Once More, With Feeling

Just as we did in our original Momentus XT review, we'll start with a look at some hand-timed application tests.

First up is a good old fashioned boot test. I measured boot time on our testbed from POST to first seeing the mouse cursor on the Windows 7 desktop. This isn't a timing of actual boot-to-use since more loading happens even after you get to the desktop, but it does encapsulate much of the Windows 7 boot process.

All tests were repeated until performance leveled off. In the case of an SSD, this was after just one run. In the case of the 500GB Momentus XT, it took five runs to get there, whereas the second generation model was there after just two. The traditional hard drives each took a few runs for their performance to stabilize as well due to Windows 7's own boot optimizations taking effect.

Boot Time

Boot performance continues to be very impressive on the Momentus XT. It's still not quite as fast as a high end SSD, but it's definitely faster than a traditional hard drive (even a faster, 3.5" model). With a larger NAND cache, your boot time is more likely to remain this low even as other applications and data are pulled into the cache.

Next let's look at a simple application launch test. Adobe Photoshop continues to be one of the more stressful workloads for a hard drive, even down to launching the application. Here I measured from the time I clicked on the Photoshop icon in the Start Menu to first appearance of the blank Photoshop canvas and toolbars. Again, I repeated this test until performance leveled off in all cases.

For the Momentus XT performance fluctuated and it never truly settled on a single launch time. Performance started out at over 5.6 seconds but for all runs after the 2nd launch time ranged in the upper 2s - upper 3s. For its results as well as those from all of the hard drives, I averaged five launch times and presented those averages. The lone SSD in this comparison delivered consistent performance across all runs.

Load Adobe Photoshop CS4

Here the Momentus XT continues to do very well, for a hard drive. It's faster than any of our mechanical drives, and significantly faster than your run-of-the-mill 5400RPM 2.5" drive for sure. A good SSD is still around 70% faster than the Momentus XT.

When constructing our Visual Studio 2008 project build benchmark for our CPU reviews I was reminded just how much of a pain it is to do development work on a system with a hard drive. I tried using the same benchmark to measure drive performance however it seems I used too good of a CPU benchmark as disk performance plays a small role in actual compile time here. Instead I looked at the impact of disk performance on loading the Chromium project in VS2008. I used the same test rules as before, presenting performance once it has leveled off for all drives involved. Once again, the SSD delivered peak performance after a single run. The Momentus XT was able to do it after 2 - 3 runs. Performance didn't improve over multiple runs with the traditional hard drives.

Visual Studio 2008 - Load Chromium Project

There's a clear division between the NAND equipped Momentus XTs and the traditional hard drives here, but not so much between the former and the Intel SSD 510. I can definitely understand Seagate's temptation to draw the comparison to the performance of an SSD. The problem with doing this is highlighted in my comments above however. While the SSD always performed to the best of its abilities in our tests, regardless of the number of times I ran a test, the Momentus XT needed a couple of runs to get to that point. The NAND cache isn't overly predictive and as a result the first time you do almost anything the Momentus XT will perform like a traditional 7200RPM 2.5" hard drive. Given a light enough workload, the Momentus XT should be able to eventually fit much of the most frequently read data into its cache, but the process of actually getting there can still be painful.

For our last application level benchmark I turn to something I've used since the early days of SSD reviews: the fresh test. Take our boot test from earlier, and string together a series of application launches after you hit the desktop. In this case I'm launching Excel 2007, PowerPoint 2007, Word 2007, Visual Studio 2008 and Photoshop CS4 as soon as the system boots. I measure the time from POST until the last application is completely launched. I call this the fresh test because when you first build a machine everything, even on a traditional hard drive, performs quickly. Load up a lot of applications and use your system for a while and you'll soon notice that things aren't quite as snappy any more. Defragmenting your drive can help but after a certain point it's the bloat of everything installed that really limits performance. A better test would be to use an image that was months (if not years) old, but I've found that this benchmark gets the job done. Lower numbers here translate very well to a snappier system and one that feels new regardless of what you've got loaded on it. SSDs truly excel in the fresh test, but what about the Momentus XT?

The Fresh Test

Surprisingly enough, the Momentus XT does extremely well. The newer model clearly does a better job of keeping more data in NAND, but both are head and shoulders above the traditional hard drives. If you have a fairly regular usage pattern (E.g. you always run the same 5 or 6 applications), the Momentus XT can significantly improve the overall user experience. In some cases, it can even approach the performance of an SSD.

The New Momentus XT AnandTech Storage Bench 2011
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  • JimmiG - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    Will you be doing a review of the 64GB and 128GB OCZ Synapse Cache SSD drives for comparison?

    They are a bit more complex to manage and require a separate driver and software to be installed, but they also cache writes and can be added as a cache to any mechanical drive of your choice.
  • Gidde - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    Do RAID problems related to SSDs also apply to Hybrid HDDs ? Has anyone tested running the 1st gen Momentus XT in RAID 0/1 ? Ive read a few places that the drives break quickly when in RAID...
  • 7Enigma - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    "To gain widespread adoption Seagate needs two things: 1) aggressive pricing and 2) a second supplier of hybrid HDDs."

