Thursday, August 11, 2011

First Impressions: Seagate Momentus XT 500GB Hybrid Drive

My SSD "upgrade" has been nothing but disaster. Judging by other people's experiences what I experienced has been pretty typical. If you're a heavy duty user who keeps his machine on all the time, spinning platters are still more reliable, though it's quite conceivable that the Intel SSDs don't fail at the rate mine has. Suffice to say, I started looking for alternatives.

One that came to mind was the Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid Drive. This is particularly attractive for laptop applications because the capacity is large (up to 500GB) and most laptops only have one drive bay. While most people don't run demanding applications and hence can make do with 100GB hard drives, I install Lightroom, Photoshop, and InDesign, and on my most recent trip for instance transferred 72GB worth of photos to the laptop for processing during the flight. Furthermore, laptops have to startup and shut down frequently, so the 4GB read-only SSD cache seems like it would be just the ticket. Since I expect to use the laptop as my primary machine next week while on a trip, it seemed like the right time to take the plunge to see if the hybrid drive lives up to the glowing reviews.

The X201 has a great drive bay, as you can see on YouTube. This is pretty important because it turned out that I had to swap hard drives multiple times. The first thing I tried was a Windows Recovery Disk moved onto a USB flash drive and recovering from an image back up on an external hard drive. No go. Then I tried installing Windows 7 Ultimate to see if that would let me store from back up. No go. It turned out that my Windows 7 license was locked to my laptop, and I had to burn to DVD/CDs from the original HDD. So back went the HDD and I tried to burn to a portable DVD burner, but my portable burner turned out to be broken, disconnecting itself after 10 minutes of use. (It came off a 8 year old PC, so maybe that's to be expected) OK, how about burning to my 8GB USB Flash drive? The lenovo factory program gave up because it claimed the disk space was too small. OK, how about this external HDD with 500GB of free space? OK, this time it worked.

By this time I was pretty frustrated. I then swapped back the hybrid drive, and then tried to boot off the external HDD. No go. I then stuck the external HDD to my desktop. To my surprise, the recovery data was only 6GB. So why the heck did it claim my flash drive wasn't big enough? Ok, no problem, I copied over the factory data onto my flash drive and booted off it. Magic! Now my laptop was back to the factory state and I had to reinstall all the software (after deactivating all the old software). I didn't bother trying to recover the old data because fortunately, the photos had all been long imported to my desktop, and everything else was safely stored in Dropbox (I'd long abandoned Google docs as being too unusable compared to Dropbox).

After all the installs and running dropbox to sync everything up, my laptop now boots in 25s (half the previous time), logs in in 2s, and starts chrome pretty much instantaneously. This is indeed the SSD experience at $99, and without any sacrifice in capacity (in fact, my disk capacity went up!). So my first impressions are very positive. I'll wait to see how the laptop survives in normal use, but I would consider buying another one (along with an appropriate mounting bracket) for the desktop! Recommended, assuming you're the kind of person who doesn't mind losing about half a day to all those crazy things I had to do.
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