Boot Compatibility – Is Seagate’s FAST Factor Boot Technology Compatible with Ubuntu?

bootcompatibilityhard drivessd

I'm looking at buying a new laptop and considering buying one with a hybrid HDD/SSD drive. Specifically I am looking at the new second generation Seagate Momentus XT. For some reviews look here and here.

The caching is all done on the firmware level so there is no question that this basic functionality will work with Ubuntu.

However, the second generation drives are supposed to now reserve space on the SSD for OS boot files.

The Seagate documentation describes it this way:

Momentus XT drives are known for incredibly fast boot-up times,
and now they are even better with FAST Factor boot technology. This
system boot-up technique can reduce your boot time to mere seconds—for
a fast cold-boot start. It can cut your system start-up time by up to
65% over a traditional HDD. FAST Factor boot technology will deliver
the fastest boot possible, whether you boot your system once a day or
once a week. Your OS boot-up files are always there, ready to work.

What concerns me is there is no additional information about this in the product manual and the reviews seem to suggest that the firmware might be looking for Windows boot files specifically. See for example:

Dubbed FAST Factor Boot, this new approach aims to accelerate the
Windows boot process whether you're firing up the OS for the first
time or rebooting after months of uninterrupted activity. With the old
Momentus XT, Adaptive Memory needed a few boots to learn which
OS-related data to cache. Using the drive for long enough without
rebooting had the potential to push that data out of the cache,
reversing any previous boot-time benefits. With the new XT, a segment
of the NAND has been reserved solely for OS data related to the boot
process. That section of the flash is populated as Windows is
installed to the drive, which should speed things up starting from the
first boot. If Windows is being installed via a drive image, the XT
will need a couple of boots to determine what to put in the roped-off
section of its cache. As with clean installs, that data won't be
kicked out of the cache between boots.

The Seagate documentation mentions nothing about being specific to Windows OS boot files, so I'm wondering if the review is just being ignorant of there being OSes other than Window or if they are actually privy to some information that is not in the official documentation.

Anyone have any ideas about this?

Seagate's Response

(I'm adding this into the question as I don't consider it a satisfactory answer–just more background for the question)

I sent Seagate a message through the presale's email support form on their website asking about this. I talked with two support agents, one via email and one via live chat.

The first agent was professional but not particularly helpful, responding with this email:

Hello Austin,

Thanks for contacting Seagate global support.

We do not test our drives for use with Linux. Sorry we cannot answer
your question in depth.


Agent (taking names out) Seagate Global Customer Support

I responded saying that I didn't need an answer based on performance proven through testing but rather just the expected behavior. Another agent responded to my email but there was a mix-up and he actually sent me a link for a screen-sharing, which out of curiosity I boot up a Windows VM and followed. The agent realized there was a mix up but was still willing to discuss my question in the screen-sharing softwares chat function.

This second agent was more helpful, but I got the feeling that He wasn't very knowledgeable about the product. He said that Linux is not a supported OS but that it should be compatible with Linux. When I asked for information specifically about the reserved space on the SSD for OS files, I just got another description of the basic features of the Momentus XT line, "It caches frequently accessed files regardless of OS or software." He had no information about the new "FAST Factor Boot" feature–and honestly, I wasn't even sure if he knew about the new feature at all.

I asked him if he could email me a summary of our conversation to post on a website and he sent this:

Dear Austin,

Thank you for contacting Seagate.

Officially Linux is not supported, because it is an open source
Operating system.

By selectively tackling data that is frequently used and
time-consuming to fetch, the Momentus XT drive will copy this data
into the flash and maintain the relevancy. You get the instant
response experience you've been searching for.

Momentus XT hybrid drives are designed to work in any standard laptop.
These drives are OS-, driver- and software-independent, making them
remarkably simple to integrate and easy to use.

If you have any additional questions you may call us during your
regional business hours listed below. For your convenience we also
have on-line chat assistance.

Live Assistance: Chat: Americas: Europe:

Regards, (name removed) Seagate Global Customer Support

So in summary:

  1. Confirmation of what we already knew (basic functionality is OS
  2. No information at all about the new reserved space for boot files
  3. A very weird statement (Officially Linux is not supported, because it is an open source Operating system.) about open source software that I assume/hope
    is not really Seagate's reason for not supporting Linux.

I think to get a real answer we would need to talk with either a) someone who owns this drive and could test the boot performance, or b) somehow get through to a high-level support agent who is actually familiar with the product's features. I'm considering contacting System 76, who have this drive as an option for their Ubuntu laptops and asking them if they've tested the boot performance (or if their OEM status can get more useful answers out of Seagate). If people have twitter accounts (I don't) they could also start tweeting this question at Seagate (@askseagate) and see if it catches their attention.

Best Answer

Is the drive firmware going to be able to read NTFS?

Unless the drive can somehow read NTFS at a firmware level, and carries a predefined list of Windows "boot file" names , its behavior should be OS-agnostic. The firmware is going to be concerned with accesses at a physical-unit level, ie. the sector.

So, the firmware does know which sectors of the drive are accessed at "boot-up" (e.g., x seconds after startup) and with what frequency. It could perhaps then use that information to mark certain sectors (in its own non-volatile memory) as "let these persist longer in the flash cache", aka "keep these in the 'roped-off' area".

Quoting from the StorageReview review linked by Mitch:

FAST Factor also makes the Momentus XT OS independent, by keeping the software contained on the drive itself, there's no need for a driver,

Based on my experience with the old (1st-gen) hybrid Momentus XT, it will work just fine with Linux, given a few boots/"burn time" to adapt.

If Windows is being installed via a drive image, the XT will need a couple of boots to determine what to put in the roped-off section of its cache.

Ubuntu Live-CD installs are essentially via a drive image - the squashfs filesystem used for the CD is expanded upon the partition being installed to. Thing is, Windows Vista/7 adopt the same strategy -- a giant 2GB install.wim image is expanded to the target hard disk.

Assuming that the quoted statement means that XT2 will effectively behave like XT in such a scenario, it should work just as well with Ubuntu/Linux.

To better quantify the above assertion, let's look at numbers. The XT2 has an 8GB SSD component; this is much larger than a stock Ubuntu Desktop install, and roughly the size of a fresh Windows 7 install. Even assuming an image-based install, if all of it is cached in the SSD, it will start up pretty quickly the first time around.

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