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Seagate Desktop SSHD 2TB Hard Drive Review

AkG

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[Solid state storage has seen a gradual price reduction to the point where SSDs are now even more competitive with traditional hard drives in terms of the price consumers pay for storage capacity. However, if large amount of storage space is necessary, HDDs are still the way to go and all too often, than means a good amount of performance is left on the table. There is a middle ground though; Seagate’s long-standing hybrid drive line (now appropriately named the Desktop SSHD series) promises to combine the raw throughput of an SSD with the massive capacity of HDDs.

In order to accomplish their goals, Seagate integrates NAND ICs onto a hard drive’s PCB but, as of late, this direction was only taken for the notebook-centric lineup. This meant Seagate’s answer to Western Digital’s excellent Black series rested solely on the Barracuda XT’s substantial shoulders. Now, with the Desktop SSHD series, these technological marvels are finally making their way into the traditional desktop form factors.

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For three generations we have watched Seagate’s answer to the SSD grow and develop from an interesting idea into a true Solid State Hybrid drive. During that time Seagate focused entirely on 2.5” ‘laptop’ form-factor models and while the enthusiast community bemoaned the lack of a 3.5” option, in retrospect this was the right decision. By taking their time to properly develop and refine their design Seagate were able to gain valuable insights and knowledge without undue risk to their main SATA-based portfolio. It may have taken them years to feel their solution was ready for the mainstream PC marketplace but with the release of the Desktop SSHD 2TB, consumers finally have a 3.5” drive that has been made with them and not portable PC consumers in mind.

Where the SSHD series truly excels is in the pricing department. For the 2TB version you’ll pay around $125 which would also buy an entry-level 120GB SSD. Meanwhile, an SSD with a similar capacity doesn’t even exist in the consumer market and creating a 2TB RAID array would cost about ten times as much.

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While it may not carry the storied Barracuda nameplate, the Desktop SSHD shares quite a bit of commonality with the older Barracuda XT line and its 2.5” SSHD brethren. From the Laptop SSHD line Seagate has carried over the custom controller configuration with 8GB of NAND which has a portion set aside for quasi SLC mode write buffering. However, unlike the Laptop SSHD and its slow 5400rpm spindle speed, the Desktop SSHD borrows the Barracuda 3TB’s 7200RPM rotational velocity, 64MB of onboard cache and best of all its one terabyte platters.

These two ultra-dense platters mean that data which is stored on the hard drive portion of the Desktop SSHD can be accessed just as quickly as the Barracuda 3TB model. This certainly gives the baseline performance of the Desktop SSHD a major leg up over both its Laptop SSHD and Desktop HDD brethren.

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While it would have been nice to see this SSHD take advantage of the additional room the 3.5” form-factor PCB afforded them for additional NAND capacity, Seagate is counting on their increasingly sophisticated algorithms to make the most of the single 8GB MLC NAND IC they have provided. Even though you would have to read the label of the Desktop SSHD to tell it apart from its Desktop HDD siblings, there’s hope the additional performance abilities a Hybrid configuration affords users will help distinguish it from every other hard drive on the market.
 
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AkG

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5,270
Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a drive is not as simple as putting together a bunch of files, dragging them onto folder on the drive in Windows and using a stopwatch to time how long the transfer takes. Rather, there are factors such as read / write speed and data burst speed to take into account. There is also the SATA controller on your motherboard and how well it works with SSDs & HDDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for drives to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our testbed will be a more standard motherboard with no mods or high end gear added to it. This is to help replicate what you the end user’s experience will be like.

Even when the hardware issues are taken care of the software itself will have a negative or positive impact on the results. As with the hardware end of things, to obtain the absolute best results you do need to tweak your OS setup; however, just like with the hardware solution most people are not going to do this. For this reason our standard OS setup is used. However, except for the Vista load test times we have done our best to eliminate this issue by having the drive tested as a secondary drive. With the main drive being a Intel 520 240GB Solid State Drive.

For synthetic tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HD Tune, Crystal Disk Benchmark, IOMeter, AS-SSD and PCMark 7.

