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Seagate Momentus 5400.3 160GB Mobile HDD

Date: March 21, 2006
Author(s): Rob Williams

If you demand to be mobile and still have the hard drive space you need, then you should look at the Seagate Momentus 5400.3. It’s the first mobile drive to be equipped with a full 160GB of disk space, and still retains great speed.



Introduction

If you are a laptop user, you have had a constant problem. The lack of hard drive space. When I first purchased my Dell Inspiron in the summer of 2004, it included a very large 60GB hard drive. At that time, 80GB was the top hard drive available in a consumer laptop, but even that can get used up quickly. With all the MP3’s, video files and games we play, we can run out of hard drive space very quickly. Matters are even worse if you use your notebook as your primary PC.

There are a couple things that make the 5400.3 not so ordinary. Despite it’s small frame, it packs a huge 160GB store space. It also makes use of the perpendicular magnetic recording technique to make this possible. The Momentus 5400.3 comes in 6 different sizes, but the specs are virtually the same except for the discs/heads.



Perpendicular Magnetic Recording

PMR is a technique that became well known early last summer. As mentioned in the intro, the problem mobile hard drives face is the amount of storage they can handle. People wanted a lot more space than was currently being given, but it became feasibly impossible to fit much more storage using the classic method. Of course, due to technology moving forward at an alarming rate, it’s no surprise to see storage devices including more gigabytes in less space.

During the past decade, it’s been a very common thing to see disk space double over the years. I remember purchasing a brand new 8GB Western Digital drive for around $300US, only to see 20GB drives the next year for the same price. On the desktop side of things, we are now finally seeing drives hit a whopping 500GB, and that number will rise in due time. The storage market, like any other tech field is ever evolving though, so what $300 did even 5 years ago will get you 10x the performance today.

Because we desire more and more hard drive space, engineers ran into the problem of not being able to fit a larger amount of storage into the same form factor. Sure, it may be possible to fit 1TB into an enclosure, but it would still likely have two drives at the heart… or be huge. Things are worse on the mobile side of things though, because unlike their desktop counterparts, these weigh just a quarter of a pound, and don’t exactly offer much breathing room.

In order to achieve the ability of cramming more storage into the same amount of space, engineers had to figure out a way to fit more data bits into the same area. This of course presented it’s own set of complications. If data bits are small enough, the magnetic energy which holds that bit in it’s place may become small enough so it can’t magnetize properly.

On normal hard drives like the one in your desktop, the magnetic energy lies on the disc’s equal plane. As you may have guess, this new method is places the magnetic energy perpendicular to the plane of the disk. This way, the data bits are represented as upward/downward magnetization. Because of this, the media is deposited underneath the soft magnetic layer that functions as part of the write field. This technique sounds complicated, but it allows much higher density recording than the longitudinal method. The sample picture above is from Seagate’s site and can explain it better than words.



Closer Look

The drive I will be comparing to in benchmarks is my Hitachi Travelstar, which is a 7200RPM 60GB drive.

The hard drive is in no real packaging, just an anti-static bag. These hard drives are so light, that at first I thought they forgot to put it in the box.

Here’s a comparison in size of the HDD to a music CD.



HD Tach and HD Tune

I will be pitting the Momentus against my current laptop drive, a Hitachi TravelStar 60GB. This is not a directly fair comparison because the Momentus is 5400RPM as opposed to the Hitachi which is 7200RPM. The Hitachi also has an average seek time of 10ms compared to the Momentus’ 12ms. I would pit other mobile drives against it if I had them on hand. It’s a rather large difference, because the Hitachi is better for gaming in general because of faster read times. Currently, no PMR hard drive supports a speed of 7200RPM, but hopefully the will in time.

Before testing, each drive was completely formatted and installed with a fresh copy of Windows. All services that were not required by Windows were disabled. The only applications installed were benchmarking tools. Let’s start off with HD Tach.

The results here are actually quite better than I had expected. Throughout all of the tests, the 5400.3 only proved near 5% slower.

HD Tune proved a little different though. In this case, the 5400.3 was about 10% slower… but this is expected.



PC Mark 05

PC Mark 05 goes an interesting route in its way of testing. It takes five different hard drive read and write tests and calculates an overall score. All of the results below are in Megabytes/second. If PC Mark is anything to go by, the 5400.3 would be around 15% slower overall than the Hitachi. Still not bad at all!

 
Hitachi 7200
Seagate 5400.3
Access Time
14.4ms
16.9ms
Burst Rate
80.3MB/s
74.3MB/s
SANDRA Bandwidth
61MB/s
55MB/s
PC Mark 05 Overall
2,807
3,320
Real World Transfer
2.60GB (2,393 Files)
232 Seconds
255 Seconds
Real World Transfer
2.59GB File
180 Seconds
182 Seconds

Here are some extra benchmark results that I did not include in the above graphs due to the fact that it would offset the bars heavily.

All of the results are right on par with what’s expected. Because of the larger density and slower RPM [compared to the Travelstar], I thought the drive was going to prove slower than it had. Overall though, the drive performed nicely. According to our friends at Big Bruin, the drive is only a tad slower than the previous 5400.2. It could be that the extra storage space slows the overall performance, but not by much.



Conclusion

The Momentus 5400.3 is one of the coolest pieces of hardware I’ve been able to review lately. Despite it’s size, it packs quite a huge punch. 160GB is finally possible in your laptop, and Seagate are to be commended for being the first ones to make them commercially available. After a few quick e-tailer searches, I was unable to find any mobile drive at 160GB except for this one.

If you own a laptop and have ever upgraded it, you understand how it can hit your wallet. This is certainly no exception, because for the same price of this drive, you could get a 500GB model for your desktop. The cheapest price at the time of writing is found at NewEgg at $327. That’s just over $2 per GB, so it may not be easy to swallow.

Disregarding the cost of the drive though, it is the only 160GB mobile drive out there so it has nothing to compete to. It’s a drive that has a lot to offer. The transfer rates are on par with what we expected.. only a little bit slower than older models. The 5400.3 also boasts low heat and low noise, though I could not personally see much of a difference between the two drives I tested with.

The absolutely only problem I have with the drive is that it is not 7200RPM, but that can’t be helped right now. Like most laptop users who visit this site, most like to game. For the ultimate gaming performance on your notebook, you will want a faster drive. If you don’t mind your levels loading a little slower, then you have nothing to worry about. If you use your laptop as a desktop replacement, this you can’t go wrong with this drive.

This drive well deserves it’s 9/10 score. If you have the money to pick it up, it’s currently the best choice you could make when considering a new mobile drive.



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