Do hybrid hard drives work? Do they make sense. Yes, absolutely—but only in certain cases. To understand why, consider these seven important pros and cons:
1—Fast Boot Up
Windows’s ReadyDrive driver will help your hybrid drive store all the files your computer needs at boot up on the flash part of your hybrid drive, almost halving the time it takes your computer to boot.
This is definitely a pro, but how much of a pro it is depends on how you use your computer. For example, it doesn’t matter to me: I press the power button on my computer and walk away—I don’t care whether my computer boots in 15 seconds or several minutes because I’m off doing something else. I guess it is helpful if you want to speed up your computer and make it boot faster.
On the other hand, most hybrid drives are targeted at laptop users who probably don’t leave their laptop on all day. If you sit down in class or at an office meeting and need your laptop to start up right away, a hybrid drive might be for you.
2—Less Power Use, Maybe
Another feature good for laptops is that hybrid drives may use less power than traditional drives. Traditional drives use power to spin up the disks (platters) inside the hard drive and then they use a little bit of power continuously to keep it spinning.
Hybrid hard drives still need to use power to spin up the traditional drive part, but after they’ve copied the data, they can let it spin down again, so you don’t waste any power doing nothing.
The catch is that spinning up the traditional drive part takes a lot of power, so your computer has to be idle for some time in order to come out ahead in the power savings. This is possible with a hybrid drive with enough flash memory to hold all the files and programs on which you’re currently working.
3—Sometimes Faster, Sometimes Slower
Opening commonly used programs and files will probably be quicker an a hybrid drive than a traditional drive, but opening uncommon files and programs will take longer than a traditional drive. How is that possible?
The flash memory part of the drive works very fast, so it can load files and programs quickly. But if the file is on the traditional part of the drive, the traditional part needs to be spun up (remember, the computer puts it to sleep to save power). Spinning up the drive takes several seconds, so sometimes you’ll be in a weird situation where opening or saving a file seems to take forever.
4—More Expensive Or Cheaper, Take Your Pick
Here’s another one which can be a pro or a con depending on your outlook.
- Hybrid drives cost more than traditional drives because of their relatively expensive flash memory component.
- Hybrid drives cost less than full Solid State Drives (SSDs) because most of their storage space is on relatively cheaper magnetic platters.
Another way of looking at it is that you get less space on hybrid drive for the same amount of money as a traditional drive and more space for the same amount of money than a SSD.
5—Technically Quieter, Seemingly Noisier
When the traditional drive part of your hybrid drive spins down, the hybrid drive makes almost no noise (just a tiny electrical humming). But when the traditional part spins up, the drive makes a whole bunch of noise.
Compare this to traditional drives which normally just keep spinning, so they make the same amount of noise all of the time.
Even though the hybrid drive puts out less noise total, it seems to be loader because its volume level goes up and down erratically.
6—An Early Death
Hybrid hard drives are still fairly new, but the theory says that they’ll die quicker than either traditional drives or SSDs. There are two reasons for this:
- Repeatedly spinning up and spinning down the disk platters wears out the traditional part of your hybrid hard drive faster than normal use of a traditional hard drive where the platters keep spinning.
- The SSD part of your hybrid drive is constantly being used, unlike regular SSDs where you use a different part everyday. Since SSDs have a limited write life, the SSD part of your hybrid hard drive will wear out quicker than a full-sized SSD.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any hard data about how much these factors limit the life of your hybrid hard drive.
7—DIY Hybrid Drives
One of the nice things about hybrid drives is that you don’t need to buy one to get their advantages—you can make your own. All you need is a traditional hard drive and a few gigabytes of SSD such as an SD card.
There are two ways to do this: one way is the proper way using Windows ReadyBoost. I’ve never used that, so I can’t speak to how well it works or how hard it is to setup. The other way, though, is pretty darn easy:
Install Windows on to the SSD. Also put all of your important and frequently accessed files and programs on the SSD. Put the rest of your occasional files and programs on the traditional hard drive.
Now when you boot the computer or open or save a commonly used file or program, your computer will use the fast SSD, but you’ll still have your large and cheap traditional drive for your movie collection, photo albums, and other large files.
To make the above technique save power on a laptop, you will need to tell Windows to spin down your traditional drive when it’s not being used, but there are any number of utilities which will help you do that so that you now have all the features of hybrid hard drives.