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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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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.


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