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Western Digital VelociRaptor 1TB 10K RPM Hard Drive Review

Date: June 20, 2012
Author(s): Rob Williams

Need big storage, but can’t compromise on performance? At a time when 1TB SSDs cost as much as an excellent gaming PC, the obvious choice becomes WD’s VelociRaptor – which not only recently received a refresh, but also a 1TB model. Let’s take a look at it, and see how it compares to WD’s other current desktop hard drives.



Introduction

For as long as WD’s 10K RPM Raptor (now VelociRaptor) drives have existed, they’ve drawn enthusiasts in thanks to their favorable blend of space and performance. Though popular in the enterprise, 10K RPM hard drives have remained uncontested in the desktop space ever since the launch of the original Raptor, a 36GB model released in 2003.

But with the boon of the solid-state drive, the future for drives like the VelociRaptor became questionable. However, as we can see now, the progression of SSD development isn’t quite as rapid as we thought it’d be, in terms of $ per gigabyte. And when consumers are in need of mass storage, it’s unrealistic to consider a full SSD solution, and that doesn’t look to change for quite some time – if ever.

So what about those who have need for both huge storage and great performance? That’s the segment where WD’s VelociRaptor drives reign supreme – even more so now with a 1TB model. VR drives have always been quite a bit faster than traditional 7,200 RPM hard drives, so with a 1TB option, there’s ample room for those 30GB games and 100GB video projects.

Western Digital VelociRaptor 1TB

With its latest VR drives, WD has filled a segment it calls “Workstation”. This implies that these aren’t just drives for enthusiasts and gamers, but also the creative professional. As mentioned above, VR drives deliver a great blend of performance, storage space and also price, and the current crop of drives don’t look to change a thing. At the same time, WD has said that in some cases, current VR drives can even out-perform SSDs, thanks to their fine-tuned design.

Compared to the previous generation of drives, the latest models are “more than” 25% faster, and despite it being well-known that hard drives can sometimes buckle under huge loads, WD is confident that its VR drives can stand up to the challenge.

To help gain a better idea of how the latest VR drives compare to WD’s other current offerings, let’s check out this table:

Model
Storage
Speed
Cache
SATA
Warranty
VelociRaptor
250GB – 1TB
10,000 RPM
64MB
6Gbit/s
5-year
Caviar Black
500GB – 2TB
7,200 RPM
32MB – 64MB
3Gbit/s & 6Gbit/s
5-year
Caviar Blue
80GB – 1TB
7,200 RPM
16MB – 64MB
3Gbit/s & 6Gbit/s
2-year
Caviar Green
320GB – 3TB
~5,300 RPM
8MB – 32MB
3Gbit/s & 6Gbit/s
2-year

Like most hard drive vendors (a list that is condensing fast), WD doesn’t offer actual performance numbers on the official website. Instead, all we’re told is that the VR utilizes a SATA 6Gbit/s interface – which at this point in time is a given. Instead, we’ll have to figure out those performance numbers for ourselves with the help of our test suite.

It’s sometimes difficult to get specific information as to what sort of change was made to increase performance, but WD promises that all aspects of its VR model has been looked at. The firmware has been fine-tuned to enable excellent read and write speeds across the entire drive and handle huge workloads with ease. And of course, one of the best aspects of VR drives is the focus on reliability, so it’s no surprise to find them equipped with a 5-year warranty (the Caviar Black also belongs to this exclusive club).

With that all covered, let’s move onto a quick look at our testing methodology and then get right into our benchmarking results.

Test System & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate and real-world applicable as possible. We list most of the steps and processes involved in setting up and conducting our benchmarking process below, but in the interests of brevity we can’t mention every last detail. If there is any pertinent information that we’ve inadvertently omitted or you have any thoughts, suggestions, or critiques, then please feel free to email us or post directly in our forums. This site exists for readers like you and we value your input.

The table below lists the hardware used in our current storage-testing machine, which remains unchanged throughout all of our testing with the exception of the storage device. Each drive used for the sake of comparison is also listed here. If the machine seems overkill for HDD testing – it is. It also doubles as our GPU testing rig.

