Date: May 24, 2010
Author(s): William Kelley
Solid-state may be the future of our storage, but for now, the prices for the latest SSD’s (even value models) is still far too high on the $/GB scale. For those looking for mass storage and still-great speeds, mechanical storage is still on top, and WD’s latest VelociRaptor’s, which utilize SATA 3.0, sit comfortably above all the rest.
It seems that nearly every week there comes an announcement of the newest SSD (Solid State Disk) to be set upon the consumer. No one can deny the raw speed of these drives and with ever changing controller technologies they are even seen as quite reliable. In fact, if it were not for two rather outstanding factors, I feel the world would quickly put mechanical storage to rest.
The first is still the Achilles heel which is price, with even the most basic drive still commanding $3+ per GB of storage. Second, density still has yet to breach the 500GB mark and that is just not going to draw in those who store music and video on their PC as well as any other data farmer.
Mechanical drives have been around since the early days of the PC. Slowly but surely they are creeping up in size without doing the same in cost. With even the most expensive drives coming in under $1.50 per GB, they are still far more affordable. Also, considering the fact that manufacturers are stuffing over 2TB of space onto a single 3.5â€ drive, no one can deny who has won the density war.
I have been asked more than a few times as to my opinion on the future for mechanical hard drives. I feel that until SSD’s come in under $2 per GB and offer at least 500GB of density to the typical consumer, they will remain of little interest to the mass market. I am sure there are going to be enthusiasts everywhere screaming blasphemy, but they also must remember that the enthusiast market is still under 10% of the entire market for PCs and peripherals. A segment that small is just not going to get priority, and if you ask me, the enthusiast has been a willing guinea pig eagerly buying up â€œbetaâ€ drives that initially were nearly failures.
Western Digital is also still confident in the current state of mechanical storage. After many successes with the initial Raptor line it released the current VelociRaptor line to take the brand even further into the future. With two offerings utilizing the new SATA 3.0 bus offering 450GB and 600GB of density, it is obvious that the company is not worried about the venerable mechanical drive disappearing any time soon. I will be one of the first to state that the gains running the newest SATA specs are minimal and aimed more towards SSD’s, but that does not mean drive manufacturers should run on older bus specs.
The VelociRaptor line is classified by WD as part of the Enterprise Storage family of drives which also compromised of their SAS and RE (RAID Edition) lines. Another VERY important consideration is the 5 year warranty given with these drives, as well as 1.4 million hours MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure). Cache has been increased to 32MB for improved performance, and has been a long-time coming. Without question, speed and reliability are the main focus in this class of drives. Pricing has also been addressed as the price of the 600GB model is $279.99US, meaning the 450GB model will be that much more affordable when it becomes available.
At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a fully-detailed look at how we conduct our testing.
If there is a bit of information that we’ve omitted, or you wish to offer thoughts or suggest changes, please feel free to shoot us an e-mail or post in our forums.
The table below lists the hardware used in our current storage-testing machine, which remains unchanged throughout all of our testing, with the obvious exception of the storage. Each hard drive used for the sake of comparison is also listed here. In addition, each one of the URLs in this table can be clicked to view our review of the respective product, or if a review doesn’t exist, you will be led to the product page on the manufacturer’s website.
Techgage Hard Drive Test System
|Processor||Intel Core i5-750 – Quad-Core, 2.66GHz|
Seagate 320GB Barracuda 7200.10 (OS Drive)
Seagate Barracuda LP 2TB – 3G/bits
Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 1TB – 3G/bits
Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB – 6G/bits
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB – 3Gbit/s
Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB – 3Gbit/s
Western Digital VelociRaptor 600GB – 3Gbit/s
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit
When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:
Because it gives a more realistic interpretation of the common PC, we leave all of the power-related options in the BIOS to their default selection. This means that for Intel-based boards, SpeedStep is left in tact.
Our Windows Vista Desktop for Storage-Testing
To aide with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows Vista from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing slightly inaccurate results. Disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.
In order to get a great overall outlook on how a particular drive performs compared to the competition, we run a variety of real-world and synthetic benchmarks. As they’re standard in the industry, our synthetics include PCMark Vantage, Iometer and HD Tune Pro. For our real-world tests, we use 7-Zip, Adobe Lightroom, dBpoweramp, file transfers, and also measure boot times. On the non-performance side of things, we also measure for drive temperatures, acoustics and power consumption.
Each one of our tests is explained in more detail on its respective page.
There are few PC enthusiasts who are unfamiliar with the name “Futuremark”, as the Finland-based developer has been producing quality benchmarks to help us gauge our computer’s worth for years. Originally known as Madonion, Futuremark has expanded its focus to go beyond its bread and butter, graphics and gaming, and tackle other areas, such as full system performance. That’s where PCMark comes into play.
