Today we have the latest in Seagate’s desktop Solid State Hybrid Drive arsenal on the test bench. They began their foray into marrying small amounts of NAND to the internal PCB in an attempt to add further value and increase operating speeds in normal, repeated conditions when using your disks. Now they’ve appropriately evolved their desktop, consumer SSHD line to include better fusion of traditional platter storage and NAND. We’ve seen the benefits when Apple released their aptly named Fusion drive in 2012.
These haven’t had quite the results we expected when SSHD’s first game to market, but with firmware improvements and increased speeds from MLC NAND itself, we’re bound to see this be the less expensive future for fast, mass storage. Or is it?
The Seagate 4TB SSHD is a testament to their commitment
The NAND is only useful if the controller knows what to store on it so that all the data that you want to access fast is exactly where it should be. That’s where this evolution of the SSHD has brought us, to smarter methods of maintaining the various blocks of data and algorithms that predict what should be placed there. Without that, these just become more complicated and still slow platter-based HDDs. This is not at all like those first generation marriages of NAND and a platter HDD. The firmware is what makes the concept of a hybrid drive so attractive. And they’ve been able to improve that here. Windows, too, also interacts with hybrid drives differently and far more efficiently. That means organizing the most used data on that NAND to be far faster. What that also means is that not all data will see an improvement. Random reads/writes will potentially suffer because what’s being accessed likely won’t be cached.
Going into this there should be no expectation that the speeds will be far and away better than a traditional platter-based HDD on its own. Nor will this necessarily reach SSD speeds as a result of the NAND. This isn’t magical, though with repeated use and in certain workloads you’ll a startling increase in speed and responsiveness. I have to stress “over time” because it’s precisely the firmware learning what you like and what you tend to launch that keeps those files on the speedy bits that make this useful. It’s a fast drive on its own, but when reading from the NAND alone? It’s a great little tool to have around. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
Reliability is a hot topic, and Seagate can’t escape it
There’s also the looming overall image that Seagate isn’t quite a quality drive maker with terrible reliability. Personally I’ve had failures from all drive manufacturers. It’s a part of life, drives with mechanical operation tend to eventually fail. I would say that this is the result of over-zealous personal testaments and some reviews. All drives fail and the failure rates of Seagate in general are no worse than anyone else. It’s definitely nothing like the IBM Deskstar 75GXP, which was unreliable as its default state. The fact of the matter is that you always take a risk. As an anecdote I have a person 2TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.14 that’s still running just fine after many PB’s of activity. That is but one example, and so are the few actual bad examples. Real long-term reliability data is needed, outside of the firmware bugs that may crop up.
Regardless, the current generation Seagate 4TB SSHD is on our test bench and we have quite a few great benchmarks to show you just how well it should perform in real-world situations. Unlike Apple’s Fusion drive or similar setups in Windows, this only marries a small amount of NAND. This might seem to be an issue, at first glance, and we may automatically think it won’t have much of a difference. Let’s actually delve into then, shall we?