For real world benchmarks such as OS startup, Firefox reload and data transfer times. For data transfer we timed how long a single 10GB rar file took to copy to and then from the devices. We also used 10gb of small files (from 100kb to 200MB) with a total 12,000 files in 400 subfolders.

All tests were run 4 times and average results are represented for HDD and SSD. For SSHDs tests were run 8 times with 1st, 4th and 8th shown.

Please note: the Laptop SSHD Thin shows only the "8th run/' results.

In between each test suite runs (with the exception being IOMeter which was done after every run) the drives are cleaned with either HDDerase, SaniErase or OCZ SSDToolbox and then quick formated to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.

Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory: 16GB G.Skill TridentX 2133
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Primary Hard Drive: Intel 520 240GB
Power Supply: XFX 850

Special thanks to G.Skill for their support and supplying the TridentX Ram.

Unless otherwise noted the drives used were:

Solid State Drives:
Kingston SSDNow V300 120GB

Hybrid Solid State Drives:
Seagate Desktop SSHD 2TB
Seagate SSHD Thin 500GB

5400rpm:
Seagate Desktop HDD 4TB
Western Digital Green 3TB

7200rpm:
Seagate Barracuda 3TB
Western Digital Black 2TB
Western Digital R.E. 4TB
Western Digital Black FAEX 1TB
Western Digital Black 4TB


10,000rpm:
Western Digital Velociraptor 1TB
 
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AkG

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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


For this benchmark, HD Tune Pro was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these storage devices. We don’t put much stock in Burst speed readings and thus we no longer included it. The most important number is the Average Speed number. This number will tell you what to expect from a given drive in normal, day to day operations. The higher the average the faster your entire system will seem.

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Write Performance


For this benchmark HD Tune Pro was used. To run the write benchmark on a drive, you must first remove all partitions from that drive and then and only then will it allow you to run this test. Unlike some other benchmarking utilities the HD Tune Pro writes across the full area of the drive, thus it easily shows any weakness a drive may have.

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Since the Seagate Desktop SSHD 2TB relies upon two 1TB platters and makes use of a 7200RPM spindle speed, these excellent numbers come as no surprise. Even excluding the NAND from the equation this drive is very fast. With such a rock solid foundation we doubt that it will be anything less than the best SSHD we have ever seen.
 
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AkG

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ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


The ATTO disk benchmark tests the drives read and write speeds using gradually larger size files. For these tests, the ATTO program was set to run from its smallest to largest value (.5KB to 8192KB) and the total length was set to 256MB. The test program then spits out an extrapolated performance figure in megabytes per second.

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Once again the Seagate Desktop SSHD 2TB is posting some downright impressive performance numbers. What is especially interesting is that the small file performance is indeed right up there with the best hard drives to date. We do have a sneaking suspicion that Seagate has indeed tweaked the algorithms and write caching is now occurring. With such random data sets this caching may only be partial in nature but it would explain the stellar results.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7 / AS-SSD

Crystal DiskMark


Crystal DiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your hard drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and random read/write speeds; and allows you to set the number of tests iterations to run. We left the number of tests at 5 and size at 100MB.

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On the one hand these results are extremely good and on the other they are very, very curious. Since the SSHD uses a very similar configuration to that of the older 3TB Barracuda all results should be within tolerances of that drive if read and write caching are not occurring.

As you can see, this is obviously not the case. The lower sequential numbers could simply be because of two vs three platters – or 4 vs 6 heads – but the lower 512K performance combined with higher small file single and 32 queue depth performance makes it rather obvious that write caching to a limited extent is occurring.

While we cannot show you each of the five results per test run but they did have a tendency to bounce around a lot – almost as if the drive's algorithms were trying to make sense of and adapt to the highly random nature of the I/O demands being placed upon it. This crude attempt to guess at what should be cached on the NAND combined with lack of multiple NAND ICs could explain why all these results are the way they are.


PCMark 7


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark 7, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of numerous tests that try and replicate real world drive usage. Everything from how long a simulated virus scan takes to complete, to MS Vista start up time to game load time is tested in these core tests; however we do not consider this anything other than just another suite of synthetic tests. For this reason, while each test is scored individually we have opted to include only the overall score.

