Q: I have a couple of VelociRaptor hard drives and have had nothing but problems with them. I am wondering would the Seagate Hybrid drives be a better alternative? - D

A: For those looking to improve the performance of their sluggish computer, upgrading to a faster hard drive can make a world of difference.

The hard drive is the biggest bottleneck in your computer, especially if you use large programs, work with video, like to play elaborate games or anything that requires the hard drive to work hard.

The VelociRaptor drives spin at 10,000 RPM, while most standard drives that spin at 7,200 RPM. Older drives spun at 5,400 RPM. The faster the platter spins, the quicker the read/write heads can access the magnetic information.

The downside to faster spinning hard drives is that they tend to run hotter and when they mechanically fail, it can be catastrophic.

The fastest performing hard drives on the market are SSDs (Solid State Drives) that have no moving parts and are essentially like a flash drive on steroids. The problem with this technology is that it is extremely expensive on a per MB basis.

It can be 8-to-10 times the price per megabyte, so it’s not very cost effective, especially if you want a large hard drive.

About 5 years ago, a new option that combined the low cost per megabyte of the traditional spinning hard drive with the high-performance of the SSD was introduced, primarily for notebook computers.

These ‘hybrid’ drives have a small SSD drive that can store your most commonly used data for fast access and dramatically speeds up the boot time because it doesn’t have to access data from the slow performing spinning drive.

The general claim by the manufacturers is that boot times can be 40 percent faster than a standard 7,200 RPM non-hybrid drive.

When compared to the performance of a pure (and expensive) SSD drive in real world situations, the performance is amazingly close because of the sophistication built into the drives data storage algorithm.

The drive monitors the programs and data that you most frequently use and stores them on the faster SSD portion to improve the performance. It continues to monitor your behavior, so when your primary usage changes so does what gets stored on the faster portion of the drive.

The older your existing hard drive is, the more of a difference you will experience (especially if it’s a 5,400 RPM drive).

A video that shows a comparison of a standard 7,200 RPM magnetic drive, a 10,000 RPM magnetic drive, the hybrid drive and an SSD all running the same series of programs is posted at: http://goo.gl/sFvLw

The best part of this technology is that it’s only marginally more expensive than a standard hard drive and less expensive than high-performance 10,000 RPM drives.

Even though they were designed to be installed in laptop computers, you can install them in desktop computers with an inexpensive adapter as well (I converted my office desktop computer last year in this manner).

In my opinion, a hybrid drive is one of the best-bang-for-the-buck upgrades anyone can make to a computer. They are currently available in 500 and 750 gigabyte storage configurations, which should suffice for most average users.

Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. E-mail him at evtrib@datadoctors.com.

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