I’ve been looking into upgrading the hard drive on my laptop for the past few months. With two operating systems and a ton of media on-board I found that the 320GB drive inside was a little crammed, and it was a little slow for my tastes despite being a 7200RPM drive. I’ve been looking into SSDs, but the lower capacity offset the speed boost in my mind, making them a poor choice for me. I wanted the raw speed of an SSD, but the capacity of a hard drive. Someone had to have a solution.

That’s where Seagate stepped in, delivering the Momentus XT 2.5” 500GB SSD/HDD Hybrid. It’s rare that you find a product that answers exactly what you were looking for, but I’d be a liar if I said this didn’t hit the nail exactly on the head.

The drive looks like a hard drive; it’s a 2.5” form factor, and can be used in laptops, netbooks (with 2.5” slots), PlayStation 3 systems, and even desktops with the right bracket kit. You could throw it into an eSATA or USB 3.0 external enclosure if you wanted, I just didn’t have either of those lying around to try it out.

Installation

Installing it into my MacBook Pro took all of about 10 minutes. Booting up my Mac again, I transferred my data from my Time Machine Backup; it took around two hours, which was on-par for the amount of time it took when I upgraded to the 320GB drive last year. The Momentus XT is a 7200RPM drive with 32MB of cache, much like my previous drive, so actual HDD access times were similar.

The real magic happened when I rebooted my system for the first time. Momentus XT features 4GB of on-board SLC NAND solid state memory, as well as a technology called Adaptive Memory. Without getting in to a ton of detail, the drive starts to learn what you use often, and loads that information into the ultra-fast SSD portion. For me that meant my OS, my browser, and the programs I use daily like Mail and Pages.

Testing

The speed at which I booted up just blew my mind. I clocked my system on bootup both before and after the upgrade. Here’s a quick chart that shows the results:

A chart comparing my old 320GB drive to the Seagate Momentus XT

It should be noted that the first time I started up FireFox 4 I had an update pending. The Momentus XT drive managed to update the software and start up in less time that it took to start on my old drive.

Over the past week I’ve put the drive through it’s paces every night and I’ve been unable to seriously challenge it with anything. I’ve run Final Cut Express, Pixelmator, iTunes, and VLC. Each app launches in a snappier fashion, and generally interacting with my OS is faster. For you Mac-heads out there: I’m seeing fewer bounces on the dock and virtually no spinning pinwheels of wait.

Conclusions

There are some limitations: the NAND memory on the Momentus XT is used only for reading purposes, that means that you won’t be writing directly to it. Seagate uses intelligent firmware to prioritize which data gets written to the faster NAND memory, but in my case it’s already adapting to what I do, speeding up almost every regular process that I undertake. This limitation is a minor one, and not something that most consumers will notice. For Windows users it’s also worth noting that defragmenting your hard drive will clear the NAND memory, requiring the drive to re-learn your habits again, but in my experience so far it takes less than two hours to do so. Mac users will find that the file system maintenance undertaken by OS X doesn’t do this, so there’s nothing to worry about there.

It should be noted that buying an SSD will give you a definitive speed boost over the Momentus XT; going all solid state is just plain faster. That said, given the price and capacity of current SSD products, the Momentus XT offers more value for customers like me who want improved speeds and but also require greater capacity.

The real world performance of the Momentus XT absolutely justifies it as a purchase. If you’re tired of your old 7200RPM drive but you’re not ready to take the plunge on more expensive, limited density SSDs, Seagate’s Hybrid drive is the perfect choice. It’s not expensive, it’s easy to install, and there’s zero maintenance that needs to be done on the drive. It’s rare that I feel so thoroughly enthusiastic about a product, but from what I can tell there are no downsides to this drive. If you’re on the edge, do yourself a favour and get it. You can take the time you save to thank me later.

 

3 Responses to Seagate’s Sweet Spot: faster than HDD, cheaper than SSD.

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by eɪdræg, Mashi An’krekku. Mashi An’krekku said: #todayIlearned about hybrid HDD/SDD drives. http://technogram.ca/momentusxt/ [...]

  2. Andre says:

    I’m surprised there’s such a dramatic speed increase over a 7200rpm drive; the Seagate specs only claim a 50% speed increase, and generally those specs are inflated as is. Regardless, it’s nice to see an article on the Momentus XT from the perspective of an actual Mac user; I’ve been contemplating this drive for months (ever since I downgraded from an SSD) but there’s surprisingly little about real world performance with it online.

  3. Lake says:

    Thanks for posting this — I took your recommendation and am now using the drive successfully. What a great cost/benefit ratio with this drive!

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