Desktop Storage Final Thoughts
It’s still too early to tell exactly when HDDs will be replaced with SSDs, although basic wisdom indicates that both will be favored among their intended markets for a few years to come. Personally speaking, I have been a fan of SSD technology from the beginning; but even I can acquiesce to the Seagate and WD product road map for the short term future. SSDs can’t possibly touch the value and capacity delivered by HDDs, and that’s not something that will soon change.
There’s no argument that HDDs still capture the capacity-hungry market segment; especially since SSDs cannot compete there. But the premium high-performance desktop storage enthusiast market is losing patience with Hard Disk Drive technology, and as a result those consumers are turning towards Solid State Drive technology in large numbers. This is exactly why the SATA 6Gb/s interface and 64MB cache buffer was so important to desktop storage technology, and delivered at exactly the right time. Sure, this new bump in performance will add considerable boost to the HDD market, but at the same time it’s no surprise that premier names in the industry have also invested in their own SSD solutions.
Currently the Seagate SeaTools software only allows users to define a Logical Block Address (LBA) range, which can then be saved onto the drive’s firmware. As of now this process requires an enthusiast to understand the total capacity of their drive in order to assign a short-stroke setting, but Seagate already has enthusiast how-to guides in the works. Taking a moment to step back and view the big picture, this could be Seagate’s last stab at competing against the 10,000RPM WD VelociRaptor before launching their own SSD product line.
HDD vs Hybrid Drive vs SSD
It’s been the same argument for over two years now: SSDs offer the best performance, but HDDs still offer the best capacity and price. Now that Solid State Hybrid drives are available, that argument changes. While the optimal blend of bandwidth speed, operational performance, storage capacity, and value has yet to be delivered, Seagate’s Momentus XT series is an ultra-affordable start in the right direction. Admittedly, our benchmarks are a poor substitution for real-world user experience, and the Momentus-XT isn’t designed to move large files at SSD speeds. Installed as a primary drive for notebook and value-conscious enthusiasts, the Seagate Momentus XT Solid State Hybrid Drive delivers HDD storage capacity while starting Windows and opening programs like an SSD.
The last days of old technology are always better than the first days of new technology. Never has this saying been more true than with the topic of storage technology, specifically in regard to the introduction of Solid State Drive technology a few years ago. The only things standing in the way of widespread Solid State Drive (SSD) adoption are high storage capacity and affordable price of Hard Disk Drive (HDD) devices. Because NAND flash-based SSD technology costs more per gigabyte of capacity than traditional magnetic hard drives, the benefits of immediate response time, transfer speeds, and operational input/output performance often get overlooked. Like most consumer products, it wasn’t a question of how much improvement was evident in the new technology, it was price. I’ll discuss product costs more in just a moment, but for now consider how each new series of SSD product employs greater performance than the one before it, convincing would-be consumers into waiting for the right time to buy.
There’s also a gray area surrounding SSD performance benchmarks that has me concerned. You might not know this, but SSDs can be very temperamental towards the condition of their flash NAND. My experience testing dozens of Solid State Drives is that a freshly cleaned device (using an alignment tool) will always outperform the same device once it’s been formatted and used. A perfect example is Indilinx Barefoot-based SSDs, which suffers severely degraded performance when writing to ‘dirty’ flash NAND. The reason that all of this will matter is simple: the performance results reported to consumers in product reviews (such as this one) often report the very best performance scores, and the process used to obtain these results is not applicable to real-world usage. This is where garbage collection techniques such as TRIM become important, so that end-users will experience the same performance levels as we do in our tests.