Hybrid hard drive: Dead end or the future of storage?


As we reported earlier this week, hard disk maker Seagate has started shipping its second-generation hybrid hard drive (HHD). For those not familiar with the Momentus XT HHD, it is essentially a normal 2.5-inch hard disk drive (HDD) with an onboard 8GB of enterprise-grade SLC flash memory. Clever algorithms are used to help ensure that frequently accessed files are transparently loaded onto the flash memory portion for SSD-like performance.

Practically, this means that boot-up and app-loading times are dramatically faster than with a normal HDD. And because files loaded during boot-up and one's list of favorite applications tend to stay the same, the OS-independent algorithms are able to correctly identify the most frequently used files over a period of time.

In one of the first reviews of the Momentus XT, CNET concluded that the HHD does indeed offer performance similar to an SSD, despite being much more affordable. On the downside however, the Momentus XT was criticized as being noticeably more expensive than a regular HDD of the same capacity.

More tellingly, the review concluded that the Momentus XT gave average performance when copying a large amount of data "from one place to another." This is hardly surprising, given the limited 8GB of on board flash memory; infrequently accessed files end up with similar levels of performance as with a standard HDD.

Based on comments and remarks about the Seagate Momentus XT, it appears that there are some who think of an HHD as a perfect solution, while others consider it to be a dead end. Folks in the latter category are of the opinion that using a smaller (and cheaper) SSD in tandem with a large HDD is more affordable and gives far more storage.

On the other hand, those favorable towards the HHD say that having a separate SSD and HDD is not an option for laptop users. Moreover, they also point out that the "average" consumer will not be bothered about managing the right mix of files between an SSD and HDD. As such, a HHD offers superior performance at a slight price premium, but with zero tinkering.

So what will it be--an SSD, HDD, SSD/HHD combo or HHD for you? I'm personally using an SSD, of which half of the 128GB storage space is still available. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. - Paul Mah  (Twitter @paulmah)