Seagate Hybrid XT Review

SSD is a big thing nowadays, bringing performance & reliability to our laptops. But it comes at a cost, and currently that’s purely lots of cold hard cash, a 512GB SSD drive is around £600+, whereas 500GB of spinning platters is around £50 instead.

In desktop machines you can come to a fairly easy compromise of sticking in a 32GB SSD for a reasonable cost to cover the OS & applications, then stick in a few 3.5″ hard drives to cover all the data storage requirements you like. My MacBook however, like most laptops (or many an iMac) has only two drive bays, and one of them is occupied by a very useful optical drive, though this, if you aren’t using it can be replaced by an optibay which allows you to replace your internal optical drive with a second hard drive. On the older machines the optical is an ATA drive so you’re limited to the one SATA hard drive bay.

There is another way though, the Seagate Momentus XT is a hybrid drive combining 500GB of spinning platters, with 4GB of SSD. There’s a build in controller board that then stores the files you use the most, on this SSD area to boost the performance of your laptop, whilst keeping the costs down to a very pocket friendly level of sub £100. So what’s it like? Well there’s some very good timed figures over on the Anandtech review, so I’m going to concentrate on what the change felt like in the real world.

My MacBook featured a Toshiba 320GB 5400rpm drive, which I’d fitted about 5 minutes after my 2.0GHz unibody MacBook arrived back in October 2008, replacing the original 160GB which was far too small for my requirements. Recently though I’ve been bouncing off 40GB free, so I’d been toying with the three options, the 32GB SSD/500GB in the optidrive bay, the Seagate Hybrid, or splashing some serious cash & getting a 2011 spec quad core 15″. Logging in from sleep, deleting a mass batch of photos in Lightroom, switching users, various tasks were all bringing up the beach ball, and some newer faster machinery passing through my hands were getting seriously tempting, however as you can tell for once I resisted temptation and decided to give the Seagate Hybrid a trial.

Luckily for me at least the next part is a breeze, install the new drive in to the machine, erase, install original drive in to an external caddy and clone your data across (don’t have the kit, contact me I can do this for you). Cloning saves a whole load of effort, as all your apps, data etc is all copied across just as it was on the old drive. To all intents and purposes you carry on where you left off, some though at this point may decide to go for a clean install, but I’d got a busy weekend ahead, so decided to just go for the clone.

The first boot was as disappointingly slow as the graphs show on the AnandTech review, no real change to before, but the clone had taken till midnight, so I put the machine to sleep, something to look at tomorrow. That first days use though and the change was starting to become obvious, firing up Lightroom, there was definitely a boost in snappiness, it wakes from sleep noticeably quicker, switches users quicker, not just numbers on the graph never see the difference quicker, but proper real world quicker, yes I’m glad I’ve just spent £100 on it quicker. I’m not going to go all the way out there and say it’s going to be as fast as a new shiny quad core, but it’s appeased that upgrade lust, and I’ve still got £1400 left in my back pocket not hitting the credit card. It’s not going to be the answer for all, but during these tighter times, if you’re old MacBook (Pro) is starting to feel a bit old, or even if you’d like your new one to be a bit quicker (assuming it isn’t already fitted with SSD), then the Seagate XT offers some very worthwhile bang for the buck. Now I just wonder what one of those quad core 15″ would be like with the Hybrid installed…

NB when I posted that I’d got this drive on Twitter, some asked about battery life & heat, my own laptop lives on the mains 90% of the time, so not got any before/after figures, but the AnandTech review suggests similar power consumption to a typical 5400/7200 drive, so I can’t see any huge difference in battery life. Heat wise, I used it on my lap for most of the day Sunday, and if anything felt less heat burn than usual, that’s purely very subjective of course. I do know this though, I’ve watched temps on various machines and the two biggest factors on temps, are a) ambient b) the amount of heat the main & graphics processors are kicking out (a flash blocker will keep this down nicely). Slightly faster HDD makes maybe 1-2ºC difference, but room ambient unless you’ve got temp controlled air condition, can affect the temps by a good 10ºC+.