What Justifies Going For A Hybrid Drive Instead Of An SSD

A few years ago, particularly in the mid 2000s, Samsung and Seagate and some other hard drive manufacturers theorized that if you add a few GB of flash chips to a mechanical spinning HDD, you’d get a so-called “hybrid” drive that approaches the performance of an SSD, with only a slight price difference with a traditional HDD. All of it will fit in the same space as a “regular” HDD, plus you’d get the overall storage capacity of the hard disk drive. The flash memory acts as a buffer for oft-used files (like apps or boot files), so your system would have the ability for booting faster and launching apps in a lesser time. The flash memory isn’t directly accessible by the end user, so they can’t, for example, install their favorite operating system (e.g. Windows or Linux) on the flash chips. In practice, hybrid drives work, but they are still more expensive and more complex than simple hard drives. They work best for people like road warriors who need large storage, but need fast boot times, too. Since they’re an in-between product, they don’t necessarily replace dedicated HDDs nor SSDs. [You may be interested to get a hybrid drive, so check The Best & Fastest Hybrid Hard Drive (SSHD)]

HDDs and SSDs Both Boast Their Own Advantages

Solid-state drives (SSD) are remarkably much faster than mechanical drives. Since there’s a huge fall of prices, so you must seriously consider upgrading to an SSD. But even these now-cheaper drives have less storage capacity. A solid-state drive might cost about $0.58 per GB, while a mechanical drive might cost $0.06 per GB. A mainstream solid-state drive at a reasonable price might offer 256 GB of storage at most, while a mechanical drive might offer 2 or 3 TB of storage. Mechanical drives may be slow, but they offer a very large storage capacity at a very low price per gigabyte. [Check The Best & Fastest Solid State Drives (SSD) and The Best & Fastest Hard Disk Drives (HDD)]

In order to acquire the advantages of both drives, many PC gamers and power users use both drives in a combination in their systems. The solid-state drive is used for system files, programs, application data, and anything else that really benefits from the speed. The larger mechanical drive can be used for long-term storage of files that don’t need to be accessed as quickly — a media or photo collection, for example. This requires installing both drives in the computer and choosing which files and programs to place on each drive. If you want to move a file to a different drive, you’ll have to move it yourself. If you want to move a program to a different drive, you may have to uninstall it and reinstall it at a different location.

SSD and HDD inside a laptop

Hybrids Are Magnetic Drives With SSD Storage

Five years ago, Seagate (quickly followed by Samsung) introduced a drive that married a small SSD with a mechanical drive. The objective was to deliver the superior speed of an expensive SSD, while retaining the higher capacity and lower cost of a conventional hard drive. Now that Toshiba and Western Digital are joining the party, it’s a great time to explain in more detail what hybrid drives are and how they operate.

Hybrid drives work much in the same way as the current dual-technology configurations in many gaming and power-user PCs, as well as some ultraportable laptops. Such systems have a small, discrete SSD to hold the operating system and frequently used data, augmented by a more capacious conventional hard drive for less frequently accessed data and large collections of documents and digital media.

Current hybrid drive designs, in contrast, deliver both technologies within a single physical unit, and they employ software caching algorithms (rather than relying on the user’s brain) to decide which data belongs on the SSD portion and what goes on the drive’s platters.

These caching algorithms reside in the hybrid drive’s firmware, not the device driver. To the computer’s operating system, a hybrid drive appears as a single unit with the SSD portion acting strictly as a large cache. The cache is nonvolatile, so the data doesn’t disappear when power is absent.

Hybrids Don’t Have Much SSD Storage

Importantly, most hybrid drives have a fairly small amount of SSD storage. The top hybrid hard drives on Amazon have 1 TB of mechanical space and only 8 GB of solid-state memory. 8 GB is a decent amount of storage space for holding system files and programs, but it doesn’t compare to 128 GB or 256 GB that can hold all your system and program files.

Apple’s “Fusion Drive” is also a hybrid drive, offering 1 TB or 3 TB of mechanical drive space alongside 128 GB of solid-state flash storage.

Why Would You Want a Hybrid?

Hybrid drives can be cheaper than solid-state drives because they contain a smaller amount of solid-state memory. A 2 TB hybrid drive with 8 GB of solid-state cache memory will be more expensive than a simple 2 TB mechanical drive, but likely less expensive than a 256 GB solid-state drive with even less total space. Computer manufacturers include these drives in their computers to offer solid-state speeds at a lower price with more storage.

A hybrid drive is also a single physical drive, which can be a big advantage. If you have a laptop with a single drive bay and you want both solid-state speeds and mechanical drive storage capacity, a hybrid drive is the one thing you can put into that drive bay to get both.

It’s all about price and storage capacity. If magnetic, spinning-platter drives and solid-state drives currently cost the same amount per GB, there’d by no need for hybrid drives at all. A solid-state drive would be superior in every way. Hybrid drives are only useful because solid-state drives are still more expensive per GB.

If you want both solid-state speeds and a large amount of storage space, having a hybrid drive may be simpler because the drive moves files around for you. You don’t have to think about which files should be where or deal with two separate drives in your operating system.

Is a Hybrid Faster?

A hybrid hard drive will be significantly faster than a mechanical drive. That caching algorithm will store operating system and program files in the solid-state memory, offering solid-state speeds when accessing cached files.

Hybrid drives start on the slow side. When you start using a hybrid drive, no caching will have occurred — so the drive will be just as slow as a traditional mechanical drive. As you use the drive and it learns which files should be cached, speed will gradually improve.

A single solid-state drive — or a solid-state drive plus a mechanical hard drive in a desktop PC, if you have room for both — will outperform a hybrid drive. Everything on a solid-state drive will be as fast as the small cache portion of a hybrid drive. By installing your operating system and programs to a solid-state drive, you can ensure those files benefit from the fastest access times possible. Managing this on your own will likely offer better performance.

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