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Seagate performance testing (click to enlarge)
The next best thing to a SSD gets better

Solid State Drives have really come into their own over the past couple of years, as evidenced by the fast growing adoption rate amongst enthusiasts and prosumers. Hard drives have traditionally been the bottleneck in a PC, and fast NAND flash access speeds can make even an obsolete system shine. However, not everyone can afford the pricey cost of SSDs or their capacity limitations. The answer for this is hybrid hard drives.
 
Hybrid hard drives combine high-density, large capacity platters with NAND flash memory. This allows it to combine the fast access speeds of NAND with the cheap bulk storage of magnetic media while keeping costs under control. However, the secret sauce is in the NAND flash controller and the firmware; if either is not up to par, the entire drive will underperform.
 
Seagate is one of the few companies in this market, and is releasing today their third generation of hybrid hard drives for the laptop market. The Seagate Momentus XT is a 2.5 inch 750GB hard drive paired with 8GB of Single Level Cell (SLC) NAND flash.
 
Seagate's first attempt at a hybrid hard drive was the Momentus PSD in 2007. That product was a disastrous flop. It had only 256MB of NAND flash, far too small to be useful. Its 5400RPM platters led to lackluster access times. The NAND controller and firmware were problematic, and costs were high. The resulting low performance kept customers away.
 
The company tried again last year with the all new Momentus XT. A 4GB SLC cache, new proprietary controller, and rewritten firmware showed off a whole new direction. The NAND was used as a fast cache, with new adaptive algorithms powering the drive to near SSD performance levels. In many ways, this is the strategy used by Fortune 500 companies which have adopted tiered storage solutions. SSDs are used to cache frequently accessed data, while much cheaper hard drives store long-term data.
 
The second generation Momentus XT doubles the SLC cache to 8GB, while dual platters provide 750GB of storage. This will be the only version of the drive, as capacity trumps cost in this segment. The 500GB Momentus XT accounted for over 90% of sales in the first generation, and will continue to be sold.
 
A proprietary NAND flash controller has once again been used, but it incorporates evolutionary improvements made by Seagate. This combined with improved "Adaptive Memory" firmware has led to boot speeds comparable to current generation SSDs. There is no TRIM support, but the NAND controller provides a similar function during its garbage collection. The magnetic storage portion itself has a dedicated 32MB DDR2 cache, but we were unable to get details on the NAND controller's RAM. A 6Gbps SATA connection is needed for optimal performance thanks to an improved data burst speed.

The 2.5-inch drive has a height of 9.5mm, which will limit its use in netbooks and tablets. The drive come formatted for the  Advanced Format 4K (4096-byte) sector size, and will require a clean installation for best performance.

The original price was supposed to be set at $189, but was raised in the middle of last week to $199. Now the price has been set at $245 due to extreme demand. Seagate has been shipping in volume for the last week, but the huge demand has caught the company off guard. Normally the company would be able to increase production, but resources are strained due to component shortages caused by the floods in Thailand.

The drive is available today in volume at online retailers Amazon, Canada Computers, CDW, Memory Express, NCIX, Newegg, and TigerDirect. Channel orders have been high, with many e-tailers expecting these drives to be used as performance upgrade alternative to a new laptop due to tough economic times.

Seven OEMs are in the process or have already qualified the Momentus XT. This is a bit surprising considering the conservative nature of OEMs, but DailyTech has been told by Seagate that these OEMs see the drive as a major competitive advantage in their designs for high-end gaming laptops, while keeping costs in control.
 
Seagate has sold over 1 million hybrid hard drives already, and has plans for a third generation Momentus XT using Multi-Level Cell (MLC) NAND flash. This will allow it to greatly increase the amount of NAND while keeping costs in check.


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Honestly...
By EasyC on 11/29/2011 8:39:34 AM , Rating: 2
This may be a little off topic, but I can't imagine many people buying hard drives at the prices they are today. I'm sorry, but 245$ for a 750gb hybrid is a bit on the rediculous side. For that price I can get a super fast 128GB SSD, which is more than necessary for someone considering a 750gb HD.

I understand there was flooding in Thailand, but the prices will go down once that situation is corrected, so why buy now? Such a bad time to launch a new product at such a bad price point. 190$ was a much better starting point.




RE: Honestly...
By XZerg on 11/29/2011 8:46:10 AM , Rating: 2
750GB is still more 6x bigger compared to measly 128GB - note 128GB isn't exactly 128GB available to use. Most of the world's end users would rather have that extra storage space than that extra performance, especially since this drives gets close to SSD performance for most activities that these users would do on the computer. So its a win-win-win situation from price, performance and capacity scenario to them.