The company’s most recent addition to the PCMark family is Vantage. For most users, a full suite would be run, but because we’re focused on storage performance only, we instead run only the HDD-specific tests. Fortunately, Futuremark makes this easy for us to do as it has split up the entire suite into seven separate sub-tests, one being the aptly named “HDD Suite”.
PCMark’s HDD Suite may look simple on the surface, but it’s actually quite exhaustive. While the benchmark does deliver a simple “overall” result, it actually tests I/O performance based on a variety of scenarios, from adding music to Windows Media Player, to loading applications in succession, to editing video, to running a malware scanner, and more. It even includes metrics to evaluate a simulated Windows Vista boot time, so Futuremark has done a fine job of combining many useful scenarios into a single button press.
Clearly the VelociRaptor is the king of mechanical storage in Vantage testing. With Western Digital claiming a 15% increase in speed over previous generations I have no doubt that the company delivered. No matter what the critics say, there is no question to whether or not these drives are still relevant.
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). I’m 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 software here for those who want to benchmark their own drives with the exact same profiles we use. That ZIP archive (~3.5MB) includes the application and the three profiles in an .icf file.
HD Tune has long been one of our favorite storage benchmarks, thanks in part to its ease-of-use and its ability to deliver consistent results (which is obviously important). Like Iometer, no partition is created on the drive while benchmarking with this application, as the write tests will not work any other way. There are absolutely no performance gains from not having a partition, as HD Tune does its thing below the file system level during its write tests.
For our tests with HD Tune, we use both the “Benchmark” and “File Benchmark” (the latter is available in the Pro version only), as the latter gives us a bit more control over file sizes. From the Benchmark section, we gather both the read and write Min/Avg/Max results, and also the access time, and for the File Benchmark section, we run a file length of 1MB and 64MB, and record the results from the 4KB, 64KB, 512KB and 1MB chunk sizes.
Iometer continues to show it will point out any weakness in a drive. After many retests I came up with the same conclusion. While still far faster than all other 7200RPM drives it was not able to beat the 300GB variant. Overall the 600GB VR was the victor in HD Tune showing that it does have what it takes to stay on top.
From a storage standpoint, two of the most common scenarios for almost all computer users include copying a file from one place to another, and also archiving a folder for storage (as in backup, or portability). We tackle both of these here on this page. For our real-world transfers, we take a 4GB file and also a 4GB folder, one at a time, and copy it from one place to another on the same drive. Our 4GB folder includes 4,800 files, which we consider to be a realistic number for a media folder of that density. Included inside are numerous documents, music, photos and other miscellaneous files.
For our archiving test, we are using the excellent open-sourced 7-Zip, as it’s lightweight, feature-rich, and fast. Our test consists of us taking the same 4GB folder as mentioned above, and archiving it to a .7z format using the program’s default settings.
Real world testing once again shows the Seagate drives are still able to edge out the win by a fair margin in file transfers and 7-Zip archiving. Seagate has the advantage and you’ll need to keep this in mind when forming your overall opinion.
Thanks to the fact that mobile audio players are more popular than ever, so is music conversion. It’s not uncommon for even the regular consumer to find a reason to convert a music file, whether it be an incompatibility issue, the fact that a file is too large, or because the file needs to be used for a more specific purpose, such as for a video, webpage, game, and so on. Of all the music converters on the market, though, one of the absolute best is Illustrate’s dBpoweramp.
The reasons are simple. First, there’s the ease-of-use, and then there’s the fact that it supports a wide-range of music formats. If you have even the most bizarre audio file extension, dBpoweramp will no doubt be able to handle it. A second reason dBpoweramp is so powerful is because it supports multi-core encoding, which means that the beefy quad-core in your PC actually gets put to good use. At the same time, because we’re able to convert four files at once, it makes for a great storage benchmark.
Photo manipulation benchmarks are more relevant than ever, given the proliferation of high-end digital photography hardware. For this benchmark, we test the system’s handling of RAW photo data using Adobe Lightroom, an excellent RAW photo editor and organizer that’s easy to use and looks fantastic.
For our testing, we take 100 RAW files (in Nikon’s .NEF file format) which have a 10-megapixel resolution, and export them as JPEG files in 1000×669 resolution, similar to most of the photos we use here on the website. Such a result could also be easily distributed online or saved as a low-resolution backup. This test involves not only scaling of the image itself, but encoding in a different image format.
