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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.

Seagates Momentus XT hybrid drive with the back cover removed

The drive also has an "Adaptive Memory" algorithm that monitors which applications and data are initially loaded into a system and then "learns" to place that data on the SSD to speed up performance. Over the course of three boot-ups, system performance becomes optimized to each user's preferences.

In my benchmark tests of the Momentus XT, the initial boot up took 20 seconds, the same as the WD Black hard drive. Then I rebooted -- and the Adaptive Memory firmware kicked in and began optimizing the drive for my system. The second boot took 15 seconds; by the third boot, the drive was down to 12 seconds -- very impressive.

Copying the 327 JPG images took 29 seconds. Opening a 300KB, 372-page Word document took 1 second and then an additional 57 seconds to download all 372 pages.

On the second try, opening the Word document took 1 second again, but all 372 pages loaded in only 15 seconds. By the third try, the cache had really kicked in and it loaded all 372 pages in 10 seconds.

When it came to using the Blackmagic benchmarking software, there was an obvious problem: The software shows only the Momentus XT's hard drive performance, and that doesn't really reflect the drive's true capabilities.

With that in mind: For sequential read/writes, the Momentus XT showed 106MB/sec. and 114MB/sec., respectively. On random read/writes, the drive came back with 99MB/sec. and 90MB/sec., respectively. Those results demonstrate that the SSD was not in use for these functions; these read/write speeds came from the spinning disk in the drive. And, while very respectable for a hard drive, the results come nowhere near SSDs' results, which are anywhere from 200GBs to 250GBs.

If you're looking for a hybrid drive, there aren't a lot of choices out there. There's Seagate and, well ... Seagate. Last year, SSD maker OCZ introduced its RevoDrive hybrid drive, but it came in a PCIe card form factor -- in other words, unusable in a laptop. The RevoDrive is targeted for workstations and for people working with high-bandwidth applications like video production, as well as gamers who love the performance that a high-end, high-priced desktop system offers.

Both Toshiba and Western Digital are rumored to be developing hybrid drives, but neither company would confirm that anything is in the works.

Even if they never catch on in a big way, I think hybrid drives have a lot to offer the average laptop user and they should be considered by anyone who is upgrading a laptop or desktop system.

The bottom line

I recommended an SSD in 2009. Now, in 2012, I do it with even more enthusiasm.


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