New SSDs: Faster, Cheaper

Paul Mah
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Extend Your Laptop's Longevity

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Long-time readers of my blog will know that I use a laptop equipped with a solid-state drive (SSD) and have been doing so for the last couple of years. And because I store my space-guzzling media files on a NAS, I've been able to go the SSD route by using a relatively small 128GB SSD with space to spare. For those who are interested, I've previously written about how an SSD lets users squeeze additional performance out of their laptops, as well as touched on how its use in business laptops can be a cost advantage.


I remain a staunch believer in the SSD, though a recent development has opened my mind to another option that promises to dramatically speed up an existing laptop. Announced at the end of November, hard disk manufacturer Seagate has unveiled its second-generation Momentus XT hybrid hard drive (HHD) that offers better performance with an even larger capacity.


For those unfamiliar with the HHD, it is a typical hard disk drive (HDD) with a small on-board flash memory designed to dramatically speed up its overall performance. In the case of the Momentus XT, this flash memory has been doubled to 8GB of Single Level Cell (SLC) NAND and paired with 750GB of storage. Coupled with improvements in its underlying algorithm, Seagate claims that the Momentus XT is 70 percent faster than the prior Momentus drive version and up to three times faster than a traditional hard disk drive.


Part of the magic behind the Momentus XT is the company's proprietary "Adaptive Memory" technology. This is an algorithm that monitors data access, placing data that is frequently accessed into the flash memory as well as optimizing infrequently used files for quick access. In addition, a new FAST Factor self-learning algorithm ensures that the HHD picks up on booting faster by setting aside a section of the flash memory for files that are usually accessed when booting up the operating system.


Performance charts supplied by Seagate puts the second-gen Momentus XT a mere whisker behind the Intel x25m SSD in tests conducted to measure the load time of selected applications. Reviews trickling in at the moment also appear to support claims of SSD-like boot-up and application load times after some usage and a few reboots for the drive to "learn."


Of course, it must be pointed out that intensive operations such as copying large amounts of data negate the performance advantage afforded by the flash memory. Performance of the Momentus XT dips to that of typical 7,200rpm HDD in such instances. Moreover, the cost of the Momentus XT is hardly cheap, and its MSRP of $245 is currently a tad higher than that of a 128GB SSD.


Ultimately, I think the Momentus XT offers a sufficient speed-up to the things that matter - boot-up and application load times - to make it a compelling upgrade. While it won't come cheap, one can't complain given its SSD-like performance coupled with spacious 750GB of storage. And unlike a much smaller SSD that the same budget will get, the Momentus XT will not require any change in usage patterns.

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