    Number 3 (but should really be #1) is reliability and the original Momentus XT had HORRIBLE reliability. Honestly it was much worse than Sandforce's Vertex issues and yet got little to no press.

    Take a look at Seagate's own forum, and reviews on Newegg/Amazon. The failure rates are unknown (at least to me), but the amount of firmware updates and dead drives are not insignificant.

    After your first glowing review I was in line to purchase one myself, and recommend in all my builds that couldn't swallow the high cost of SSD's at the time. I'm glad I never bought one....
  • Daniel Egger - Friday, December 16, 2011 - link

    it sucks more power (thus emitting more heat) than the older version which is already problematic in my 2007 MacBook Pro, is barely faster than the older version but considerably more expensive? What on earth makes this drive a winner?

    And then there's still the open question whether they have finally overcome the design problems of generation one where performance may stutter/freeze, the quite disturbing clicking and chirping, the absent proper power management and the nasty vibration...

    Luckily my XT works okay-ish for me (though I had much higher expectation) but clicking, vibration and decreased battery life make me wary about the new generation. I'll probably not do it again...
  • Hrel - Saturday, December 17, 2011 - link

    I really hope Western Digital has a 16-24GB hybrid 2.5" drive in the works. A second player in the market, as you said, would help out a lot. And as far as reliability I've always had better luck with WD that Seagate. Also that amound on on board NAND would actually be usefull, where 4-8 is just barely enough and certainly less than ideal.
  • shady28 - Sunday, December 18, 2011 - link

    I'd really like to see a comparison of these HDDs short stroked to some multiple of the capacity of the SSDs. These days you can get 1000 gig hdd's for ~ $70, so if you short stroked it to 256 gig how would it compare to a 128 gig SSD? Theoretically that should lower the average seek time by 75%, which would significantly improve its random read/write performance.
  • darrengadget - Wednesday, December 21, 2011 - link

    Sorry to say it, but its a question I have to ask some of the people posting prior to this.
    This is an elegant solution to the problem of size vs speed vs price that will continue until SSD prices fall considerably.
    It may not be for you, and thats understandable, but I'm pretty sure it fits the bill for crap loads of others, people like me!
    Not every computer user has a custom desktop pc with room for multiple drives, with tonnes of spare time to throw into managing and installing potentially complicated data systems.

    Lets ask a few things to understand the market,

    What is the largest selling computer product in the world?
    the laptop (over 60% of new consumer computer products last year were laptops)

    Therefore, what is the biggest install base for manufacturers/OEM purchasers of consumer hdd's?
    the laptop

    Why do people buy laptops?
    Portability, compact size, and style

    What would most people like to improve with their laptops?

    What is one of the biggest single factors affecting today's laptop operation speeds?
    The hard disk

    Why not go totally SSD then?
    People don't all have gold bars stashed, or shotguns to rob banks (unless you're american of course) ;-)
    But seriously, most people with any stored media (music/video) that are using their laptop as their primary computer need 500gb or larger. So you'll be blowing £800 ($1400 ish) or a lot more.

    So from those questions we ascertained that most computer users basically, need a large capacity, that gets close to the speeds of SSD's, that fits into a 2.5mm form factor, that doesn't require an external box to lug around or lose. Oh, and it can't cost crazy money!

    If only there was a product that did all this.........
  • wintermute000 - Tuesday, January 3, 2012 - link

    Happy owner of 1st gen Momentus XT here.

    Would have upgraded if the price wasn't so horrible, really could do with >750Gb space. However as my laptop is a tertiary PC (desktop, media centre at home + tablet... yeah total tech junkie) can't really justify the massive price hike for a bit more holiday/travel convenience.

    To those who say it makes no difference compared to a conventional notebook drive, you must be terribly unlucky with your usage pattern / hardware combo / specific dud unit?, or really unobservant.

    I also do the standard SSD + massive amounts of conventional storage solution on my desktop and yeah its nowhere near SSD speeds but for laptops with only 1 drive, its the only game in town (unless you either want to drop the price of an entire laptop on a 512G SSD or live with sweet FA storage).
  • wintermute000 - Tuesday, January 3, 2012 - link

    and oh I had a lenovo with a 32Gb Rapiddrive solution that was similar except it was a PCIE flash drive that the BIOS/firmware on the mobo hid from the system. It was bloody lightning with the OS once it cached everything.

    If/when they do a 32Gb cache I'm on it like a rash, its pretty much indistinguishable from a full blown SSD for anything cached - and if its 32Gb basically the entire OS and all your apps are cached.
  • hgurol - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - link

    Can anyone comment on Virtual Machine performance of this drive please?

    I already have an 7200 rpm hdd on my laptop and Im happy with its performance. I heavily use virtual machines and if this drive is significantly increasing the Virtual Machine performance, then I would not mind an upgrade.


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