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Hard disk drives vs. solid-state drives: Are SSDs finally worth the money?

Lucas Mearian | Sept. 18, 2012
Three years ago, I wrote a story comparing hard disk drives to solid state drives (SSDs) based on capacity, performance and cost.

The second time I opened the document, the RAM cache had obviously kicked in. The Word document opened in 2 seconds, and all 372 pages took only 25 seconds to load. The third time I opened it, Word again loaded in 2 seconds and the entire document loaded in 7 seconds, beating the SSD and hybrid drive alike. I had not expected that.

Opening a 10MB PowerPoint slide took just 2 seconds, the same time as the hybrid drive and the SSD.

Using the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, the WD Black showed a sequential read/write performance of 122.2 MB/sec. and 119.6MB/sec., respectively. Random (as in Random Access Memory, or RAM) performance is where the drive fell flat: the disk had a random write performance of 67.6 MB/sec and a random read performance of 34MB/sec.

Random performance is particularly important as the drive begins to fill with data and the read/write head must move across the spinning disk to locate the information you want. That requires more and more time as more data fills the drive.

Seagate's Momentus XT Solid State Hybrid Drive

There are industry analysts who believe the hybrid drive's time has come and gone. If you blinked, you missed it.

I respectfully disagree.

Hybrid drives can be a bridge between hard drives and SSDs. They offer SSD performance on critical operations such as boot up and application load times, and provide vastly higher capacities for the money than an SSD.

Fang Zhang, an analyst with IHS iSuppli, says most consumers purchasing a $700 PC or laptop aren't going to spend hundreds of dollars on an SSD. Hybrid drives, on the other hand, can be had for as little as 14 cents a gigabyte. For example, a 500GB Seagate Momentus XT can be purchased on Amazon for $69.99. The owner of that $700 laptop would be a lot more willing to spend one-tenth the price for a significant storage-performance upgrade, Zhang contends.

On the other hand, is that what consumers are most concerned with? In the immortal words of that Home Alone kid: I don't think so. I believe that the average consumer is more concerned with capacity than performance. And with a hybrid drive, you get both.

But while hybrids offer significant performance improvements over traditional hard drives, like hard drives, they have mechanics (moving parts). If you drop your laptop while it's powered up, there's a chance you'll damage the hard drive component of a hybrid drive. That's another factor to think about when deciding what type of drive to get.

Testing the hybrid

During its initial OS installation, the Momentus XT captures boot files and places them in a special segment of the NAND flash where they remain for the life of the drive. The feature ensures that the drive always boots from flash and not from the spinning disk.

 

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