Product review: four 750 GB to 1 Terabyte SATA HDDs - BeHardware
>> Storage >> Hard Disks

Written by Marc Prieur

Published on September 20, 2007


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Do you need an immense storage space for your vacation videos? Aided by the increase in platter density, there are now hard drives that can attain 750 GB and even 1 TB. It was Seagate that was the first to launch a 750 GB hard drive in April 2006, the 7200.10, which is still on the market. Hitachi was the first to attain the TB in January 2007, however, this drive was really only available this summer.

First, the crude approach
To attain such a capacity on its 7K1000, Hitachi used a rather crude method, like it did with the 7K500, which two years before was the first drive to attain 500 GB. Instead of increasing density, Hitachi is the only one to offer a product equipped with five platters each with 200 GB. A 750 GB version of the 7K1000 is also offered equipped with four platters.

For the competition, Seagate is currently at 750 GB with its aging 7200.10, and since summer Western has offered a 750 GB drive at the head of its Caviar SE16 line. For all of these, four platters are used for 750 GB versions. The buffer size is 32 MB for Hitachi versus 16 MB for Seagate and Western.

At the end of this year, we should see the arrival of TB drives with simpler designs than the Hitachi model. More specifically, Seagate will propose four platters in its 7200.11, while Samsung will go even further with only three! Beyond the initial excitement of these product announcements, there is no precise information on the exact dates of the availability of these models.

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The drives and test protocol

The drives
Here are the drives we tested with the firmware reference number in parentheses:

- Hitachi 7K1000 1 TB (GKAOA51D)
- Hitachi 7K1000 750 GB (GK8OA51D)
- Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 (5QD0CHFX)
- Western Digital Caviar SE16 – WD7500AAKS (30.04G30)

Hitachi 7K1000 1 ToHitachi 7K1000 750 Go
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10Western Digital Caviar SE16
Hitachi 7K1000 1 ToHitachi 7K1000 750 Go
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10Western Digital Caviar SE16
Test protocol
Various measurements were carried out in tests. First of all, we were interested in a drive’s « synthetic » performances: cache and sequential speeds and average access time. Next, were more practical tests, first of all involving an applicative performance index based on PCMark05, a server load type simulation of files with IOMeter. This was followed by writing, reading, close (on the same partition) and far copying (on a partition which starts on 50% of the drive) of a collection of files.

These were composed of two large files totaling 4.4 GB, 2620 files equaling 2 GB and finally 16046 for a total of 733 MB. The source or target of reading or writing on the drive was a RAID of two Raptor 74 GB drives, which is capable assuring a speed of 110 MB /s in order that we aren’t limited in this parameter. This type of measurement is interesting because while the sequential speed gives us an idea of the performance in copying large files, things can be different with smaller ones.

All measurements were made with acoustic management deactivated, however, later on we did proceed with a few tests with its activation (except with Seagate drives because this isn’t an option). The test machine was based on a P965 Express chipset mounted on an ASUSTeK P5B Deluxe motherboard. Serial ATA ports were configured in the bios to AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) in order to use NCQ.

Of course, in addition to these performance measurements, we took temperature readings after 2 hours of intensive use as well as measuring power consumption. Finally, the sound levels of each hard drive were evaluated based on their dBA values and we also provide you with a recording of each model in various states of activity.

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Synthetic perfs

Synthetic performances

We started with cache speed measured in the « Core bench » of h2bench. Seagate’s 7200.10 offers the best result in the area, followed by the Hitachi 7K1000, while the Western comes in last.

This last hard drive largely redeems itself in its sequential speed, which quite simply was a new record in this area with a high of more than 94 MB /s at the beginning of the drive! Even if this speed is later reduced, the Caviar SE16’s advantage lasts until the end of the track. Also, note on the graph that the 750 GB version of the Hitachi 7K1000 shows better performances than the 1 TB version. This is because the platters are used 100% on the latter, while for the 750 GB version they are only used at 93.7%.

For this same reason, the 7K1000 is faster in access time than its 1 TB equivalent. The other models offer very similar performances and the impact of acoustic management, when available, is significant as it varies between 4.7 and 6.5ms.

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Perfs – Application performance index

Performances – An index of application performances
We now move on to less synthetic tests, starting with a performance index comprised of results obtained in « XP Startup », « Application Loading » and « General Usage » profiles from PC Mark 2005. This involves the recording activities of an HDD during start up of Windows XP (90% reading, 10% writing), the launching of various applications (83% reading, 17% writing) and normal PC use (60% reading, 40% writing). The weight in the index of each of these profiles is 1/6, 1/3, and 1/2, respectively.

