Seagate's hybrid hard drives hit the market on Monday, joining hybrids from Samsung in creating a new storage category that combines the best of flash with traditional magnetic recording technology.
Seagate, the world's largest hard drive manufacturer, said that its 2.5-inch SATA Momentus 5400 PSD (Power Savings Drive) units will provide "ultra power efficiency, faster boot-ups, and greater reliability for the exploding laptop PC market." The units will initially be available in 80-, 120-, and 160-GB capacities, with 256 MB of flash in each.
Seagate vice president Tom Major said in a statement that laptop users "expect systems with snappy response, longer batter life, and new levels of durability," all features the new hybrid drives are designed to offer.
Targeted at Windows Vista
The hybrid drives are targeted for use with Microsoft's Vista operating system. Vista incorporates ReadyDrive technology, which uses a process known as Superfetch to figure out which files are used most frequently so they can be loaded into the flash memory. All Vista versions have native support for hybrid drives.
In May, when Samsung released its first hybrid drive, the company claimed it that would lead to boot-ups and resumes as much as 25 seconds faster than a Vista PC running on a traditional drive. Seagate is saying that its new hybrids can have boot-ups as much as 25 percent faster than those on conventional drives.
With conventional hard drives, boosting performance is often traded against higher power needs and a corresponding shorter battery life. But Seagate said the 5400 offers its performance boost, plus as much as 50 percent less power consumption, in part by having the spindle motors spin down when that drive isn't needed.
Additionally, the promised reliability increase is due to the drive locking its read-write heads when the flash memory is being used. Seagate noted that this can be beneficial, for instance, if you were to drop the laptop on a hard surface. Like a Timex watch, the drive is designed to keep on ticking.
Hybrids a Temporary Category?
There has been back-and-forth debate recently between Microsoft and hybrid drive makers over whether Vista actually allows hybrid drives to deliver a major step-up in performance.
For instance, Seagate product manager Melissa Johnson recently was quoted by Extreme Tech as saying that the hybrids weren't "getting the orders of magnitude experiences that Microsoft originally touted" because of issues with the BIOS and device drivers. She said that the real performance increase might have to wait until the second generation of hybrids. Microsoft has denied there were any such performance issues with Vista.
But the debate over whether hybrids live up to their intended performance might be short-lived. Hans Casto, an analyst at Current Analysis West, said hybrid drives will be a "temporary category" until pricing comes down and capacity goes up for solid state drives (SSDs), which provide durable, fast-access storage with no moving parts.
The capacities of SSDs currently are much smaller than traditional hard drives, and their cost-per-gigabyte is much higher. Prices for Seagate's hybrids have not yet been announced. In the meantime, Casto said, hybrids offer a middle group, with a "decent performance jump" but not a huge price increase over conventional drives.