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Seagate expects 2.5 inch 7200 RPM HDDs to go mainstream (Click to enlarge)

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OEMs pressured by SSD performance

Solid State Drives have been big news for the last year due to their exceptional performance, but they still account for a small fraction of the overall storage market. Traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) based on magnetic storage still account for the vast majority of sales due to their large capacities and lower costs.

The problem is that hard drives are often the slowest part of a computer. While everything else is measured in nanoseconds, HDD access speeds are measured in milliseconds. They are the weak link in the chain as CPU and GPU performance doubles every couple of years.

Although HDDs are slower than SSDs, there is a wide range of performance offered to consumers. Most hard drives in the 2.5 inch mobile HDD market range from 4200 RPM to 7200 RPM, with varying amounts of DRAM cache. The slower drives are typically cheaper and sap less battery life.

However, the difference in power consumption and battery life between 7200 RPM and 5400 RPM drives continues to decline on a yearly basis. Larger versions of 7200 RPM HDDs come out every year, close to or at the same time as their 5400 RPM counterparts.

The problem is that OEMs like Dell, HP, and Lenovo often charge a large premium when moving to faster and higher capacity hard drives. It is often cheaper for consumers to purchase an upgrade and install it themselves, rather than have it upgraded at the factory. Price-sensitive or unknowledgeable consumers may instead stick with what the OEM has selected for them,

Things are about to change. Challenged by the near-instantaneous boot times of SSDs, many OEMs are starting to offer more 7200 RPM HDD options at lower price points. Some are even using 7200 RPM drives by default, especially in desktop replacement and workstation notebooks.

The performance difference can be quite large. 7200 RPM drives have a theoretical 33% performance advantage over their 5400 RPM peers. However, the performance delta can be even greater if the 7200 RPM drive has more cache and higher areal density, which enables the spindle heads to read more data.

Seagate is the leader in sales of 7200 RPM HDDs, with a 44% market share. They expect notebooks and netbooks to transition very quickly from 5400 RPM to 7200 RPM drives, with 50% adoption in 2011. The majority of mobile PCs will use 7200 RPM hard disk drives in 2012, according to their market research.

No doubt new mobile hard drives featuring larger cache sizes, support for 6Gbps SATA, and larger capacities are forthcoming, but when we'll see them still depends on consumer demand. The first mobile chipsets from Intel supporting 32nm Sandy Bridge processors and 6Gbps SATA are expected to hit the market in early 2011.

You might not be able to afford a SSD right now, but a 7200 RPM HDD upgrade might be an option worth considering.

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Whatever happened to hybrids?
By quiksilvr on 12/7/2009 2:03:45 PM , Rating: 2
Remember those 5400 RPM HDDs with a little flash on them? Those seemed perfect for notebooks.

RE: Whatever happened to hybrids?
By Brandon Hill on 12/7/2009 2:18:34 PM , Rating: 1
From what I understand, the performance benefits didn't outweigh the added cost of the NAND.

By Drag0nFire on 12/7/2009 3:25:16 PM , Rating: 3
I was also curious about this. Conceptually, at least it seems like hybrid HDDs should be viable.

For desktops, the arrangement of SSD for performance and HDD for storage is becoming standard among enthusiasts. For a business laptop, however, one has to choose one or the other. A hybrid HDD seems like it should mitigate the problem and offer the benefits of both.

Plus (again, this is my conception) since the two are integrated, it seems like the drive firmware could decide what to store in flash for maximum performance benefit.

I'll probably put a SSD in my next laptop, but I'm going to miss the extra ~400GB of hard disk storage I could otherwise have.

RE: Whatever happened to hybrids?
By amanojaku on 12/7/2009 2:22:37 PM , Rating: 2
Word on the street is hybrid HDDs are too expensive and show no consistent or significant performance improvements over traditional drives. In particular, write speeds were reported to be slower, which is terrible since laptop HDDs are already slow at writes.

I can buy a 7,200 RPM laptop HDD for as little as $50. I can't find a hybrid HDD anywhere. Looks to me like the industry isn't interested in making these.

