Saturday, March 16, 2013

Seagate's Hybrid Disk Drives Are An Excellent Upgrade

Recently I started looking around at ways to upgrade my mid-2009 MacBook Pro 17-inch to extend it's life another 12-18 months before I have to "upgrade" to a smaller 15-inch model.  Last year I upgraded my MacBook to 8GB of RAM and this year it was time to do something about the pokey 5400-RPM stock disk drive.

I started looking a purely solid state flash memory disk drive option and they turned out to be too expensive for anything over 400GB.  750GB and larger traditional disk drives are cheaper, but was a speed bump from 5400 to 7200-RPM really going to help get rid of the annoying spinning beach balls that we all hate to see on our Macs?

I ended up settling on the Seagate Momentus XT 750GB 2.5-inch disk drive.  This drive met my requirements for installation into my MacBook Pro.  They are:
  • 2.5-inch form factor would fit into the stock drive bay
  • At less than $150 the price was right
  • 250GB of additional storage space
  • 1,800-RPM improvement in platter rotation speed
  • 8GB of flash storage on the drive's controller board
It's that last point that gives a hybrid drive like the Momentus XT it's edge.  The disk drive is presented to the Mac, or a Windows PC, just like a standard SATA disk drive.  But internally to the disk drive, the controller board is monitoring which data you access most frequently, and moves that data off the traditional disk platter and into the 8GB flash storage.  As your computing habits change, the Momentus drive continually reevaluates what data should be moved to the flash space to boost performance.

Editor's Note: Seagate has recently upgraded their line of hybrid notebook hard drives.  You can learn more about them on the Seagate website.


Upgrading your MacBook or Windows PC will vary by manufacturer and model, but the physical upgrade to my MacBook Pro took about 20 minutes.  Apple publishes memory and hard disk upgrade guides on their support website.

To "clone" or copy the contents of my stock Apple hard drive to my new Seagate Momentus XT drive, I used Carbon Copy Cloner, which sells for $39.95.  The round trip copy job took about 3 hours.  (Two hours to an external disk drive, and one hour from the external to the new drive.)

Overall, I've noticed an significant boost in performance on my MacBook Pro.  I immediately noticed that spinning beach balls show up far less than they used to.  There has also be a significant improvement in application launch times.  Launching iTunes, iPhoto, or any of the Microsoft Office 2011 apps was a painful go-get-another-can-of-Diet-Coke-while-the-app-launches experience.  Not so after installing the Momentus XT.

If you are looking to extend the life of your MacBook or MacBook Pro that uses a traditional spinning disk drive I strongly recommend that you consider upgrading to a hybrid disk drive. (Doubling your RAM is also recommended if your hardware will accept it.)

The bottom line for me is that Seagate has long been a trusted brand for me, and the Momentus XT 750GB drive is no exception.  For the cost of the drive there has been a significant boost in performance that will allow me to put off having to purchase a new MacBook Pro for at least another year.
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