Component
Techgage Hard Drive Drive Test System
Processor
Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition – Six-Core @ 4.20GHz – 1.375v
Motherboard
GIGABYTE G1. Assassin 2 – F4E BIOS (12/12/2011)
Memory
Corsair Dominator GT 16GB DDR3-2133 9-11-12-27, 1.60v
Graphics
GeForce GTX 680 2GB (Reference) – GeForce 301.42
Audio
Onboard Creative X-Fi
Storage
OS Drive:
Kingston HyperX 240GB SATA 6Gbit/s SSD
Testing Drives:
Western Digital VelociRaptor 1TB (WD1000DHTZ, 10K RPM)
Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB (WD2002FAEX, 7.2K RPM)
Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB (WD20EARS, ~5.3K RPM)
Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB (WD10EALX, 7.2K RPM)
Power Supply
Corsair AX1200 1200W
Cooling
Corsair H70 Self-Contained Liquid Cooler
Chassis
Cooler Master HAF X Full-Tower
Et cetera
Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit



Our Windows 7 Desktop for HDD Testing (Photo Credit)

When preparing our HDD testbed for benchmarking we follow these guidelines:

For our test suite, we’ve chosen a blend of both real-world and synthetic tests in order to get the best picture possible for overall drive performance. Although we value real-world performance higher than synthetic, synthetic tests are ideal because they give us the best case scenario of what a drive can do – and most often, the same tests can be run by you to be compared. Our synthetic benchmarks include Futuremark’s PCMark 7, which has become synonymous with storage benchmarking, and also HD Tune Pro 5.0, Iometer 1.1.0 and AIDA64 2.30.

For real-world testing, we perform both solid file and folder transfers, game level loading performance and also Windows 7 boot times.

Note: While the Windows boot time test implies that the OS is installed on the hard drive, all other tests are performed when the drive is the target. For our HD Tune, AIDA64 and Iometer tests, the drive is left unpartitioned.

Synthetic: PCMark 7

Futuremark’s PCMark benchmarking suite should need no introduction – it’s been a staple of PC benchmarking for the better half of a decade. PCMark offers a range of tests to gauge every aspect of a computer’s performance and presents it in a neat simple final result. Thankfully, it also breaks down the overall score with individual subsystem scores (such as Memory, Storage, etc) in addition to given individual test results.

As we’re not too concerned with the performance of the PC as a whole, for our testing here we deselect all default tests and run only the “Secondary Storage” suite, with the hard drive in question as the chosen drive. Tests in this suite range from the loading of applications, running a Windows Defender scan, editing video, gaming and more.

PCMark 7 Professional

WD’s 1TB VR drive is the clear winner here, but that isn’t much of a surprise. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it leaves the Caviar Black in the dust, but for those looking for ultimate performance in a hard drive, it seems clear so far that there is just one option (RAID 0 aside, of course).

Synthetic: HD Tune Pro 5.0 & Iometer 1.1.0

One of the best-known storage benchmarking tools is HD Tune, as it’s easy to run, covers a wide-range of testing scenarios, and can do other things such as test for errors, give SMART information and so forth. For our testing with the program, we run the default benchmark which gives us a minimum, average and maximum read speed, along with an access time result.

HD Tune Pro 5.0

Given its rotational boost, it was expected that the VR drive could push a far higher throughput than the Caviar Black, but what’s most impressive is the access time – at under 7ms. Access time is the biggest bottleneck on mechanical hard drives with regards to multi-tasking and loading data, so to drop from 11.5ms to 6.8ms is impressive. It’s even more impressive when you compare it to the Caviar Blue.

Iometer 1.1.10

Originally developed by Intel, and since given to the open-source community, Iometer (pronounced “eyeawmeter”, like thermometer) is one of the best storage-testing applications available, for a couple of reasons. The first, and primary, is that it’s completely customizable, and if you have a specific workload you need to hit a drive with, you can easily accomplish it here. Also, the program delivers results in IOPS (input/output operations per second), a common metric used in enterprise and server environments.

The level of customization cannot be understated. Aside from choosing the obvious figures, like chunk sizes, you can choose the percentage of the time that each respective chunk size will be used in a given test. You can also alter the percentages for read and write, and also how often either the reads or writes will be random (as opposed to sequential). We’re just touching the surface here, but what’s most important is that we’re able to deliver a consistent test on all of our drives, which increases the accuracy in our results.

