Print 40 comment(s) - last by Reclaimer77.. on May 26 at 8:17 AM

Unfortunately, the NAND for the Momentus XT is on the other side  (Source: Seagate)
Complete redesign combines speed with affordability

The promise of superfast access speeds has been fulfilled by solid state drives using NAND flash memory, but it comes at a high monetary cost. Many enthusiasts, prosumers, and corporate users have already adopted SSDs as hard drives are typically the primary bottlenecks in a computer system. While CPUs and RAM measure their access speeds in nanoseconds, traditional magnetic-based hard disk drives are still measured in milliseconds.

The primary advantage for HDDs is the low cost of production, even for faster 7200 and 10k RPM drives. Samsung and Seagate tried before to bridge the gap between low-cost HDDs and fast SSDs using a hybrid hard drive, combining a single magnetic platter with a small amount of NAND flash memory. The NAND would act as a cache, similar in theory to a small scale tiered storage solution like that used by many corporations for their datacenters.

However, the experiment failed. NAND was still too expensive in 2007, and the small amount that was used proved insufficient. Performance turned out to be worse in some situations, and the capacity of Seagate's sole model was soon overtaken by other products with higher areal density.

Now, three years later, Seagate has learned its lesson with its all new Momentus XT. The company calls it a Solid State Hybrid Drive, and it will be available exclusively in a 2.5-inch form factor. There are 250, 320, and 500GB models, all of which feature 32MB of DRAM cache and a 4GB single-layer cell NAND flash cache. There will unfortunately not be any 6Gbps SATA support, despite the XT moniker.

The secret sauce this time is what Seagate calls "Adaptive Memory". The firm has developed new algorithms based on their years of research and producing firmware for regular drives. These algorithms monitor data access transactions over time, and will place a copy of the most frequently accessed data (such as Windows system files) onto flash storage. A table also keeps track and counts of how frequently data is used in order to prioritize it for retention and caching.

This is similar in concept to Microsoft's ReadyBoost, but uses much faster SLC rather than the sluggish commodity NAND that ended up being used in USB flash drives and SD cards. The algorithms are also much more advanced, as is the garbage collection and firmware. Seagate developed its own proprietary NAND flash controller specifically for the Momentus XT.

This also means that the Momentus XT is also operating system agnostic, and can be used with Unix/Linux environments and MacBooks.

Seagate insisted on using the flash as a cache instead of primary storage for additional reliability. Their tests show that over 250GB of data a day could be written to the NAND for 5 years and it would still function.

Although the Momentus XT isn't as fast as an SSD, Seagate thinks that it will be close enough that its customers won't be able to notice the difference qualitatively. While most consumers will notice the difference between a 5400RPM drive and a 7200RPM drive, they might not necessarily notice the difference between a 7200RPM and 10k RPM drive, an argument that the company has used before as a justification for not producing a 10k RPM consumer drive.

To continue the example, Seagate likens the Momentus XT to a 7200RPM drive and SSDs as 10k RPM drives; while the SSDs are much faster, qualitatively consumers won't notice the difference. The company expects that it will be able to hold off the SSD onslaught for a couple of years with this strategy, despite the lowering cost of NAND flash memory. In fact, as NAND flash prices drop due to the introduction of new process nodes, Seagate will be able to fit more NAND into the same space and offer even greater performance.

The first OEM to adopt the Momentus XT will be ASUS for their ROG G73JH gaming laptop, which will feature two of the drives. Seagate will also be shipping Momentus XT drives out to the channel this week for retail distribution.

Two reviews of the new Momentus XT can be found here and here.

Momentus XT








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Hybrid drive
By Zoridon on 5/24/2010 7:37:29 AM , Rating: 2
Sweet; if this Hybrid drive can produce performance in the league of a desktop 3.5 inch 10,000 rpm drive at an affordable cost I think I've found my next Laptop hard drive when I buy next year. I'd like to see them do it with a 7200 rpm 3.5 hard drive as well, then I can raid 0 them and get 2 terrabyte of storage with nearly the same performance of a single SSD while keeping the cost = to the cost of a 256 meg SSD. 8 times the storage for the same cost with equal performance thats what I want.

RE: Hybrid drive
By xler8r on 5/24/2010 8:40:51 AM , Rating: 2
Is it just me, or was this hybrid drive concept kinda dead in the market for some time?
I'm glad to see it make a presence again either way :D

RE: Hybrid drive
By therealnickdanger on 5/24/10, Rating: -1
RE: Hybrid drive
By corduroygt on 5/24/2010 11:17:26 AM , Rating: 2
Which tests are those, AnandTech tests shows that it's considerably faster than a standard notebook drive. The power consumption is also in line with other 7200 rpm notebook drives as well. It's no SSD, but it's not priced like one either, so I think it's a nice bridge between SSD's and regular HDD's in a laptop. I personally go with an SSD, but I'd recommend this to anyone who doesn't want to shell out for an SSD in their laptop.

RE: Hybrid drive
By xsilver on 5/24/2010 11:32:18 AM , Rating: 5
Im also interested to know why regular drives havent ramped up the amount of cache included. I mean even a 3.5" drive only has 64mb? Is that kind of density even value for money anymore? I would have thought you could get 128mb/256mb chips as a sweet spot (only extra $2/5) At least something like the caviar blacks or raptors should have at least this much cache.

RE: Hybrid drive
By therealnickdanger on 5/24/2010 12:20:07 PM , Rating: 2
Hmm, AT's review wasn't up earlier this morning. That does change things a bit. I had only seen Tom's and Legit and I wasn't wowed by those. AT's review shows better performance than the other drives, but certainly confirms the higher power requirements (50% more at idle!). That's not so great for a notebook hard drive.

