Analysts Predict Skyrocketing SSD, Cache Drive Sales, But What Happened To Hybrid Hard Drives?

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News Posted: Fri, Jun 15 2012 4:03 PM
According to IHS iSuppli, the SSD market will continue to boom this year, thanks to the rapid rise of so-called cache drives. These drives -- we reviewed a 60GB example from Corsair last month -- are popular with OEMs because they pair a small amount of NAND flash with a traditional hard drive.

We aren't surprised to see cache drives taking off in desktops, but their popularity in notebooks is a little harder to parse -- particularly when you consider that Hybrid Hard Drives, like Seagate's Momentus XT, have been on the market for several years. While Seagate's HHDs aren't necessarily as fast as a cache drive + HDD combo, OEMs tend to favor solutions that allow them to integrate functionality.

iSuppli predicts that while HHD sales will double by next year, cache drives will surge a whopping 2,660%, to 23.9 million units, before blowing through the 67.7 million-unit mark next year. The bulk of the market will still be based on spinning media -- hard drive sales in the first quarter of 2012 hit 145 million units.

The advantage of cache drives is that they allow OEMs to offer SSD-like performance while using between 8-60GB of Flash. Even at the upper end, that's half the 128-256GB drives that have proven popular with consumers. In our own review of the Corsair Accelerator Series, many of you mentioned being unsure whether or not SSDs would prove as reliable as HDDs long term; pairing the two solutions together is one way to assuage customer fears over long-term data retention.



"The cache SSD solution was first hit upon by PC manufacturers because the use of a dedicated solid-state drive proved too expensive when passed on to consumers in the retail market," said IHS iSuppli analyst Ryan Chien, analyst for memory & storage at IHS. "However, a combined physical hard disk drive with a smaller cache component allowed PC makers to reap the advantages of faster responsiveness and larger capacities while keeping costs down."

According to John Rydning, hybrid hard drives are less popular due to single-source manufacturing (Seagate has the only solution on the market) and a lack of options. Right now, the Momentus XT is only available in a 2.5" form factor that's 9.5mm high. It also offers less Flash, and only accelerates read performance.

"The other part of it is there's probably more than can be done to improve system performance with hybrid technology; I'd say they have not had a lot of [computer manufacturer] design wins," Rydning told PCAdvisor, referring to manufacturers who buy the drives wholesale from Seagate. "Seagate has done OK selling them in the aftermarket. In a sense, that's allowed them introduce them to the market and it's allowed Seagate to learn as well."

The odd thing about the nascent HHD market is precisely that we've seen so little work done by the traditional HDD manufacturers. Western Digital's VelociRaptor series, for example, would seem an ideal test case for hybridization -- while that drive may not be headed for ultrabooks, a hybridized version of it could offer best-in-class HDD performance without sacrificing capacity. HDD manufacturers have posted strong profits in the wake of the Thailand floods last year, but that won't last forever unless they take steps to incorporate performance-enhancing features.
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realneil replied on Fri, Jun 15 2012 8:42 PM

I agree that the VelociRaptor drives would be good recipients of some hybrid style memory.

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mhenriday replied on Sat, Jun 16 2012 7:47 AM

Anybody with experience of running a multi-boot system on a hybrid ?...

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Dave_HH replied on Sat, Jun 16 2012 8:23 AM

It really shouldn't behave any differently, mh. These drives appear like one volume to any OS with the flash just acting like a lager on board cache.

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mhenriday replied on Sat, Jun 16 2012 11:13 AM

Thanks, Dave, for your reply ! My question was related to the fact that, AFAIK, the hybrid drive with the greatest capacity currently being offered is the Seagate Momentus X with a 750GB HHD and an 8GB Nand flash cache. To me, that cache size seems a tad on the small side if one is going to run, say, an Ubuntu/Windows dualboot. For that reason, I wondered if any HH readers have experience of actually running such a setup. I'm looking forward to seeing hybrid drives with, say, a 1TB HHD spinning at 10000 RPM and a 64GB Nand flash cache - although I'm not so sure that I'd be pleased by the price in a market with, effectively, only two HHD manufacturers and only one making a hybrid drive....

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Joel H replied on Sat, Jun 16 2012 5:45 PM

Henri,

The advantage of an HHD, in that scenario, is that the full Flash capacity will be used on both OS's (assuming you dual boot, and that there aren't any specialized Windows drivers necessary) (I don't believe there are).

The current cache SSD solutions available are limited to one cache drive per computer and to Windows-only installations -- AFAIK.

As of right now, a VelociRaptor + Cache Accelerator would net you "Best of Both worlds" performance, at least in Windows. With that said, I've been very impressed with the performance of a CA drive when attached to a bog standard 7200 RPM Samsung. Using a faster HDD would help shrink the gap further.

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mhenriday replied on Sat, Jun 16 2012 6:25 PM

If I read you aright, Joel, the best solution in the case of an Ubuntu/Windows dual boot would seem to be two hybrid drives, each dedicated to a single OS. As a matter of fact, when dual-booting, I have always tried to have dedicated HDDs for each operating system and the accompanying files, just to keep things simpler. Not, perhaps, the most efficient use of resources, as it means that, for example, I duplicate photos on two disks, instead of dedicating a disk to storing a single copy which could then be accessed by both OS. But that would mean learning how to successfully manipulate a rather more complicated setup, given the differences in files systems (ext4 and ntfs, respectively)....

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Joel H replied on Sat, Jun 16 2012 7:06 PM

Henri,

As far as I'm aware, when you use an HHD, dual-booting means the full cache is available for each OS. The other issues you raise (multiple file systems, different drive partitions) are all valid, but apply to both traditional and hybrid OS deployments.

