The eternal balancing act between price and performance can be a tough nut to crack when it comes to computer components. Storage, in particular, presents us with two diametrically opposing choices: the speed of an SSD for a higher price or the capacity of a hard drive with the caveat that it comes with slower performance.
Although most desktop cases can easily fit one of each which is indeed a popular compromise, what if you have a laptop with only one drive slot or you just really care about having your OS and a few important applications launch quickly? In that case, a solid-state hybrid drive or an SSHD might be the right choice for you.
Outwardly, hybrid drives might seem very similar to regular hard drives. They use the same 2.5 or 3.5-inch form factor and plug into a single SATA port. However, they contain both spinning disc platters like you’d find in a traditional hard drive and the same NAND flash and controller that you would find in an SSD.
A special controller manages both the NAND flash and the magnetic platters so the hybrid drive appears as just one drive to your operating system rather than as a separate hard drive and SSD. The firmware is also in charge of determining what data will be stored in the flash cells for quicker access and what will instead be placed onto the slower spinning platters.
Over time, the drive will actually learn what files are accessed most frequently and will automatically place those files in flash memory for you. No input from the user is required.
Of course, the all-in-one convenience of an SSHD does come with some limitations. The flash memory capacity is usually quite small, typically no more than 32 gigabytes. So, if you need quick access to lots of programs and data, a full SSD paired with a conventional hard drive may be a better setup for you.
Hybrid drives also won’t give you the performance boost from the flash storage right off the bat since they have to take time to learn what data should be put in the NAND cells for quick access. They start out being not much if at all faster than a regular mechanical drive. Unfortunately, you cannot manually tell a typical SSHD to place specific things onto the flash portion.
Still though, you get the advantages of paying much less than you would for a standalone solid-state drive as well as ease of use for novice builders or tinkerers who want a performance boost without having to deal with multiple drives or deciding what needs to go where on their own. So, don’t overlook hybrid drives if you need a lot of relatively cheap storage with a little extra pep for your next upgrade.
In conclusion, while SSHDs won’t give you the same performance boost as an SSD, they do offer the advantages of paying less and ease of use for those who want a performance boost without having to deal with multiple drives. Remember, they’re not just for Prius drivers!