Hybrid Hard Drives

Category: Hard-Drives

A hybrid hard drive - also called a hybrid hard disk drive (HHD) or just hybrid drive - combines familiar magnetic media with non-volatile RAM to achieve much faster read/write performance without increasing costs very much. Hybrid drives are an intermediate storage technology between electromechanical hard drives and pure solid-state drives. Here's what you need to know...

What Is A Hybrid Hard Drive?

Hybrid hard drives aim to give you the best of two worlds -- the speed of solid state technology, and the low cost of a standard magnetic hard drive. A bit of software magic helps them work together for improved boot times and faster access to files.

Seagate's Momentus XT hybrid hard drive is one of the first examples to actually hit the market. Basically, Seagate took its Momentus XT 7200 rpm magnetic hard drive and doubled its cache to 32 MB, then added 4 GB of solid-state flash memory. Seagate then wrote some proprietary software for this combo that it calls Adaptive Memory. The company claims the result is a drive that performs like a Solid State Drive (SSD) that would cost more than twice as much. The MSRP is $130 but as of this writing the 500GB Momentus XT hybrid drive is going for under $100 in many online stores.
Hybrid Hard Drive

A hybrid drive stores the user's most active data in its super-fast SSD component, moving data to and from magnetic storage only when absolutely necessary. In fact, a hybrid drive's magnetic platters do not spin most of the time. That eliminates a lot of power consumption, motor heat, and noise. It's rather like a hybrid automobile which runs silently on battery power when cruising around town, with the internal combustion engine burning gasoline only when extra power is needed.

Seagate's Adaptive Memory software "learns" what applications and data are best stored in SSD based upon the user's behavior. So it takes a few cycles of daily work, shut down, and rebooting to see the full potential performance boost of this hybrid hard drive. But, based on reviewers' tests, once the Momentus XT learns your computing style you can expect performance increases of up to 40 percent over 7200 rpm magnetic hard drives.

In real life, that means your computer will reboot or wake up from hibernation 6-8 seconds faster, which is nice but not life-altering. The most noticeable benefit lies in how quickly one can open and switch between applications; sift through image files; and other small but frequently executed tasks. The Momentus XT excels at doing little things much faster than magnetic hard drives. Reading and writing of large multi-gigabyte files, e.g., converting a video file from one format to another, is not that much faster with hybrid drive technology.

A hybrid hard drive seems ideal for mid-priced laptops: low power consumption and heat generation; greatly reduced risk of head crashes because the head is parked most of the time; and decreased noise. But if price is no object, or if you need to move large chunks of data much faster, a more expensive SSD may be the way to go.

The lifespan of a hybrid drive may be less than that of a magnetic hard drive. The electromechanical portion of a hybrid drive wears out more slowly because it moves less frequently. On the other hand, magnetic media can be read and written to many more times than Flash memory can be. It's too soon to tell how long hybrid drives will last in consumer's hands.

Do you have a hybrid hard drive? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Hybrid Hard Drives"

Posted by:

23 Oct 2010

Interesting article. I have a new laptop under warranty, and don't want to swap out the existing hd. My questions are:

1. are portable hdd's available?

2. Would the superior speed be lost thru the transfer port?

Great website, I've learned a lot, and try to contribute when I can.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, you can buy portable external hard drives. The data transfer speed of an external drive will be slower than an internal drive.

Posted by:

25 Apr 2011

Bob but 4GB of NAND flash memory seems so little. What are you going to store on it? Nothing but a page file i guess...

Posted by:

Robert Reinman
15 Sep 2011

I bought a Momentous drive and had to return it. It has blue screen of death problems, much noted on google, and you should have cautioned this to people because it is a major problem that Seagate knows, but I think still did not much about.

It did run my Lenovo running xp pro a lot faster, and at first, I loved it. Had to return it. Should find out if all the problems have been solved. And then I will try again.

Posted by:

Barry Berman
22 Oct 2011

Have been using Momentus XT 500g for about 6months and it's working great! Using HDAPM to lower cycle count which helps. I recommend the drive

Posted by:

02 May 2012

I have a Seagate 7200 rpm 750gb Hybrid HD which I installed in my 2011 Macbook Pro 15 inch laptop a few months ago. The speed increase on boot and when loading frequently used programs and files is impressive. Cost was around $200 which was less than a 240gb SSD. It provided the performance boost I wanted and a capacity increase rather than a 50% decrease over the 500gb 5400 rpm drive that it replaced (which is now used to backup the entire internal drive using Carbon Copy Cloner). I suspect that the 8GB flash on the drive is partly responsible for the speed increase but the fact that the original drive link speed was 3gigabit and the replacement matches and is using the 6gigabit link speed of the laptop must be a factor as well! I believe I made the correct purchase given the high price and relatively low capacity of SSD drives currently available.

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