Here’s a scenario that most of us deal with on a daily basis… boot times. Believe it or not, storage performance can play a rather sizable role in the duration of boot process of the OS. Storage devices with lower access times excel the greatest, as a lot of the boot data is stored on various parts of the drive – it’s not usually all sequential. So, it’s no surprise that 10K RPM and higher drives, or SSD’s, excel where this is concerned.
The second round of real world testing had the VR fairing much better with 2 out of 3 victories. To many, the extra speed in Adobe will be most important while I personally favor the boost in Windows load time. My personal PC is powered down daily so this is something I would certainly appreciate.
When the time comes to pick out a brand-new hard drive for a PC, most consumers tend to look past everything except the densities. While most enthusiasts care a lot about performance, regular end-consumers usually don’t even know there’s a difference between drives. Well, as we’ve seen throughout all of our tests, there’s a clear difference between drives, even those that have identical rotational speeds. But, aside from these two things, there are a couple more aspects to look at: Temperatures, Acoustics, and Power Consumption.
Arguably, temperatures are the most important factor of the three, as if a drive runs too hot all of the time, then its life span is going to be decreased. Not to mention, it will add unneeded heat to the inside of your PC, causing everything else to run even hotter. Even in a chassis with superb airflow, hard drive heat remains a problem, especially when one is dealing with transfers for a long period of time. Most companies will agree that a hard drive can run up to 50°C and still remain reliable, but if your drive runs hotter than that, it’s time to figure out a solution.
Then there’s the acoustics, and if you’ve ever had a loud-running drive, then this is likely a factor that’s important to you. Although all drives have improved in this regard over the years, it’s still not rare to hear a hard drive doing its thing, especially when the room is quiet. Lastly, there’s power consumption. Admittedly, power consumption tends to be a non-issue for most people, since they draw such a low amount of power compared to CPUs, GPUs and other components, but we include the results for sake of interest.
All three of these tests are conducted at the same time. After the PC is boot up, we allow five minutes to pass while Windows settles down, at which point we monitor the idle wattage, acoustics and temperatures. To stress the drive, we load up our Iometer test and let it do its thing, capturing the highest figures we see for each test. The temperatures are captured with Everest Ultimate Edition 5.3, while our power consumption is captured with a Kill-a-Watt EZ, dedicated to its own socket, with only the PC plugged into it. We capture the drive’s acoustics with a SL-5868P audio meter, with its microphone located a few centimeters above the drive.
At the end of this round we now have the warmest, noisiest and power hungry drive crowned. The tie with the 300GB drive in power consumption was not surprising while I was definitely surprised at the extra heat. None of these factors were anything of concern as heat and power consumption figures are well within reason. Noise is also no real issue unless you keep your PC next to your ear. Once up to speed, I don’t find the VR any louder than most.
In the end, there is no doubt we have a new king of the hill. It may not win every single benchmark, but it certainly wins the majority and without a doubt scores convincing wins in areas that consumers are keen to notice. With a capacity of 600GB, this drive is finally a real option for those that do not care for multiple drives in their system. To me, this is the formula that had been missing all along in the VelociRaptor lineup.
Once again we also see that the SATA 3 bus is just not going to be a major factor in terms of mechanical storage devices. This does not surprise me and should not surprise you, either. It has been widely discussed and truth be told only SSD devices will ever saturate the new bus. I still stand by my opinion that there is no reason to not exploit SATA 3 with new mechanical drive releases as even a 10% gain in speed is still a gain.
Pricing has also continued to improve with the 600GB variant coming in at a rather inexpensive (in terms of VelociRaptor drives) $279. With the cost per GB ratio well under $1, this drive is very viable on many levels. Sure, your new SSD is faster, but it just cannot hold nearly as much data as safely. For your money you get a LOT of space as well as blazing speed. While the 2TB Seagate XT can compete in a few of the benchmarks, the VR is faster in nearly every respect while coming in at a lower price.
This drive is not going to appeal to the mass-market; there is no doubt about that. Enthusiasts will also balk at them since the current rage is all about SSD technology. In the end I feel there will be more people willing to buy a VR using proven technology while SSD’s are still cutting edge tech with the bugs getting ironed out as we go. Technology doesn’t rest and neither does the desire to have the best of the best inside your own PC. To me there is just no logic in trusting my data to the SSD when mechanical storage is still so viable.
In my mind, PC storage is possibly the most overdue for the changes it is currently seeing. Mechanical storage had been basically the same other than densities for the better part of the last two decades and it is about time we are seeing one of the biggest system bottlenecks being addressed. While you may not agree, there needs to be further development of mechanical drives, until SSD technology can safely and consistently deliver sub $2 per GB storage (which we won’t see for years), we still need manufacturers continuing to push the envelope.
Western Digital VelociRaptor 600GB
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