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As expected, once this drive understands that the PCMark data is important, the results go from being good for a hard drive to being decent for an entry level solid state drive. The Seagate Desktop SSHD 2TB may not be able to break the all-important 5K barrier we use for judging an SSD, but it is damn close.


AS-SSD


AS-SSD is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and small 4K read/write speeds as well as 4K file speed at a queue depth of 6. While its primary goal is to accurately test Solid State Drives, it does equally well on all storage mediums it just takes longer to run each test as each test reads or writes 1GB of data.

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As with the Crystal DiskMark numbers the AS-SSD results are very interesting. Seagate ae obviously working hard on their learning algorithms and once again while they cannot correctly guess the importance of AS-SSDs data very well.
 
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AkG

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IOMETER

IOMETER


IOMeter is heavily weighted towards the server end of things, and since we here at HWC are more End User centric we will be setting and judging the results of IOMeter a little bit differently than most. To test each drive we ran 5 test runs per device (1,4,16,64,128 queue depth) each test having 8 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 8 subparts were set to run 100% random, 80% read 20% write; testing 512b, 1k, 2k,4k,8k,16k,32k,64k size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the 8 subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these 8 numbers add them together and divide by 8. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments and workstation environments.

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These results pretty much speak for themselves. The SSHD 2TB is easily the best 7200RPM storage device we have ever seen. The onboard NAND may not be able to enhance numbers to VelociRaptor levels but it is the able to boost them well beyond what a standard HDD should be able to accomplish.

This drive’s firmware has also been tweaked for home usage scenarios and this combined with a mere 8GB of NAND does leave some breathing room for the VelociRaptor to maneuver.
 
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AkG

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Vista Start Up / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Vista Start Up


When it comes to hard drive performance there is one area that even the most oblivious user notices: how long it takes to load the Operating System. While all the other tests were run with a Windows 7 operating system, this particular test uses another older test bed's “day to day” OS (copied over to our new testbed) which has accumulated a lot of crud over the months from installs and removals. We chose the Anti-Virus splash screen as our finish line as it is the last program to be loaded on start up.

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Adobe CS5 Load Time


Photoshop is a notoriously slow loading program under the best of circumstances, and while the latest version is actually pretty decent, when you add in a bunch of extra brushes and the such you get a really great torture test which can bring even the best of the best to their knees. Let’s see how our review unit faired in the Adobe crucible!

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There is no ifs, no ands, and no buts about it; this drive is a beast. Equally impressive as the SSHD's SSD-like results which show how smart this drive is. Within only a couple reboots it learned our patterns and further repeats only slightly improved the overall results. That to us is just as impressive as the drive coming within 6 seconds of a value orientated SSD.
 
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AkG

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Firefox Portable / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance


Firefox is notorious for being slow on loading tabs in offline mode once the number of pages to be opened grows larger than a dozen or so. We can think of fewer worse case scenarios than having 100 tabs set to reload in offline mode upon Firefox startup, but this is exactly what we have done here.

By having 100 pages open in Firefox portable, setting Firefox to reload the last session upon next session start and then setting it to offline mode, we are able to easily recreate a worse case scenario. Since we are using Firefox portable all files are easily positioned in one location, making it simple to repeat the test as necessary. In order to ensure repetition, before touching the Firefox portable files, we have backed them up into a .rar file and only extracted a copy of it to the test device.


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The SSHD 2TB really does learn and learn fast what needs to be on the NAND and the results do speak for themselves. No hard drive – not even 10,000RPM VelociRaptors – can keep up.


Real World Data Transfers


No matter how good a synthetic benchmark like IOMeter or PCMark is, it can not really tell you how your hard drive will perform in “real world” situations. All of us here at Hardware Canucks strive to give you the best, most complete picture of a review item’s true capabilities and to this end we will be running timed data transfers to give you a general idea of how its performance relates to real life use. To help replicate worse case scenarios we will transfer a 10.00GB contiguous file and a folder containing 400 subfolders with a total 12,000 files varying in length from 200mb to 100kb (10.00 GB total).

Testing will include transfer to and transferring from the devices, using MS RichCopy and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found.