RE: Honestly...
By EasyC on 11/29/2011 8:53:46 AM , Rating: 2
Oh, I fully believe this drive will be great. I was merely stating that it's not exactly the best price to start at. 245$ is a bit steep for what you're getting. Then again, the 1TB WD black drive is 249$ on NewEgg right now. I, like most people, will wait until the prices fall.

These are hard drives, not oil.


RE: Honestly...
By BPB on 11/29/2011 9:14:42 AM , Rating: 2
I agree. When the price drops below $200 I will probably get a couple of these, but not before. I can wait. Once they are cheaper I may put one of these in both of my kid's notebooks, and in my desktop.


RE: Honestly...
By quiksilvr on 11/29/2011 9:50:32 AM , Rating: 2
You do realize that Thailand is suffering from a major flood, right? That's why hard drives are spiking in prices.


RE: Honestly...
By adiposity on 11/30/2011 10:43:07 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah he stated that in his first post...


RE: Honestly...
By EricMartello on 12/5/2011 7:51:26 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah if only there was some other place besides jewegg to buy your computer hardware. I mean the jewegg always has the best prices, right?


RE: Honestly...
By Reclaimer77 on 11/29/2011 12:32:04 PM , Rating: 4
Yes but you see what he's getting at. These drives are in a weird place because they cost WAY more than standard HDD's, yet are priced against performance SSD's.

Personally I feel, why bother with these? For storage use a cheap HDD, for OS and apps use the SSD. This works great for me and I see no reason to pay $200+ for some "hybrid" drive.

At the end of the day, Momentus drives still are limited by their moving parts like all other HDD's.


RE: Honestly...
By alcalde on 11/29/2011 8:54:15 PM , Rating: 3
These are 2.5" laptop drives. Unless your laptop has 2 storage bays, you can't choose both an SSD and an HDD... except via the Momentus XT.


RE: Honestly...
By Reclaimer77 on 11/30/2011 9:32:58 AM , Rating: 2
2.5 is no longer just a "laptop" form factor. Hell my Intel X-25's are 2.5 and that was like 3 years ago.

In a laptop application pure SSD's make even MORE sense over HDD's. Less power consumption, crazy fast load times, and lack of moving parts make a mobile device WAY more durable. It's not like most people need tons of storage capacity for a laptop anyway.


RE: Honestly...
By Da W on 11/29/2011 9:21:23 AM , Rating: 2
Agreed. Only a few months back i was looking for a 2TB caviar green for 99$. Now its double that. I'm currently recycling old hard drives from busted laptops, that 500GB/5400RPM caviar blue suddently looks attractive.

Problem is, hard drive companies will begin to like these high margins on their hard drive. Espacially in a slowly but surely declining industry that's seeing more competition from flash storage. I'm not sure they will hurry up to restore their full capacity as it once was.

Didn't i see Seagate buy Samsung HD division and Western Digital buy Hitashi's ?


RE: Honestly...
By Silver2k7 on 12/4/2011 3:20:24 AM , Rating: 2
All they need to do if they want to sell a more *expensive* drive is add a 4TB drive for $300 or something.

I belive Seagate had announced one to become avalible in Q4 or something before the floods. The external ones have been released, but still havn't seen any internal versions.


RE: Honestly...
By Flunk on 11/29/2011 9:58:09 AM , Rating: 2
In a notebook that can only fit one drive this may be the best option for performance and capacity.


RE: Honestly...
By Omega215D on 11/29/2011 12:38:16 PM , Rating: 2
Luckily I can still get a nicely priced HD at Best Buy while the nearby Microcenter is selling decently sized SSDs at a decent price. I go to BB and then hop on over to Microcenter. =D


RE: Honestly...
By MrTeal on 11/29/2011 1:18:38 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, it's not often that something at Best Buy is 65% of the price at Newegg, but $130 for a 2TB HDD is still a pretty good price.


RE: Honestly...
By Omega215D on 11/29/2011 3:41:50 PM , Rating: 2
You saw that too huh? It's 5900RPM but considering the size of the platters maybe it's a nice trade off.

Their WD Caviar Black 1TB drive is also priced decently compared to Newegg and Microcenter. It's great that very few people go to BB for computer hardware related stuff.


RE: Honestly...
By Jedi2155 on 11/29/2011 3:24:59 PM , Rating: 2
The storage size is the main draw of it. I currently have a 256 GB SSD and its just not enough space for me as I constantly have to uninstall my 10-20 GB/sized games. My Steam folder currently sits at around 120 GB alone, and I wish there was an easier way to install some steam games on another drive. I understand there is a way to symbolically link but its a lot of effort to do it for each game right now.

A 500-750 GB primary drive seems perfect for my needs right now.


Way too much money
By MrTeal on 11/29/2011 9:28:34 AM , Rating: 2
I understand that many people don't want to deal with more than one drive, but the price on this is just too much. You can go and buy a 60GB Vertex3 at Newegg today for $90 + a $20 MIR, and a 1TB mechanical drive for $140 and have a much faster system.




