available chances are you’re going to pay less than retail for whichever drive you choose.
This drive is a must have for anyone with a notebook/netbook who is looking for more performance. It easily wins an Editor’s Choice award from me and there are just no downsides to stepping up to one. Seagate even has a wonderful free tool you can download (Acronis) that will make it super easy to replace your current drive. It only requires basic knowledge and if you are comfortable replacing a drive you can easily handle this transition. There is no other single upgrade that the average user can perform on such a machine for such a performance gain. I’d even consider one for desktop use in a workstation/gaming environment.
Real-world speed gains.
High densities for practicality.
No extra maintenance.
Your synthetic benchmarks scores will not go up a lot.
Write performance will not change dramatically.
Seagate Momentus XT 500GB
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