I personally despite dual-booting and avoid it at all costs.

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realneil replied on Sat, Jun 16 2012 10:11 PM

The cache memory activity on the Seagate Momentus drives is handled by the drive, and the OS has nothing to do with it. It's very robust considering the cost of the drives.

I have a the 500GB model and it's been reliable for me for the almost two years that I've had it.

I have not tried to dual-boot with it though.

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mhenriday replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 6:37 AM

As my questions above probably reveal, realneil, my practical experience with hybrid drives is limited to none at all. My understanding, gained from sources like Anand Tech (http://www.anandtech.com/show/5160/seagate-2nd-generation-momentus-xt-750gb-hybrid-hdd-review), is that frequently accessed programmes, data, etc are automatically stored in the cache - the conclusion I've drawn from this is that in a dual-boot system, both OSs would be stored on the cache. But perhaps I've misunderstood....

As I understand it, hybrid drives are designed to be used mainly in portable machines, laptops, notebooks, etc. I'd very much like to hear if any HH reader has experience of running two such drives on one machine....

Joel, you don't mention just why you «despise» dual-booting ; myself I find it useful as I far prefer Ubuntu to Windows, but the retirees from our club who ring me when they encounter computer problems universally use Windows, as, for some strange reason, that OS is always pre-installed on the computers they purchase. Thus, to help them, I need to access Windows. I've found that by keeping Ubuntu on one HDD and Windows on another on my main machine, I've managed to avoid all the inconveniences that could be coupled to dual-booting, with one exception : it takes me a few extra seconds to boot up, as I have to use GRUB to choose which OS to boot. That is a price I'm more than happy to pay....

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realneil replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 8:57 AM

mhenriday:
frequently accessed programmes, data, etc are automatically stored in the cache

This is correct Henri. The bits of Data that you access the most are stored in the faster, flash memory area of the drive. This makes it perform faster because that data loads quicker..

mhenriday:
the conclusion I've drawn from this is that in a dual-boot system, both OSs would be stored on the cache. But perhaps I've misunderstood....

The OS is not stored on the cache. The data that you've been accessing the most is. The drive's logic controls this entirely and the process is independent of the OS, whatever that may be. So if you've been using UBUNTU a lot lately, then that is what the drive will optimize itself for, using it's "most accessed Data" programming. If you then access windows, it begins to optimize itself for what you use most in that OS. It does it automagically and in the background. Going from one OS to the other will be seamless and will work properly. You see the speed increase begin with usage. The drive is always analyzing, learning, and adjusting from your usage.

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mhenriday replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 9:43 AM

Thanks for clarifying that point, realneil ! That means, if I intrepret you correctly, I could partition the 750GB HDD on the hybrid drive, install each OS on a dedicated partition, and then sit back and let the cache do its job. Sweet ! I'm definitely going to have to give this a whirl !...

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realneil replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 10:11 AM

mhenriday:
I could partition the 750GB HDD on the hybrid drive, install each OS on a dedicated partition, and then sit back and let the cache do its job

Yes, exactly. I like my 500GB drive, and would love a few of the 750's to try in RAID.

I think that eventually they'll start making them with larger cache sizes, at which point we'll see a spike in performance. SSD prices continue to drop and they're becoming a more attractive option by the day.

I'm getting ready to install 64Bit Linux Mint onto a AMD APU M-ITX system to use as an HTPC box. I have a 60GB OCZ Solid-3 to use for the OS and a Seagate Barracuda LP Green 1.5TB platter drive for storage.

Linux is fast on an SSD.

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Joel H replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 2:32 PM

Realneil,

Anything is fast on an SSD. Seriously. :P

Henri,

I didn't get into why I despise dual-booting because it's a personal opinion and not relevant to the article or the function of the technology. I dislike having to have multiple systems (physical or software) for my tasks. Dual-booting into another OS means that some of my work is in Space A, some of it is in Space B, and transitioning between the two takes time. Software has to be installed twice, workspaces have to be configured twice, etc, etc.

Now, that's just me. If I was a programmer instead of a journalist, dual-booting to test different operating environments would be essential.

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realneil replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 6:16 PM

Joel H:

Realneil,

Anything is fast on an SSD. Seriously. :P

Ha-Ha!

I know.

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KWalsh replied on Mon, Jun 18 2012 10:41 AM

ok i will make it much easier for all of you,

2 ssd raid level 0 - for OS/s

2 hdd raid level 0- for games and programs (or ssd for more speed and all raid together)

for a dual OS situation run windows or ubuntu and have a virtual box runnin for the other OS, no rebooting when switching the os

and if u dont want to spend the money on two ssds then buy one! ssds ARE FASTER,

just buy a normal one and try it

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epobirs replied on Wed, Jun 20 2012 6:05 AM

While laptop makers like integration they also like options that allow that to address multiple price points in a simple fashion.

What you're going to see on traditional form factors for laptops is the inclusion of an mSATA slot. This allows for a small SSD and a regular platter drive to be used as either as boot and data drives (the sole option for non-Windows users until Intel decides otherwise) or in SRT mode where the mSATA SSD is used as a cache.

This approach gives the laptop maker a lot of options. They can leave the mSATA slot unpopulated for the entry price point. They can fill it with SSDs of varying size. (SRT ranges from 18.6 to 60 GB.) They can have the full range of platter drive options.

mSATA slots are already showing up in high end desktop boards. I think it will be in laptop models by the end of this year or early next year.

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