Seagate Solid State Hybrid Drive Review (3rd Gen)

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  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Design
      • 9
      • Features
      • 8
      • Performance
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 8.00
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Slim design (500GB: 7mm, 1TB: 9.5mm)
    • SSD-esque performance (usually) for a fraction of the cost
  • Cons

    • 10% - 20% more expensive than comparable HDD
    • Performance advantage disappears during data hungry activities

Quick Take

As long as you aren't constantly editing HD movies, then go hybrid! The price difference is nominal but the performance advantages are clear.


Seagate recently rolled out their third generation of Solid State Hybrid Drives (SSHD) and asked us to take it for a spin. For those who aren’t familiar with these types of drives, the concept is simple. Take a traditional hard drive, which stores everything on spinning magnetic platters and then layer a healthy amount of solid state NAND Flash memory (8GB in this case) on top of it to act as the storage for the most frequently used and accessed files.

Seagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHD
Credit: Seagate

The reason for creating this hard drive Frankenstein is to provide the speed advantages of a purely Solid State Drive with the less expensive bulk storage capacity of a mechanical HDD. While several other manufacturers have rolled out their own versions of SSHD, Seagate’s third generation drives claim to use more advanced storage and recall algorithms to better exploit the solid state memory sectors.

Seagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHDPrices on Solid State drives have dropped substantially over the past year or so to the point where entry level drives with 120GB are available for $100 – $120. This is great for those who crave speed alone, but not so great for many people who need 500GB or more for music, movies, and applications. Hitting that storage level while keeping it all on non-moving parts will relieve your wallet of four Benjamins or so. In comparison, the Seagate 500GB SSHD (model: ST500LM000) that we tested retails in several channels for about a fifth of that cost ($80-$85). So let’s see how this Prius of hard drives stacks up in everyday use. 

Like a bright kid with a bummer SAT score, SSHD drives don’t test well despite their innovative design. The magic sauce that lets them offer up SSD performance for less cost lies in the search and storage algorithms baked into the drives firmware. Seagate refers to this as Adaptive Memory Technology and in order for it to work, the user must access the same sector repeatedly in order for the AMT to flag it for persistent storage in NAND Flash. To see if this worked, we ran the same small scale test in Crystal Disk Mark four times in a row and as expected, the benchmark showed marked improvement with each iteration – thus it would appear that the AMT works effectively once it has a chance to flag the memory blocks it needs to store in the flash memory.

Seagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHD

To go beyond the benchmarks we did some real world test driving. I cloned the contents of my standard corporate issue Dell Latitude hard drive (a Hitachi 250GB @ 7200 RPM with 16MB cache) onto the Seagate SSHD and let it sit in my laptop for a few weeks to see if it could really speed things up for me.

I also ran the same set of benchmarks on my stock HDD and on the Seagate SSHD after a 30-day burn-in. Seagate assures us that only a few days of usage are necessary to benefit from the Adaptive Memory Technology but I wanted a more thorough fermentation to see how it did. 

Seagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHD

This table lists my hand-clocked times for common activities and several of these did indeed benefit from the AMT, while the less common applications showed little change. Interestingly though, when the stock hard drive was clocked for the same activities, the SSHD did not always beat it out even after having 30 days of training. Seagates technical documentation does not indicate the platter speed of the physical portion of their SSHD, but based on these results I would guess it to be a 5400RPM setup vs. the stock 7200PM drive that was tested.

In PCMark7, the detailed scores of their overall storage test who behavior consistent with what Seagate indicates, with the SSHD showing faster performance than the stock HDD on smaller memory based tests, but falling behind on benchmarks involving larger data swaps.

Seagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHD

SSHDs suffer from another limitation in that the solid state portion of the drive is capped at 8GB. For 90% of what an average computer users does, this is fine since the most commonly used programs and data files can all be stored in the flash memory. The Windows operating system will take up a gigabyte or two and MS office eats up another gig or so, leaving plenty of room for all but the fattest video and music files.

However, if you need to do some computing that requires some serious data shuffling, like video editing or CAD drafting, then the limitations of a hybrid drive will show through. By their own admission Seagate acknowledges that the 8GB of flash memory will not be big enough to hold the large chunks of data that these activities demand.

Seagate Hybrid Hard Drive Benchmark Results:

Seagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHDSeagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHDSeagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHDSeagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHDSeagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHDSeagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHD

Hitachi 250GB @ 7200RPM Benchmark Results:

Seagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHDSeagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHDSeagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHDSeagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHDSeagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHDSeagate Solid State Hybrid Drive SSHD

Conclusion

So the question remains: is a Hybrid Hard Drive is right for you?

The answer is a solid yes – with a few qualifications. A quick look at Amazon.com shows that laptop-sized 480GB SSDs can be snatched up for ‘just’ $395. If money isn’t a constraint, then by all means go for the pure SSD. Amazon also shows the 500GB SSHD that was tested is available for $80 with a larger 1TB model available for $118. A standard Seagate 7200RPM HDD runs $65 for 500GB and $77 for 750GB.

So as long as you aren’t constantly editing HD movies or whipping up your next Kickstarter prototype in your favorite CAD program, then it looks to be worth it to spring for the Hybrid drive as the price difference is nominal but the performance advantages are clearly shown.

Pros: 

  • Slim design (500GB: 7mm, 1TB: 9.5mm)
  • SSD-esque performance (usually) for a fraction of the cost

Cons:

  • 10% – 20% more expensive than comparable HDD
  • Performance advantage disappears during data hungry activities


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