Seagate Momentus XT 750GB Hybrid Hard Drive Review

Author: Anthony “AkG” Garland
Date: November 28, 2011
Product Name: Momentus XT 750GB
Part Number: ST750LX003
Warranty: 5 Years
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In 2008 Seagate introduced their very first hybrid hard drive and while it had many issues and only had a brief time in the market, it was a foreshadowing of things to come. It may not have been overly successful, but you could say that its failures led Seagate to the solutions they introduced in 2010 with the innovative Seagate Momentus XT 500GB. For its time the Momentus XT 500GB’s combination of solid state accessible cache and a reasonable capacity gained it an almost cult like following in the enthusiast community. However, there was still room for improvement and with the new second generation Momentus XT ( now in a larger 750GB form) Seagate truly is pushing things to the next level.

With a market that’s increasingly focused upon elevating production and energy efficiency while reducing initial buy-in cost, the idea of hybrid SSD / HDD drives seems to be gaining traction. They tend to offer the best of both worlds and Seagate themselves have stated that within five years they expect 80% of their hard drives to consist of both platter-based and NAND storage components. This is certainly a lofty goal – even for a company with a reputation for innovation – and one that will be difficult to achieve considering the numerous technological and logistical problems which will have to be hurdled. Most importantly, to reach this goal they have to set a very aggressive timeline for themselves with short product / design cycles and aggressive pricing. This in turn gives them a very short window of opportunity to learn from one generation’s mistakes before the next has to be ready for mass production.

In order to achieve some differentiation between this new drive and the older Momentus XT 500GB, Seagate has overhauled the internals and upgraded the firmware for optimal performance. While 750GB - and thus two 375GB platters - is indeed 50% more space than the original 500GB model, as seen recently this is still a bit behind the areal density curve. Lower density may handicap the hard drive portion of the new XT in terms of raw benchmark numbers but our main concern is the cap it inflicts in terms of overall capacity. Competing 2.5” hard drives have already hit the 1TB mark so Seagate will be playing an uphill battle when offering this up as their lineup’s flagship notebook product. This sadly also means all the refinements seen recently in the 3TB Barracuda drive won’t be seen here either.

When asked why a new drive adhered to slightly older density limitations, the answer from Seagate was straightforward: this drive has been in the works for longer than the 500GB platters have been around. Since one of Seagate’s main priorities is long term reliability, it was simply too late to scrap the well proven design and start anew. This also explains why the internal 32MB cache module is DDR1 and not DDR2 and why certain “OptiCache” technologies are absent from this drive. On the positive side, the Momentus XT packed full with other improvements, so the items mentioned previously won’t be missed.

We will get into the firmware refinements later in this review, but the internal hardware changes are evident the moment we see the PCB. The original Momentus XT 500GB came with a paltry 4GB of SLC NAND while the second generation 750GB model comes with 8GB of current generation, SLC NAND with improved performance. It is a shame that this capacity was not further increased since 8GB of accessible high speed storage space is still not enough. Remember, these hybrid drives require that a certain portion of program information be stored in the NAND which in effect speeds up overall load times and performance. Less of this all-important rapidly accessible storage means the benefits of a hybrid setup will only be realized across a small cross section of your most used programs.

Due to volatility within the hard drive market, many will be wondering how much this little slice of tech will cost, and $245 it certainly isn’t cheap for a 750GB hard drive. That’s basically the price of admission into120GB SandForce SF2281 territory so the Momentus has some pretty big shoes to fill if Seagate has any hope of making inroads here.

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