Seagate Momentus XT (750GB) Review

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Pros: Fast boot times; Speedy app opens; Lower cost per GB than SSDs

Cons: Not as fast as an SSD; Slow file copies

Verdict: The Seagate Momentus XT hybrid hard drive provides SSD-like speeds along with lots of storage for a reasonable price.

With speeds increasing and prices dropping, more and more users are upgrading their notebooks to solid state drives. But if you need much more than 128GB of storage, the cost of a larger SSD can be quite prohibitive--in some cases, well over $1,000. Those who want both high storage capacity and fast speeds without a huge bill will appreciate the $245 Seagate Momentus XT. This 7,200-rpm, 750GB drive comes with 8GB of Flash memory that seamlessly caches your most frequently used files for improved app opens and boots, resulting in speeds that fall just short of a solid state drive.

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How it Works

On the surface, the Seagate Momentus XT looks like a typical 7,200-rpm hard drive, but in addition to its 750GB of magnetic media, the device has 8GB of solid state storage that's made out of high-quality SLC flash memory. This 8GB segment isn't visible to the user or the operating system, but the XT's unique firmware uses it to cache frequently accessed file. Because start times are so important, the XT uses an undisclosed portion of that 8GB just to cache Windows boot files.

The first time you open a program or file, you'll experience only 7,200-rpm hard drive speeds. Using a process Seagate calls Adaptive Memory, the Momentus XT's firmware learns from your habits, seamlessly storing the files you access most to flash memory. The second time you access a piece of data, you will see dramatic improvement.

The Momentus XT 750GB is actually the second generation of drive to bear the XT name. In 2010, Seagate debuted both 250GB and 500GB capacities of its original Momentus XT, which had just 4GB of flash memory, a slower SATA 3 Gb/s interface, and less intelligent firmware. The 500GB unit is still available for $159, but doesn't offer the same level of performance as its descendant.

Learning Curve

Seagate says that load times continue to improve over several iterations. Running PC Mark Vantage's hard drive test on our HP dv7t testbed notebook, the Momentus XT scored 5,798 on its first run, 7,830 on its second run, 8,470 on its third run, and 8,557 on its fourth run, showing dramatic improvement on the second run and modest improvement thereafter.

However, on our app-open tests, the times improved dramatically on the second iteration but plateaued afterwards. That's just fine with us, because we're happy to get the fastest possible speed on our second try. For example, opening Excel 2010 to a very large spreadsheet took 59.4 seconds on first access, but only 5.4 seconds on second access. Subsequent accesses were either the same time or up to 1.2 seconds slower.

App Opens

To see just how quickly the second-gen Momentus XT can open applications, we timed it opening four programs. We performed the app opens six times on the Momentus XT, rebooting between each iteration, and took the average of the last five opens. The applications were:

  • Adobe Reader X opening to a 500-page document
  • Excel 2010 opening to a 6.5MB spreadsheet filled with 65,000 names and addresses
  • Firefox 7 opening to a blank page
  • Word 2010 opening to a blank document

As the Momentus XT moved from the first iteration to the second iteration and beyond, times improved dramatically, beating the pants off of a standard 7,200-rpm hard drive, but falling just short of the Samsung 830 Series, our favorite SSD. The Momentus XT opened Adobe Reader in 14.2 seconds on its first try, but that dropped to an average of just 4.6 seconds on subsequent tries. That time compares favorably to the 7,200-rpm hard drive's 7.1-second time, but falls shy of the Samsung 830 Series' 3.8-second mark.

The Momentus XT took a whopping 59.4 seconds to open our giant Excel file, but that time dropped to a speedy 5.8-second average on iterations 2 through 6, which was a lot faster than the 7,200-rpm hard drive's 14-second mark, but a bit behind the 830 Series' 4.2-second time.

Across all four applications, the Momentus XT had an average open time of 19.8 seconds on the first iteration, but just 3.3 seconds on subsequent tries. That number compares favorably to the 7,200-rpm hard drives 6.8 second average, but doesn't match up to the Samsung 830 Series' 2.5-second time.