I dunno, I'm still not all that impressed. The price really needs to come down. At $150, that's nearly 3x the price of a regular 500GB laptop drive. 500GB for under $100 would be sweet, but only for a notebook. For the desktop, I'll stick with my speedy SSD + HDD combo. Like Anand said, it would be nice to see what a real hybrid hard drive (read AND write) is capable of.

RE: Hybrid drive
By corduroygt on 5/24/10, Rating: 0
RE: Hybrid drive
By Starcub on 5/24/2010 2:53:07 PM , Rating: 2
The higher power draw can be explained by the difference in rotational velocity. The comparison drive uses only 5krpm platters, but the hybrid drive uses 7krpm platters. In a true comparison, the hybrid drive would likely draw less power since as Anand said, reads from the NAND cache draw significantly less power. Thus exactly how much less power the hybrid drive would drive in actual use would depend on the useage scenario.

You also have to compare the price of the hybrid to a comparable HDD. You can find 500GB 7k 2.5 drives for about $90 now. That makes the price difference between hybrid and normal HDD's equivalent to about what you would pay for a Robson module. The tech the hybrid drive uses is similar to that used by Robson. So the hybrid would be a good option for those that don't have a Robson module in their laptops. As the Anandtech tests show, you get most of the benefits of an SSD without having to pay SSD prices.

RE: Hybrid drive
By callmeroy on 5/24/2010 12:39:02 PM , Rating: 2
Your post and the one directly beneath it seem to be stark contradictions to one another.

If you read "reviews ....all over" about this being disappointing, care to post the links for clarity's sake?

RE: Hybrid drive
By Uncle on 5/24/2010 2:14:13 PM , Rating: 2
How about the sites that are paid by the competition through advertisement.. Isn't it normal to debunk your competition with erroneous negative reviews. One has to always read between the lines of any reviews even when it comes out of the horses mouth.

RE: Hybrid drive
By Reclaimer77 on 5/24/2010 3:14:58 PM , Rating: 1
It seems like a failed concept to me too. The problem with a hard drive is it's moving parts. This doesn't address that. Slapping a ton of what is essentially cache onto a standard HD...what's the point?? It's not enough RAM to cache the entire drive, even if you would want to do something as stupid as that. So the drive still has to physically seek the data, and that is where the slowness takes place.

RE: Hybrid drive
By afkrotch on 5/24/2010 11:15:46 PM , Rating: 2
The thing is, you aren't constantly seeking 4+ gigs of data on a constant basis. It's all these small files that you'll be using. This is where the hybrid works out very well.

It's major flaw is it's low write speed. That's to be expected, as the user themselves cannot access the flash memory, but only the conventional platter storage.

Anyways, according to Anand's review, this thing performs exceptionally well. In majority of cases, faster than a Velociraptor and close to an SSD. For those who want higher performance, but don't want to compromise storage space or their wallet. I'd suggest this hybrid over an SSD.

I'm thinking about getting one of these. I'm not in the market for an SSD, as the storage size simply isn't large enough for my mobile needs.

RE: Hybrid drive
By Reclaimer77 on 5/25/2010 8:51:37 AM , Rating: 2
Anyways, according to Anand's review, this thing performs exceptionally well. In majority of cases, faster than a Velociraptor and close to an SSD. For those who want higher performance, but don't want to compromise storage space or their wallet. I'd suggest this hybrid over an SSD.

Only in certain areas, and even then it's merely close. Go to the links provided and check out how they compare on the pure I/O benchmarks. It's not even close. Raw seek times, again, the Hybrid drive simply isn't up to the task.

The thing is, you aren't constantly seeking 4+ gigs of data on a constant basis. It's all these small files that you'll be using. This is where the hybrid works out very well.

Yes compared to a standard hard drive, but again, SSD's simply excel at seeking those random 'small files'. The Hybrid can't compete because it first has to cache the data, but 4gigs simply isn't nearly enough cache. You will never get that "on demand" feel that SSD's deliver.

RE: Hybrid drive
By afkrotch on 5/26/2010 12:26:49 AM , Rating: 2
I said majority, not all. There will always be areas where the SSD simply spanks the hybrid. Big data transfers, seek times (where it actually needs to hit the platters), etc.

Boot time - close
PS CS launch - close
PS retouch - surpasses 1 SSD
Excel open - close
Load 6 apps after boot - close
2 mb sequential read - behind
2 mb sequential write - surpassed 1 SSD
4k random read/write - behind
PCMark Vantage - overall behind (in the Movies/TVs portion is the only time the hybrid is ahead of 1 SSD)
Sysmark - overall close
Anandtech Storage bench - behind

I guess it's not really majority, but we'll go with half. I also never said it was better, just close.

Cost less, more storage, while performing half the time close to that of an SSD. Yes, the 4 GB of flash is a limiting factor, but I'd much rather keep costs down. SSDs entry cost is simply too high for me.

RE: Hybrid drive
By Reclaimer77 on 5/26/2010 8:17:30 AM , Rating: 2
Side note, it's curious to me how the benchmark site chose to NOT use an Intel x25m Gen2 SSD in it's comparison. But anyhow...

You also have to remember these are brand new drives being benchmarked. We've all experienced how quickly hard drive performance suffers once the drive has lots of data written to it. The more it fills up, the further toward the outside end of the platter the drive has to seek. SSD'd, with TRIM, do not suffer this loss of performance.

SSDs entry cost is simply too high for me.

And that is a valid argument. That's fine man. But arguing that this drive is "close" to an SSD is only a half truth. You would have to put two in a RAID 0 to get close, which at that point you would be better off just buying an SSD, in my opinion.

"Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn." -- Seagate CEO Bill Watkins

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