Solid-state hard drives are great, but if you want a lot of storage space they're extremely expensive. Traditional spinning-platter hard drives have plenty of storage space, but they're relatively slow. If you need a capacious disk for storing media or for long-term archiving, that can also zip along with everday duties, Seagate's Desktop SSHD hits the right note.
What Is It?
The $249 Seagate Desktop SSHD is a standard-size, standard-format 3.5-inch internal desktop PC hard drive, using the standard SATA3 data connector and power cable. It's silver and black and contoured around its central platter region; no surprises here. It's no more or less rugged than a regular drive.
What is interesting is Seagate's combination of (up to) 4TB of storage on four spinning-disk platters and 8GB of high-speed NAND flash storage. The flash memory works as a temporary cache for oft-accessed files, apparently boosting read and write speeds by up to 400 per cent versus a regular 7200RPM drive without the complementary flash storage.
Caching with high-speed memory has been used on laptop hard drives for a while, but it's far less common on desktop PCs. Seagate's approach is a clear compromise; it's an all-in-one that is biased far more towards all-out storage than outright speed.
What Is It Good At?
When you're regularly accessing files from the Seagate Desktop SSHD, transfer speeds are significantly faster than you'd expect from a regular desktop hard drive. An algorithm determines the most appropriate files stored on the SSHD to be cached in the 8GB of flash memory; if you're keeping your Windows operating system on the SSHD, after a couple of restarts and storage accesses you should notice boot times lower significantly as data is shifted to the NAND flash for high-speed access.
To test the ability of the Desktop SSHD's flash storage to speed up its large-capacity platters, I transferred a single large 5GB file to an external USB 3.0 flash drive half a dozen times over. By the end of the sixth transfer, the read speeds from the disk had risen from 140MB/s to 198MB/s. While this isn't a 400 per cent increase, it's a significant jump in transfer rates for no significant price rise from an existing non-SSHD 7200RPM drive.
You don't pay a premium for the larger 4TB SSHD, effectively making that 8GB of internal flash storage a free upgrade. This isn't true for the lesser drives, but if you're going for maximum storage, it's a bit of a no-brainer to pick Seagate's SSHD all other things being equal.
What Is It Not Good At?
For the simple task of transferring files, the SSHD architecture doesn't make any difference for its extra cost and complexity. I recorded real-world data transfer rates of 140MB/s read and 134MB/s write, which while they're perfectly reasonable aren't up to the speed of combining the NAND flash caching effect. While there's no noticeable difference in price between the SSHD and a non-SSHD drive from another drive manufacturer.
When picking any hard drive for your computer, you have to take into account warranty periods and the average mean time before failure rate for any drive and any brand. Seagate isn't the best performer in this category, and while I've never personally had any problem with a Seagate drive dying on me within or outside its warranty period, it's worth doing some research and making an informed decision.
While the 4TB Desktop SSHD has a roughly comparable price tag to non-SSHD models from other brands, the 1TB and 2TB drives command a slight premium — around $20 for the $110 1TB and $30 for the $150 2TB. If you're only going to be using this drive for random and irregular data transfers, they're not worth the extra outlay.
Should You Buy It?
If you had to have one hard drive in your desktop PC, and if you were an average PC user, I would be hard pressed not to recommend it be the Seagate Desktop SSHD. The 4TB model especially, which you can find for around the $240 mark, has a huge amount of storage space in a single drive day, and if you use it for everyday tasks like storing Windows or your regularly-accessed program files, it's faster than any comparable non-SSD drive of a similar price and capacity.