Hybrid hard drives finally come of age

Becky waring By Becky Waring

Once hailed as the perfect compromise between pricey solid-state drives and cheaper-but-slower platter models, hybrid hard drives quickly became a technological flash in the pan.

But new models from Seagate have resuscitated the technology — the Momentus XT line offers many of solid state’s benefits without the sticker shock.

The theory behind hybrid hard drives was intriguing, and back in 2007 the technology made quite a splash. Marrying a small amount of nonvolatile flash memory to standard hard disks would greatly improve overall drive performance — especially system boot and application startup times. And hybrid drive technology would cost a fraction of full solid-state drives (SSDs).

Unfortunately, those early drives relied on special Windows OS support (anyone remember Windows Vista ReadyDrive?) to determine what data should be stored in flash. You also needed custom drivers for every hybrid-drive model. As described in a 2007 ZDNet story, “Hybrid drives: not so fast!,” the reality was underwhelming performance. To make matters worse, the drives had reliability issues, and you could not use standard disk-maintenance tools.

In a 2009 ExtremeTech interview, a Seagate executive even predicted that hybrid hard drives would never return. The article went on to state that Microsoft had no interest in hybrid-drive technology and had no plans to support it in Windows 7. It was a marketing and consumer nightmare, with Microsoft and drive manufacturers pointing fingers at each other. So, an interesting technological advance suddenly seemed like an evolutionary dead end.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2010-10-21:

Becky Waring

About Becky Waring

Becky Waring has worked as a writer and editor for CNET, ZDNET, Technology Review, Upside Magazine, and many other news sources. She alternates the Best Software column with Windows Secrets contributing editor Scott Spanbauer.