APPLICATION LOAD TIMES (Seconds)

Momentus XT (1st Iteration)  Momentus XT (2-6 Iteration average) Samsung 830 Series  7200 RPM Hard Drive
Adobe Reader 14.2 4.6 3.8 7.1
Excel 59.4 5.8 4.2 14
Firefox 3 1.2 1.1 3.2
Word 2.4 1.7 0.8 2.8

Multitasking

To see how the Momentus XT handles multitasking, we performed the same app-open tests while zipping files in the background. We found that the drive did not usually improve from one iteration to the next and that times actually varied wildly from one open to another on the two larger applications, Adobe Reader and Excel. Though the time dropped from 30.2 seconds to 16.5 seconds on runs one and two of the Excel test, it shot up again to 21.2 and then 25 seconds in runs three and four. Adobe Reader went from 4.7 seconds on the first run to 7.8 seconds on the second run and 11.2 seconds on the third.

APPLICATION OPEN TIMES UNDER STRESS (Seconds)
  Run 1 2 3 4 5
Adobe Reader 4.7 7.8 11.2 7.4 10
Excel 30.2 16.5 21.2 25 20.3
Firefox 1.3 1.6 1.7 1.6 1.7
Word 1.8 1.7 1.7 1.3 1.3


Considering that we had run six iterations of the single open test before we did the multitasking stress test, it's likely that all four applications were already completely cached, which is why the first iteration was not necessarily worse than the second or the sixth.

APPLICATION LOAD TIMES (Seconds)

Momentus XT (5th Iteration Average) Samsung 830 Series  7200 RPM Hard Drive
Adobe Reader 8.2 4.7 92.8
Excel 13.0 6.7 22.6
Firefox 1.6 1.7 4.3
Word 1.6 0.8 2.8

The Momentus XT proved a lot faster under stress than the 7,200-rpm hard drive, averaging 8.5 seconds across 5 iterations of all four applications. but it just couldn't match the SSD's average time of 3.5 seconds. Considering that we were zipping 4.97GB of files in the background and the Flash memory itself is only 8GB, there just might not be enough space to really optimize our zip operation. 

File Copies

In our testing, the Seagate Momentus XT's adaptive memory did not help speed large file copies. In three iterations of both a single large 3.1GB file copy and a 4.97GB multiple file copy, we did not see any improvement from one attempt to the next.

Over three runs, the Momentus XT managed a single file copy time of 66.7 seconds, a tiny bit faster than the 71.7 seconds turned in by the standard 7,200-rpm hard drive, but way slower than the Samsung 830 Series SSD's 13-second mark. The XT took a modest 114 seconds to complete the multi-file test, 20 seconds quicker than the 7,200 rpm hard drive, but more than 4 times slower than the Samsung 830 Series' 25.3-second time.

Boot Times

Seagate reserved a special section of the Momentus XT's flash memory just for holding Windows boot files. Using this Fast Boot technology, the company promises start times that are three times faster than a normal hard drive. We put that claim to the test by using a stopwatch to time three boots from each of our drives. To make sure it had time to learn our notebook's boot process, we only timed the Momentus XT after we had booted it more than a dozen times.

The Seagate Momentus XT managed to boot our testbed HP dv7t notebook to Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) in an average time of 36.3 seconds, much faster than the 7,200-rpm drive's time of 81.7 seconds, but a bit slower than the Samsung 830 Series' time of 27.3 seconds.

Value

At a $245 MSRP, the Seagate Momentus XT costs only $0.33 per GB, much less than even the least-expensive SSD. The Samsung 830 series, the fastest SSD we've tested, currently costs $209 for 128GB ($1.63 per GB), $389 for 256GB ($1.51 per GB), and a whopping $849 for 512GB ($1.65 per GB).

A standard 7,200-rpm hard drive with 750GB capacity costs $149 or just $0.19 per GB. Considering the added speed, the Momentus XT is definitely worth the additional cost per GB.

Verdict

If you want the fastest performance possible, then a full-fledged SSD such as the Samsung 830 Series ($209 for 128GB) is still the way to go. However, if you need more than 128GB of storage and can't afford to mortgage the farm for a 256GB or larger SSD, the Seagate Momentus XT is your best upgrade option. Seagate also says that some OEMs will also be offering the drive as an option on their notebooks, which makes the Momentus XT a great configuration option when you buy from vendors such as Dell and Lenovo, which custom build your system.

The second-generation Momentus XT provides application/file opens and boots that are significantly faster than those of a 7,200-rpm hard drive and only a little bit slower than an SSD. Considering that app opens and boots are the most important drive operations, the Momentus XT is well worth its asking price.

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Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master's degree in English from NYU.
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Capacity 750 GB
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