Users frustrated with Seagate next-gen hybrid drive

Seagate has resolved some of the problems with its Momentus XT hybrid drive and is working on others

Users are complaining that Seagate's Momentus XT hybrid drive, which combines solid-state drive (SSD) technology with a traditional hard drive, has a significant defect that causes it to pause frequently, freeze up and beep a lot.

One user said his drive recorded more than 65,000 spin downs/ups in its first month of use.

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Much of the problem involves a Momentus XT feature called Advanced Power Management (ADM), which automatically spins down the hard disk to manage power use and increase mechanical lifespan. The feature also allows the SSD to take over read requests and serve up the most frequently used data. Users on Seagate's online forum say the problem is the spin-down feature is too aggressive.

The Momentus XT's relatively low price and promise of high performance has lead to a boom in sales. During a recent earning's call, the company announced it shipped about 350,000 units since it was released last spring.

Darren Dittrich, CEO of Sell.com Marketplace, said he was impressed with the concept of the Seagate drive - a product that cut the high cost of SSD by adding a hard drive for higher capacity. But after purchasing four 500GB Momentus XT drives to use in his personal computers, including a MacBook Pro, Dittrich said the product's shine quickly dulled.

Dittrich said he noticed an inordinate amount of spindowns with the drive. After a couple of weeks, he purchased a SMART (self-monitoring, analysis, and reporting technology) utility to investigate the drive's performance and found the drive clocked in 3,200 spin down/up cycles.

"That can't be good for anything," he said.

Dittrich said he replaced his MacBook's Momentus XT with another he'd purchased and had in production in another computer a month earlier. The SMART software showed it had spun down and up 65,535 times.

The Momentus XT is a 7200-rpm Serial ATA hard disk drive combined with 4GB of SSD capacity and 32MB of DDR3 cache memory. Among its advanced software features is the ability for the drive to track use trends and take advantage of its high-performance flash memory to serve up the most frequently accessed data, while storing the bulk of data on its hard drive component.

Seagate said it released a firmware upgrade for the Momentus XT, version SD24, to address its aggressive ADM tool. Dittrich said he installed the firmware upgrade, and it addressed the frequency of spin downs, but the drive is still slower than the native hard drive that came with the MacBook and he's still suffering from "odd lagging, and mysterious slowdowns."

"They are temporary and bearable, but very annoying for me, even more difficult for some folks on the forums (video editors, musicians, etc)," he sad. "I only have experience on the Mac side of the house, but there are plenty of PC users out there as well, who are experiencing spin-down/up, drive stalls, and the like."

A Seagate spokesman said the company has been addressing "anomalies reported by customers" through its online forum, as well as through its customer service representatives.

"Most of these anomalies have already been resolved by the current SD24 firmware upgrade located on the Seagate support forum or through our technical support team," the spokesman said. "The few remaining concerns include beeping sounds, no spin down in power saving modes and intermittent hangs, most notably on MacBook Pro systems. Seagate remains focused on resolving these issues as well."

In Computerworld's benchmark tests, the drive surpassed the industry's highest performing hard disk drives, and even beat out some pure SSDs for write performance.

Seagate's first attempt at producing a hybrid drive failed to gain significant sales. The Momentus 5400 PSD, or Power Savings Drive, had a spindle speed of 5,400 rpm and 256MB of NAND flash capacity. Seagate had targeted power savings rather than performance with the drive and found most consumers and system manufacturers were more concerned with seeing boot-up times and application load times increase, not electricity bills shrink and laptop battery times increase.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Read more about storage in Computerworld's Storage Topic Center.

This story, "Users frustrated with Seagate next-gen hybrid drive" was originally published by Computerworld.

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