Seagate upgrades hybrid drive family, adds desktop model

Seagate Monday announced upgrades to its 2.5-in. laptop hybrid drives and released its first 3.5-in. desktop hybrid drive.

Hybrid drives combine a relatively small amount of NAND flash with traditional spinning disks along with firmware that determines where data resides on the disk based on application performance requirements.

Because the hybrid drives use spinning disks, they can provide terabyte-plus capacities, but because of the NAND flash, they can offer performance similar to solid-state drives (SSDs) with price points approaching traditional hard disk drives.

As part of today's release, Seagate also announced it will no longer sell its hybrid drives under the Momentus XT name and will now use the brand SSHD (solid-state hybrid drives) to better reflect the technology.

Seagate's SSHD hybrid drive family.

The drives represent Seagate's third generation of 2.5-in. hybrid drives. The release includes a new version of its standard laptop hybrid drive and 7mm-high "Thin" SSHD, designed to fit smaller laptops, such as ultrathin notebooks.

One notable change to the 2.5-in. line is that Seagate is now using a 5400 rpm spinning disk, versus the 7200 rpm spindles of its previous-generation drives. But, even with the slower spindle speeds, the new Seagate Laptop and Laptop Thin SSHDs boast performance that's as much as 40% faster than previous generations, and can add as much as 30% to total system performance—regardless of the processor inside the system, according to David Burks, Seagate's director of global marketing.

To boost performance in the slower spindle speed drives, Seagate deployed a new NAND flash subsystem, using upgraded write-caching algorithms that automatically write all high-priority data directly to flash. In past generations, all data was initially written to spinning disk and then migrated to flash as performance metrics required, Burks said.

"[The firmware] constantly monitors every block of data and evaluates it as to whether it's boot information or data frequently used by the operating system or an application. At the same time, we also evaluate the data based on what its impact is on system performance if it's stored on hard disks versus the SSD portion of the drive," Burks said.

For example, Burks said, if the data consists of long, sequential blocks, there is no benefit in storing it on the NAND flash, whereas random data consisting of short—4KB and 8KB—blocks can benefit from the low search latency of the solid-state memory.

The new Seagate Laptop and Laptop Thin SSHDs come with 8GB of NAND flash. The drives come in single-platter 500GB or dual-platter 1TB capacities.

Burks said Seagate is working with Intel, which created the specifications for ultrabooks, in order to get Seagate hybrid drives into more models of the ultrathin laptops. Currently, some ultrabooks contain separate NAND flash and hard disk drives in order to achieve Intel's low threshholds for fast boot-up and data sleep-to-active-mode times.

Without releasing pricing, Burks said the SSHDs would carry a $15 to $20 price premium over standard hard drives of similar capacity. For some idea of pricing, Seagate's second generation Momentus XT hybrid drive with 750GB of capacity retailed for $245.

Seagate's new 3.5-in. desktop SSHD

Seagate's first desktop hybrid drives will come in 1TB and 2TB capacities and will use a 7200rpm spindle speed. Other than size, everything else about the Desktop SSHD line is the same as Seagate's notebook SSHDs.

"What we're trying to do here is simplify the number of platforms we have to engineer and support," Burks said.

As with the 2.5-in laptop drives, the new Desktop SSHD line will use Seagate's Adaptive Memory software to identify and store only the most critical data a system needs to go fast. The Desktop SSHD serves up high performance without a high price tag.

Seagate's 2.5-in. laptops will mainly be sold to system manufacturers, with some sales coming from channel distributors. In contrast, the 3.5-in. Desktop SSHDs will be sold exclusively through channel distribution partners, Burks said.

Desktop system manufacturers like to see a new technology proved out in the market before incorporating the technology into their computers, an issue that affected Segate's first and second-generation hybrid drives, Burks said.

"We expect a similar reaction with our desktop hybrid drives, and because we'll be the only ones with them for at least a year, we believe the channel is probably the best venue for them, and a lot of healthy business exists in channel for desktops," Burks said.

"Our customers want the highest storage capacity with the ability to access their data easily and quickly," Fredrik Hamberger, vice president of Hewlett-Packard's consumer PC business, said in a statement. "Integrating Seagate's SSHD solution into our rapidly growing portfolio of industry-leading PCs will offer our customers a superior experience while running multiple applications."

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