RE: Way too much money
By Jansen (blog) on 11/29/2011 9:35:18 AM , Rating: 2
You have to recognize that these are launch prices for a 2.5" laptop drive. I would love to have seen a lower launch price, but the fact is that Seagate will likely sell out of these for the next three months. You might not need this, but someone out there does and will pay whatever the street price is.

Demand > Supply


RE: Way too much money
By MrTeal on 11/29/2011 10:01:05 AM , Rating: 2
I suppose we'll see what happens in the future. I can see where there might be a market for a drive like this, perhaps for someone who has a laptop as their only computer and wants to be able to store more media without breaking the bank.

Even in that case, this is questionable. I'd like to see some reviews on this; when AT reviewed the Z68 SRT it showed very nice benefits in the best case similarly to what's shown here, but consistency needed work. Those tests were with a 20GB drive, with 8GB consistency would likely be even more problematic unless Seagate's algorithms are much better than Intel's.

I guess the question for users limited to one drive bay would be if the extra 500GB worth the tradeoff over buying a true 240GB SSD for a little more or a 160GB for less? If you absolutely need the space but want better performance and your usage pattern allows you to get maximum benefit out of a hybrid, this might be the perfect drive for you. I'm just not sure how many people fit that profile.


RE: Way too much money
By Church of Dirac on 11/29/2011 10:03:25 AM , Rating: 2
How about a 32GB mSATA SSD for $60 as the boot drive and a 1TB laptop HDD for $109? Would be a lot cheaper and offer more performance and storage plus fit into a standard laptop.


RE: Way too much money
By MrTeal on 11/29/2011 10:12:06 AM , Rating: 2
Only if the laptop offers both an mSATA slot and 2.5" drive bay. It would be great if they started doing this, but I don't think it's very common right now.


RE: Way too much money
By corduroygt on 11/29/2011 10:57:53 AM , Rating: 3
You can replace the DVD on most laptops with a secondary 2.5" bay, unless they don't have an optical drive of course...That's why I bought a laptop with a DVD, so I could replace it with a secondary HDD, since my primary drive is a SSD.


RE: Way too much money
By Jansen (blog) on 11/29/2011 10:12:35 AM , Rating: 2
Seagate and the OEMs won't go for it, which means there is no industry support for it.

More components means more complexity, which means inventory, validation, and customer support costs.

The laptop OEMs really want a single drive solution, and this is a good way for them to offer higher performance while still holding to mass market pricing.

Prices will drop, but it will take a while. The demand is just too high, and component supply is too tight.


RE: Way too much money
By Silver2k7 on 12/4/2011 3:23:10 AM , Rating: 2
Ugh a 60GB.. whats that formatted like 50GB or something ??
Would never buy that thing, still waiting for cheap 500GB SSD ;)


RE: Way too much money
By EricMartello on 12/5/2011 7:57:02 PM , Rating: 2
Again with the idiots mentioning newegg as it if it some authority on pricing...and no, these days they don't always have the best prices around. People should get an auto -1 for referring to newegg pricing in their posts.


Canada Computers and NCIX
By XZerg on 11/29/2011 8:40:35 AM , Rating: 2
Jansen must be from the 'Eh!' Canada. Good to see some give a damn about this country and the techies up here :)




RE: Canada Computers and NCIX
By Jansen (blog) on 11/29/2011 9:00:03 AM , Rating: 2
Canada Computers and NCIX do a LOT of business with Seagate, and NCIX has a US division as well.

Yes, I am based in Canada. Helps when I'm digging for ATI info.


RE: Canada Computers and NCIX
By Taft12 on 11/29/2011 3:10:49 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Helps when I'm digging for ATI info.


Is there any ATI left in Canada? The Markham staff was slashed in the last round of AMD layoffs.


RE: Canada Computers and NCIX
By Jansen (blog) on 11/29/2011 4:05:21 PM , Rating: 2
It is still known internally as ATI, and there are plenty of people left.


By Concillian on 11/29/2011 12:14:29 PM , Rating: 2
Does it cache writes in the SSD? IMO, the major drawback of the 500 GB XT was that it was read only caching and lacked write caching.

Does the 750GB XT add write caching?




By Jansen (blog) on 11/29/2011 12:20:39 PM , Rating: 2
Write caching will be enabled via a firmware update in the next couple of months. They're still trying to optimize it and prevent any possible data loss issues.


By name99 on 11/29/2011 6:51:21 PM , Rating: 2
Actually the OTHER important question is --- does playing a movie, backup, or any other sort of one-time streaming pass through your data wipe out what's in the cache?
The previous Momentus CLAIMED this was not the case, but I never saw it --- in my experience there was pretty much never anything useful in the cache, which I assumed was because it was just way too easy to evict stuff from the cache.


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