Because of the level of control Iometer offers, we’ve created profiles for three of the most popular workloads out there: Database, File Server and Workstation. Database uses chunk sizes of 8KB, with 67% read, along with 100% random coverage. File Server is the more robust of the group, as it features chunk sizes ranging from 512B to 64KB, in varying levels of access, but again with 100% random coverage. Lastly, Workstation focuses on 8KB chunks with 80% read and 80% random coverage.

Because these profiles aren’t easily found on the Web, with the same being said about the exact structure of each, we’re hosting the profile here (right-click, save as) for those who want to benchmark their own drives with the exact same profiles we use. Once Iometer is loaded, you can import our profile.

We should note that as a whole, hard drive vendors are not that concerned with Iometer testing, and some even recommend against it. The reasons are simple: SSDs will clean house where raw IOPS performance is concerned, so it makes hard drive performance look poor. But we still value results gained with the program because when hard drives are as IOPS-strapped as they are, seeing one drive deliver higher numbers than another means that it’ll better handle the heaviest of workloads.

Continuing its relative domination, the VelociRaptor drive in all cases boosts IOPS performance about 30% compared to the Caviar Black, and even more compared to the Blue.

Synthetic: AIDA64 2.30

Similar to HD Tune, AIDA64’s built-in disk benchmarker is one of the easiest to run. The developer also keeps up on top of architectural trends so that you feel confident that the algorithms don’t get much better than this. This spreads beyond the storage benchmark, as AIDA64’s system stress-testers is one of the best, if not the best, out there – thanks to it being able to take full advantage of any given CPU architecture.

For our testing, we run both the read and write transfer suites. Because of the write test, we perform our benchmarking here on an unpartitioned drive.

AIDA64 2.30

The results here align extremely well to those we gained with HD Tune. The VR drive has impressive throughput performance, with its minimum MB/s almost matching the middle-of-the-road for the Caviar Black.

It might not seem obvious, but an important factor with hard drives – and storage in general – is how fast it can randomly grab or place data. Here, we can see that the VR drive performs quite a bit better than the rest, although the results aren’t quite as impressive as the straight read tests seen in the first graph.

The theme continues with the write test, although I’d argue the results are even more impressive – though also a little bit odd. It mystifies me how the Blue out-performed the Black in the minimum write test, but the Black made up for it later. Also odd is the Green’s average surpassing the Black’s, but this was a repeatable result. Where averages are concerned though, nothing can touch the VR.

Much like our HD Tune test once again, the VR drive dips below 7ms according to AIDA64, offering a huge performance gain over all of the other drives.

Real-World: Transfers, Game Level Loading & Windows Boot

One of the most common tasks that someone will tackle with a storage device is transferring data, so to see what our collection of drives are capable of, we take a collection of solid files and folders and transfer them from our super-fast SATA 6Gbit/s SSD to each hard drives. Then for good measure, we copy a file and folder on the same drive. Both our files and folders come in 4GB and 16GB sizes, with the folders holding between ~5,000 (4GB) and ~20,000 (16GB) files.

Our stopwatch starts as soon as we click the “Copy here” button in the context menu, and stops as soon as the transfer dialog disappears.

Our AIDA64 write tests showed some odd results between the Caviar Black and Blue, but our real-world results deliver performance much more in line with what we’d expect. The VR drive remains the clear champion.

Game Level Loading

One of the biggest benefits of faster storage is faster load times for games, both with regards to their startup and level loading. For testing here, we use two of the heaviest games we have on hand; Sid Meier’s Civilization V and Total War: SHOGUN 2. How we benchmark with each game differs. In Civ V, our stopwatch starts as soon as we click the button to load the late-game level (turn 350), and stops the instant we see our map. In SHOGUN 2, we instead record the amount of time it takes to load the entire game, and its built-in 720p benchmark. Our stopwatch starts once we click the benchmark option in Steam’s context menu, and stops the instant we see the level.