RE: Whatever happened to hybrids?
By quiksilvr on 12/7/2009 3:05:04 PM , Rating: 2
I see. Well I hope we'll be able to see 1.8" 7200RPM HDDs in the future to compete with SSDs. That way the price of SSDs will go down to compete and we can finally move towards SSD in the future faster than we dropped floppy for CDs and USB flash drives.

RE: Whatever happened to hybrids?
By tastyratz on 12/7/2009 5:37:34 PM , Rating: 2
Hybrid hard drives were tried at a time when ssd was still fairly new for a concept. Speeds weren't as spectacular back then and the implementation was poor as well as poorly matured.

Hybrid hard drives have excellent viability, but they would really only be a stopgap solution vs long term. SSD drives are advancing and exploding so fast that while they wont have the same raw storage space, pretty soon they will have so much with so many advantages they would do a perfectly adequate job as a replacement for the average user.

By WinstonSmith on 12/8/2009 12:04:39 PM , Rating: 2
All I'm after is enough fast Flash to hold the OS for really fast bootup with all apps and the swap file on the HDD. The only writes to the OS Flash would be OS updates.

RE: Whatever happened to hybrids?
By MrDiSante on 12/7/2009 3:23:04 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know. but I think the 7200RPM upgrade makes a huge difference. I recently upgraded the hard drive of my laptop from a 5400RPM 160 gigger to a 7200RPM 320 gigger and it decreased my boot times by a solid 10 seconds; as well, there used to be a noticeable speed difference between my desktop and laptop which were otherwise equivalently spec'd and as soon as I changed the harddrives it went away.

I would strongly recommend replacing any 5400RPM hard drives you may have with 7200RPM ones, especially seeing as even here in Canada you can get a 2.5" 320 gigger for as little as $70.

RE: Whatever happened to hybrids?
By quiksilvr on 12/8/2009 7:11:45 PM , Rating: 2
I think that was more thanks to the switch between 160 and 320 GB (higher density plate means less seek time), but 7200RPM did contribute.

By Reclaimer77 on 12/7/2009 3:37:11 PM , Rating: 2
Who cares about hybrid drives ? By 2011 I would damn well hope 50% of all notebooks are SSD based. For notebooks even 7200 RPM drives are woefully inadequate for todays user.

2.5" IDE @ 7200 rpm ?
By DatabaseMX on 12/7/2009 4:13:08 PM , Rating: 2
Has anyone seen a 2.5" IDE @ 7200 rpm ? If so, where?

RE: 2.5" IDE @ 7200 rpm ?
By j33pownr on 12/7/2009 5:55:54 PM , Rating: 2
RE: 2.5" IDE @ 7200 rpm ?
By Taft12 on 12/8/2009 1:56:51 PM , Rating: 2
I didn't think they ever existed, but it seems the guy above me found some long-EOL models that were produced once upon a time. Don't expect good thermals from those, you are pretty much out of luck I'm afraid.

RE: 2.5" IDE @ 7200 rpm ?
By Cheesew1z69 on 12/8/2009 3:12:24 PM , Rating: 2
10 are available on newegg right now.

RE: 2.5" IDE @ 7200 rpm ?
By DatabaseMX on 12/8/2009 4:07:30 PM , Rating: 2
thx for the responses. I should have clarified that ... I meant 'current in production models'. I've been unable to find any on the 'usual' mfg's sites. The items in the Egghead link are all SATA.


RE: 2.5" IDE @ 7200 rpm ?
By Cheesew1z69 on 12/8/2009 4:27:57 PM , Rating: 2
Those are current and in production. And of course they are SATA, I don't know of any current laptops that still utilize EIDE.

By ZivNYC on 12/7/2009 3:42:17 PM , Rating: 4
.....and 50% of those Seagate drives will crash within a week...(based on my personal experience)

By Camikazi on 12/7/2009 7:28:24 PM , Rating: 1
Maybe I'm lucky, but my Seagates all work perfectly, 6 500GB 3.5 inch and 4 160GB 2.5 inch (laptops) drives all running fine. I haven't gotten a bad Seagate yrt.

By Gwoben on 12/8/2009 4:37:50 PM , Rating: 2
same experience here, had two 7200RPM drives died in my laptops, never had 5400RPM die.

