Hybrid SSD drives, also known as solid-state hybrid drives (SSHDs) or solid-state hybrid disks, combine a traditional hard disk drive (HDD) with a solid-state drive (SSD). The goal is to provide some of the performance benefits of an SSD along with the large storage capacity of an HDD at a lower cost than a full SSD. But are hybrid drives a good solution or just a compromise?
What are hybrid SSD drives?
A hybrid SSD drive contains both a traditional hard disk made up of spinning magnetic platters as well as a small solid-state drive, typically 8-32GB in size. The SSD is used as a cache to store frequently accessed data, while less accessed data remains stored on the larger HDD. This allows commonly used files and boot data to benefit from the much faster access speeds of SSDs.
The SSD and HDD portions of a hybrid drive appear as a single logical storage device to the operating system. Special algorithms manage what data gets stored on the SSD cache automatically without user intervention. This helps optimize performance.
Why use a hybrid SSD drive?
Hybrid SSD drives aim to give users some of the benefits of SSDs while avoiding the higher cost per gigabyte of full solid-state storage. The advantages of hybrid drives compared to traditional HDDs include:
- Faster boot times – Storing boot files on the SSD cache delivers boot speeds close to a full SSD.
- Faster access to frequently used data – Files you access regularly load quickly thanks to the SSD cache.
- HDD level capacities – Hybrids have the same multi-terabyte capacities as traditional hard drives.
- Improved reliability – Less wear and tear on HDD since oft-written files are handled by SSD.
- Lower cost than full SSD – Adding a small SSD to an HDD is cheaper than an all SSD configuration.
For users wanting some SSD performance gains without the cost of transitioning fully to solid-state storage, hybrid drives offer an appealing middle-ground.
What are the downsides of hybrid SSD drives?
While hybrid SSD drives do deliver some benefits over traditional hard drives, they come with some tradeoffs and downsides:
- Slower than full SSD configurations – The bulk of storage is still on the HDD, limiting performance gains.
- Caching not always optimal – The algorithms don’t always accurately predict what data should be on SSD.
- No control over SSD cache – Users can’t choose what files are accelerated by being stored on SSD.
- HDD failures still possible – The HDD portion still has moving parts that can fail.
- Price premium over HDD – Hybrids cost more than traditional hard drives.
For some uses the advantages may not justify the added cost over a standard hard drive. Power users wanting maximum speed will still require full SSD configurations.
When do hybrid SSD drives make sense?
Hybrid solid-state drives offer the best value for:
- Mainstream desktops and laptops – The improved boot speeds and everyday responsiveness are advantageous for typical home and office PCs.
- Budget focused builds – Get some SSD benefits without breaking the bank in systems where cost matters.
- Disk caching – The SSHD works well as a cache drive for storing frequently accessed data.
- Secondary storage – Good option for additional storage in budget constrained builds.
The balance of price, capacity and performance hybrid drives deliver makes them a smart choice for typical computing uses. They are less ideal for high performance gaming rigs, media editing workstations, or servers requiring maximum speed.
Performance of hybrid SSD drives
Just how much of a performance boost hybrid SSD drives deliver depends on a variety of factors. But in general, benchmark tests find:
- Boot times 2-4x faster than HDDs
- Faster level load times in games
- Slightly improved frame rates in games
- Faster launching of frequently used applications
- Average sequential read/write speeds slightly below HDD
- 4K random read speeds 2-3x faster than HDD
- Still well below performance of even SATA based full SSD configurations
So while the speed increase over traditional hard drives is definitely noticeable in everyday use, hybrid SSD drives are still well short of full SSD performance.
Reliability of hybrid vs HDDs
Hybrid SSD drives should in theory improve reliability by reducing wear on the HDD portion. However, real-world hybrid drive failure rates are hard to come by.
Backblaze provides hard drive failure statistics from the tens of thousands of drives used in their data centers. For 2018, they found failure rates of:
- 2.3% for consumer HDDs
- 1.06% for enterprise HDDs
Anecdotal evidence from various IT forums indicates the general consensus is hybrid SSD failure rates are comparable to traditional HDDs. So while they may help improve lifespan of the HDD portion itself, total failure rates appear no better than standard hard drives.
Cost savings of hybrid vs SSD drives
What are the cost savings by going with a hybrid drive compared to a pure SSD configuration? Let’s look at some examples using November 2022 pricing on 1TB drives:
|Seagate Firecuda 530 1TB Hybrid SSD||$120|
|Seagate Barracuda Compute 1TB HDD||$45|
|Samsung 980 1TB SSD||$100|
The hybrid drive carries about a $75 price premium over an equivalent HDD. Going full SSD would add another $100 on top of that. So the hybrid delivers much of the SSD performance gain for 25% less cost.
Looking at 2TB and 4TB drive sizes shows similar pricing:
|Drive Type||2TB Price||4TB Price|
|Seagate Firecuda 530 Hybrid SSD||$230||$520|
|Seagate Barracuda Compute HDD||$55||$85|
|Samsung 980 SSD||$180||$400|
Once again the hybrid SSD comes in around 25% cheaper than the full SSD option. The cost savings are largest on higher capacity drives.
Lifespan of hybrid SSD drives
SSDs have a finite lifespan measured by the total amount of data that can be written to their memory cells. More writes means faster wear out. HDDs have no such limitation.
So do hybrid SSD drives have a shorter overall lifespan than traditional hard drives due to eventual SSD wear out? They shouldn’t, for a couple reasons:
- The SSD portion only makes up a small percentage of total capacity.
- Wear leveling spreads writes across all SSD memory cells.
- Most writes get absorbed by the HDD thanks to the caching algorithms.
Intel, a major manufacturer of hybrid SSD drives, says their testing shows the SSD portions still deliver years of service life matching the HDD they are paired with. So there should be no lifespan disadvantage to hybrids.
Hybrid SSD vs dual drive setups
Another alternative to hybrid SSD drives is configuring separate SSD and HDDs in a computer. The SSD can be used for the OS and apps while data is stored on the HDD.
Compared to hybrid SSD drives, dual drive setups offer:
- Faster overall performance – No dependence on caching algorithms.
- More control – User decides what’s on SSD vs HDD.
- More complex – Requires OS support and configuration.
- Potentially more expensive – Need to purchase separate SSD and HDD.
- Takes up more space – Requires room for two drives.
For those wanting maximum speed, the dual drive approach delivers. It outperforms hybrid SSD drives. But hybrids are simpler for the average user while still providing a good speed boost at minimal added cost in a single easy to install drive.
Hybrid SSD recommendations
Some of the top options in hybrid SSD drives include:
- Seagate FireCuda 520 – Top performing drive albeit at a premium price.
- WD Black2 – Dual SSD and HDD in a single housing, best of both worlds.
- Seagate FireCuda 510 – Affordable pick delivering impressive real-world speeds.
- Intel Optane H10 – Reliable option from Intel utilizing Optane memory.
The Seagate FireCuda 520 is the fastest hybrid SSD drive in benchmarks. But it demands a high price premium. The WD Black� dual drive configuration also delivers excellent speeds in a convenient single drive housing. For those on a budget, the FireCuda 510 provides very good bang for the buck.
Hybrid solid-state drives certainly have their place for those wanting moderate SSD performance gains on a budget. For mainstream computing uses they strike a great balance. Just don’t expect full SSD speeds. Carefully consider whether they are worth the added cost over traditional hard drives for your specific needs.