Hybrid Drives Explained - Should You Buy One?

Hybrid drives promise some of the performance benefits of a solid-state drive with the capacity of a hard disk drive – but should you buy one?

Sometimes referred to as solid-state hybrid drives (SSHDs), hybrid drives combine the best features of a hard disk drive (HDD) and solid-state drive (SSD). Flash-based SSDs are massively faster than mechanical HDDs, and are coming down in price, so the cost difference is far less significant than it was just a few years ago. However, while SSD capacity has increased significantly as the technology has evolved, HDDs still outclass them in this area.

What hybrid drives offer is a faster, higher capacity drive, with some of the associated speed benefits of an SSD, and the price tag of an HDD. This is achieved by adding a small amount of flash memory to an electromagnetic HDD. Data which needs to be accessed by the OS quickly – known as hot data – is stored on the flash component, while the majority of the data is stored on the magnetic platters. While hybrid drives are more expensive than regular HDDs, they won’t set you back as much as an SSD, due to only a small amount of flash memory being used.

There’s nothing to stop you installing an HDD and a secondary SSD, but this can be cumbersome, and requires you to manually move files to the drive that they should be stored on. With a hybrid drive, everything is done by the firmware for you, and it will appear as a single drive to your operating system. The drive decides which files are stored on the flash portion – typically things like programs, system files and application data. A hybrid drive will be significantly faster than an HDD, although it will start on the slow side; as you use the drive, it will learn which files should be stored on the flash storage for optimum performance. While hybrid drives offer the advantages of mechanical hard disk drives – namely the cost and storage capabilities – they unfortunately also come with the disadvantages. Perhaps the biggest one is that the susceptibility to physical damage is still there, meaning a hybrid drive can still suffer from a head crash or motor failure. There is also the associated noise and increased energy usage that comes with an HDD.

For many uses, an SSD with 256GB of data will be ample, especially with the advent of cloud storage; do you really need all of your files stored locally? As the cost of flash storage comes down, and SSDs with higher capacities are introduced, expect to see far fewer hybrid drives.

Hybrid Drive