By jonmcc33 on 12/8/2009 4:54:11 PM , Rating: 2
I said the same thing below and got rated down. WTF? Oh well. I completely agree. Last thing I want is anything from Seagate in my computer. What a shame too. I used to be a fan.

Intel Hybrid would be welcome
By azherdev on 12/7/2009 2:48:11 PM , Rating: 5
I'm running Intel 160GB G2 and will never go back to platter for OS/Apps.

But, if I could get an 80GB Intel SSD with a single platter 160GB/250GB in a nice 2.5" format, I'd buy that in a heartbeat.

I'll even take the platter in 5400rpm to reduce heat.

RE: Intel Hybrid would be welcome
By bennyg on 12/7/2009 7:27:29 PM , Rating: 2
I guess space is the issue. 2 lots of controllers etc. And what effect would the heat (even from 5400rpm) have on flash memory?

I recently had to buy a laptop with 2 bays (g51j) for this reason - there was a better one (np8690) I could have bought but a) not forking out stupid $$$ for a huge SSD and b) not going without one !!

By Xed on 12/7/2009 2:22:28 PM , Rating: 1
By 2011 ssd's should (hopefully) be affordable enough for mass adoption and will completely annihilate 7200 rpm drives. Time to get with the program, Seagate.

RE: Yawn..
By jonmcc33 on 12/7/2009 2:34:01 PM , Rating: 3
That's not going to happen. I think disc drives will be primary for mass data storage for many years to come.

RE: Yawn..
By ksherman on 12/7/2009 2:50:43 PM , Rating: 1
Or both! I've got a 7200 rpm 500GB Seagate and an 80GB Intel SSD in my MacBook Pro. Best of both world! :D

As long as HDD have been around....
By Cheesew1z69 on 12/7/2009 3:07:07 PM , Rating: 2
They should be beyond 7200 RPM at this point, ALL DRIVES. That's my opinion.

By amanojaku on 12/7/2009 3:50:44 PM , Rating: 2
It really wouldn't make a difference. There are two major factors involved in HD performance:

1) The platter RPMs (the "latency" metric)
2) The read/write head movement (the "seek time" metric)

The effect of latency is typically seen when doing sequential data access (e.g. copying a big file), while the effect of seek time is typically seen when doing random data access (e.g. searching, email or database server I/O, etc...)

The "average latency" seen in marketing materials is generally 1/2 the total rotational latency, which is basically (1,000ms/7,200)/2, or 4.2ms (8.3ms/2). Increasing the RPM to 10,000 or 15,000 brings that down to 3ms (6ms/2) or 2ms (4ms/2).

The "average seek time" is generally 1/3-1/4 of the total seek time, which can only be found in very detailed specifications. One of the most recent Hitachi 15K SAS drives has a full stroke (from the outside edge to the inside edge) seek time of 7ms. Most SATA drives have a partial stroke seek time of ~4ms, which means the full stroke seek time is something like 12-16ms.

Improving the seek time will have a greater effect on gaming, OS loads, etc... A 15,000 RPM drive will beat a 7,200 RPM drive in terms of large file transfer, but most of us won't care about the 1 minute saved from a 10 minute transfer.

By heulenwolf on 12/7/2009 5:23:51 PM , Rating: 4
Somebody mentioned the combo of SSD for OS/apps and HDD for data. With storage densities in HDDs becoming extremely high, what about a dual Flash SSD and Magnetic HDD in a single 9.5mm package? If we've got 500 GB dual platter drives now, take out a platter and reduce the height of the cavity appropriately. Stick a single-sided flash SSD board in the saved space. We could have an 60-80 GB SSD + a 250 GB HDD - the best of both worlds - in a nice, compact package.

By hduser on 12/7/2009 5:50:38 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know about anyone else but it's already a bit toasty on the bottom of my laptop with just a 5400 rpm drive. I like speed as much as the next guy but until they address the heat issue, I'm not interested in a 7200 rpm drive.

RE: Heat?
By Jansen on 12/7/2009 6:11:19 PM , Rating: 2
Most of the heat in laptops comes from the CPU and GPU. Most modern HDDs don't generate that much heat in normal usage, and there isn't much difference going from 5400 to 7200.