Overall, gaming performance doesn’t look to see a major improvement here, but there are still improvements. Where the increased speed would be appreciated is with actually playing games like these, or playing games where there are are a significant number of textures to be loaded, or a lot of checkpoints.

Windows 7 Boot Time

Like game level loading, faster storage can mean faster OS boot times. To put this to the test, we rely on an Acronis image that has a clean install of Windows 7 Ultimate x64 and required drivers, with Ethernet disabled. For a more accurate result, we do our testing with a cold boot, after the system has been left to sit for a couple of minutes. Our stopwatch starts as soon as the power button is pressed and ends once all of the system tray icons have loaded.

I admit that I didn’t expect much of an improvement here, but I’m glad I didn’t bet on it. The VR drive shaved almost 9 seconds off the boot time of the Caviar Black, and compared to the Green and Blue, there’s just no comparison.

Final Thoughts

For most of our “Final Thoughts” pages, coming up with a conclusion of sorts isn’t difficult. But it is with the VR 1TB. The reason is that while the drive is in a class of its own, and it is the fastest mechanical drive ever produced, it’s not for everyone. It’s for those who demand the fastest mechanical storage possible, and need ample space. It’s quite that simple.

In our tests, WD’s latest VR cleaned up. It’s the fastest hard drive ever released, and far surpasses the performance of the Caviar Black in some cases. Whether it be transfer tests, OS booting or random access, nothing could touch the VR.

That said, our testing also proved that the drive excels most for workstation-esque workloads, which isn’t much of a surprise given that is WD’s target audience. For heavier workloads, high IOPS performance is important, and we saw the VR set itself apart there. Its 80~100 IOPS might not match the 5,000~12,500 IOPS seen on current SSDs, but for the purposes the drive’s designed for, that probably isn’t much of a disadvantage. Compared to other traditional hard drives, however, the VR is fantastic.

For the consumer who just wants a hard drive for modest needs, a more attractive deal is something like a Caviar Black 2TB for ~$225. Realistically, for a drive that’s going to be used mostly for storage or gaming, the performance advantages of the VR, as great as they can be at times, isn’t going to be that noticeable in the real-world. It makes much more sense to opt for bigger storage for less money, while still retaining that important 5-year warranty.

Western Digital VelociRaptor 1TB

If you’re looking for a drive to install your OS to, our wholehearted recommendation remains “SSD”. I give major kudos to WD for the improvements made with the latest generation VR drives, but unfortunately, physics just don’t allow mechanical drives to deliver the overall throughput, random access and IOPS performance of even a modest SSD. Of course you’re going to be sacrificing storage space, but chances are if you are the sort of person that can’t see the benefits of an SSD, then a regular Caviar Black is going to be suitable.

Who I recommend the VR 1TB drive to the most are those running workstation apps; image editing, code management, video editing, simulation and more. While SSDs would no doubt offer an advantage in most workstation scenarios, there comes a point when the amount of space gained at a certain price-point favors the VR. Currently, OCZ’s Vertex 4 256GB SSD retails for about $230 – it’s much faster, but offers /4th of the space.

On the first page, I said, “But with the boon of the solid-state drive, the future for drives like the VelociRaptor became questionable.“, and as unfortunate as it is, that future isn’t just questionable – it’s certain. As covered above, VR drives do have their use, but at this point in time it’s more of a niche product, or something that people purchase for a specific reason. For consumers, the best option is to purchase an SSD as a main drive, and then supplement that with mass storage.

By now, hopefully you know whether or not this drive is for you. If you’re still not sure, or have other questions, feel free to post them in our thread, linked to below.

It might seem odd after all that’s been said above to award this drive an Editor’s Choice, but despite it not being for everyone, the drive earns it. Its architectural improvements are impressive, as is the performance compared to other mechanical drives. WD did well here. It might not be the drive for you, but it’s great that an option exists for those who it is built for.

As a side note, I’ve never run a VR drive in a personal rig before, and that’s something I’m going to soon change. I’ll be installing this sample to replace the hard drive I use for gaming, so this will allow me to experience the drive long-term. You can be sure that if this results in further thoughts on the drive, I’ll be bringing them up.

Western Digital VelociRaptor 1TB
Western Digital VelociRaptor 1TB

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