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The lack of NAND and channels for the NAND controller is what keeps this drive from being able to keep up with SSDs, but once again classic hard drive designs look downright slow in comparison.
 
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AkG

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Partial and Full Drive Performance

Partial and Full Drive Performance


While it is important to know how a drive will perform under optimal conditions, more realistic scenarios are just as important. Knowing how drive will behave when partially or even nearly full than when it is empty is very important information to know. To quickly and accurately show this crucial information we have first filled the drive to 50% capacity and re-tested using both synthetic and real world tests. After the completion of this we then re-test at 75% and 90% of full capacity.


Synthetic Test Results

For our synthetic testing we have opted for our standard PCMark 7 test.

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Real World Results

For a real world application we have opted for our standard Adobe CS5 test.

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This really is the beauty of Hybrid Drives; as the NAND is only being used for data that needs to be made fast, it really doesn't slow down the overall equation as the drive fills up with information.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


The Desktop SSHD represents years of refinements to firmware, market research and design updates for products like the Momentus XT and Laptop SSHD lineups. In many ways, those previous drives served as accurate litmus tests for Seagate’s hybrid technology and the lessons learned have trickled down into the Desktop SSHD 2TB. The result is simply astonishing, allowing for the creation of a drive which will surely take the mainstream marketplace by storm.

These hybrid drives live and die by their ability to learn which programs you use the most, cache the necessary information in their limited amount of NAND and then utilize that information for enhanced load times. This means built-in software and its caching algorithms play a large part in the SSHD equation since Seagate has leveraged new cache-level enhancements that ensure optimal performance much sooner than in previous generations. Instead of taking eight or more instances before the controller understands that a task needs priority caching, it now takes less than four repetitions to react. In most situations it allows the drive to adapt itself to your usage patterns much quicker.

On the hardware side of things, Seagate has finally paired the NAND to 1TB spindles which spin at 7200RPM. This extreme aerial density and high rotational speed gives the Desktop SSHD 2TB a lot more power and flexibility than previous hybrid drives. It also ensures that rarely-used programs still get reasonably fast treatment.

When the cache and quick spindles are combined into the SSHD 2TB, we get one extremely fast hard drive in real world scenarios. This in itself is extremely important since the perceptual performance brought about by quicker application and OS boot sequences will make your system feel much, much faster than one using a traditional HDD. Granted, we aren’t talking about SSD levels of responsiveness here but the Desktop SSHD 2TB provides an excellent middle ground which combines high level capacity with the ability to drastically affect load times.

At just $125 and boasting some incredible performance numbers, the Desktop SSHD 2TB is the current thousand-pound gorilla of the hard drive market. It has made the already tenuously positioned VelociRaptor obsolete since there is simply no reason to choose that hotter, louder, smaller capacity - yet higher priced - drive over this quieter, faster, larger capacity <i>and</i? cheaper SSHD. Seagate has a true game changer on their hands and with so many years of experience backstopping it, even Western Digital will have a very difficult time catching up. If Western Digital wants to continue to stay relevant in the performance arena they need to bootstrap their own SSHD program and do so <i>quickly</i>.

With all that being said, the Desktop SSHD is a somewhat imperfect bulwark. By once again opting for a mere 8GB of NAND Seagate has left the door open for the competition. The amount of ultra-fast performance on tap is certainly enough, but if they had opted for 32GB, entry level / value orientated Solid State Drives would have become very difficult to justify even if that meant a slight price increase. As it stands true SSDs are getting less expensive with every generation and as the capacity increases while the price decreases the Desktop SSHD’s may quickly be overwhelmed. Seagate has bought themselves some time against the almost inevitable SSD takeover of the mainstream marketplace, but they do need to take full advantage of this breathing room the Desktop SSHD has bought them.

Simply put the Desktop SSHD has breathed new life in to the hard drive market and it will act as a bulwark against the ever-encroaching SSD onslaught. With excellent capacity, great performance and a great price many mainstream consumers will be better served by a SSHD rather than a 128GB SSD backstopping a standard hard drive. The difference in performance does not make up for the increase in price for most mainstream and even some enthusiast users.

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