However, it all depends on the design by the OEM, so your experience may vary.

No amount of revs
By corduroygt on 12/7/2009 3:44:07 PM , Rating: 2
will give you nanosecond access times and the reliability of no moving parts like on a SSD.
I've been using 7200 rpm drives on my notebooks for the past 7 years, and they don't compare to SSD.

Seagate has the wrong strategy
By lemonadesoda on 12/7/2009 7:21:47 PM , Rating: 2
HDD will never be able to complete with SSD in terms of performance. Any small percentage gain will be beaten in spades by transparent internal RAIDing of SSD.

HDD needs to focus on capacity, price, and reliability/durability.

If HDD is going to make order of magnitude gains in speed, then they need arms with multiple heads, perhaps even getting rid of the arms completely and having hundreds of "fixed heads" above the rotating platter.

10k please!
By FXi on 12/7/2009 8:55:26 PM , Rating: 2
Would really like it if this meant that the "high end" notebook drives would move to 10k.

Consumers, not enthusiasts...
By roastmules on 12/8/2009 4:59:18 PM , Rating: 2
I'm an enthusiast, like most on here, but most people are not. Even so, I don't have much money, so I have to consider the bang for the buck.

I'd like to see all hard disk drives become hybrid drives with 1-2% of the disk as fast flash.
I'd like to see 3.5" drives relegated to the land of 5.25".
I'd like to see 1.8" 7200 rpm hybrid standard in laptops.
I'd like to have a 2.5" desktop hybrid drive.
Right now, I'd like to have a 8 Gig super-fast, cheap SSD in SATA or PCIe form for my desktop, in lieu of purchasing additional ram (beyond my current 4), which would require a new motherboard.

I'm an enthusiast, like most on here, but most people are not. They don't have a clue about 5400 vs. 7200 vs. SSD. They don't know IDE vs. SATA vs. CPU vs. GPU vs AMD. Some don't know Windows XP vs Vista vs 7 vs MAC vs Ubuntu.

They know: price, screen size, color and "will it hold my iTunes collection", "can I see Facebook". Most people don't know how fast or big their desktop or laptop drive is. 7200 RPM as standard will happen when it no longer is economical to make both 5400 and 7200. For example, we used to have 3600 and 4200 RPM drives, but we don't now. SSD won't replace a drive in the mass market until it's not a price difference. Most computers are bought by businesses, businesses are cheap, and while some look at ROI and faster can mean higher ROI, most don't. Those that do don't really see a usefule ROI on 7200, SSD, 4GB, Wireless-N, dual-core or anything until it's essentially free.

By etradingitems62 on 12/8/2009 6:57:39 PM , Rating: 2
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Going backwards?
By rbfowler9lfc on 12/8/2009 9:47:41 PM , Rating: 2
So, mobile drives are increasing in spindle speed, while desktop drives are going back from 7200rpm drives to those fake, cheapy, consumer-misleading "variable rotation" and 5900rpm drives? Why??

By Nichols1986 on 12/9/2009 9:05:26 AM , Rating: 1
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In other news...
By jonmcc33 on 12/7/09, Rating: -1
RE: In other news...
By Screwballl on 12/7/2009 2:58:58 PM , Rating: 2
Personally I have had 95% of Seagate drives through the years, from 500MB to 1TB die on me in less than 2 years, yet I still have an ancient 100MB Western Digital drive that still runs 24/7 in an old Pentium 166MHz server box.

I personally have had the best luck with Western Digital.

50% HDD 7200 by 2011
By misbfa1 on 12/7/09, Rating: -1
RE: 50% HDD 7200 by 2011
By andrinoaa on 12/7/2009 3:21:08 PM , Rating: 2
correction, 100% of YOU, doesn't care. I think its just spin and hedging by seagate, just like king kanute:holding back the tide.

RE: 50% HDD 7200 by 2011
By bennyg on 12/7/2009 8:03:30 PM , Rating: 1
Those of us who do wade past the empty cans, pizza boxes and burnt CDs and actually venture beyond the realms of the stinky teenage nerdcave into the outside world to see people, actually in the same physical space, and who want to take a computer with us, care very much.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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