Already in the lead for this test with its 500 GB drives, Hitachi reinforces its lead even more with new performance gains with its 750 GB and 1 TB models. On the other hand, for Western Digital and Seagate performances remain unchanged and they are even slightly lower for Western. This is difficult to explain if not for less developed firmware because the drive is more recent. As for the impact of acoustic management, it’s rather minimal.

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Perfs – File copying

Performances – File copying
This brings us to copying files. We measure reading and writing speeds, as well as the copying of a series of files composed of 2 large files totaling 4.4 GB, 2620 files with a total of 2 GB, and finally, 16,046 smaller ones totaling 733 MB. The source or target in reading or writing on the drive is a RAID of two Raptor 74 GB drives which is capable of assuring a speed of 110 MB /s in order that we aren’t limited in this parameter.

The Western hard drive saves its honor in this test because it is ahead in writing which allows it to even take the lead in file copying. The 1 TB 7K1000 comes in last while the 750 GB version does better in copying due to its inferior access time. The activation of acoustic management only reinforces the standings.

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Perfs - IOMeter

Performances – IOMeter
IOMeter is used to simulate the load in a multi-user environment by using a server type file load comprised of 80% reading and 20% writing all in a 100% random manner on the drive. In this type of situation, NCQ can be particularly useful because of multiple concurrent commands. In this test, we measured performances expressed in inputs /outputs per second (IO/s) with 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 and 128 simultaneous commands. Of course with a single command NCQ has no effect.

As is usually the case in this type of test, Western has the most advantageous firmware for NCQ which improves the performances of their drives when there are numerous simultaneous accesses. Therefore, while it has the same « mechanical» base as the 750 GB 7K1000, the Caviar SE16 finishes with almost a 21.8% lead. Seagate also manages NCQ better than Hitachi, but given that the 7200.10 starts with a disadvantage, this means it only catches up.

Finally, it’s the Western drive that is the most affected by acoustic management with a 15 to 30% reduction depending on the number of accesses versus 15 to 25% for the 7K1000. The impact is actually less when we increase the number of simultaneous commands as NCQ comes in to smooth out performances.

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Consumption, temp, noise levels

Power consumption
Here we have the power consumption for each hard drive using a clip-on ammeter on the 5V and 12V lines of each model.

As we could have guessed, the Hitachi 7K1000 1 TB consumes the most power, however, all were quite close.
Next, we measured the hard drive temperature after two hours of intensive use with IOMeter. These results are with the HDD out of its casing, without ventilation, and each slightly raised. Temperature is taken using an infrared thermometer in two areas; in middle on top of the drive and on the hottest part on the left side. Finally, we also give you the temperature as reported by the drive’s internal probe.

Here again, it’s logically the 7K1000 1 TB that heats up the most with a 10°C difference compared to the best 500 GB drive. And actually, we are at a level comparable to the Hitatchi E7K500 500 GB which is also composed of 5 platters. Amongst the 750 GB drives, results are close and the standing varies depending on the point of measurement.
Noise levels
For this measurement, we place each hard drive in a Textorm jelly case in order to avoid any vibration from the desk with a sound probe 12 cm above. Of course, the PC we in this test is fanless so that we can isolate the hard drive’s sound level :

In rotation, all of these hard drives are close and more than audible and they could not really be part of a « silent » PC configuration. It’s especially during access that this difference is heard, with a particularly noisy WD7500AAKS. This is a bad surprise compared to its little brother, the WD5000AAKS. For once, Seagate gives up its usual last place, however, note that it is possible to activate acoustic management for the Western hard drive to the detriment of access time, something not possible with the Seagate model. In the end, it’s Hitachi that offers the least noisy product during access for this size capacity.

To have a better ideal of the level of noise produced by these hard drives, here are some recordings taken with a Roland portable Edirol R-09 recorder placed 12cm above the drive. We recorded 15 seconds in rotation, then 15 seconds in access with acoustic management (except for the Seagate) and finally 15 seconds without acoustic management.

- Hitachi 7K1000 1 To
- Hitachi 7K1000 750 Go
- Seagate Barracuda 7200.10
- Western Digital Caviar SE16 – WD7500AAKS

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Like in our previous 500 GB hard drive survey, Seagate isn’t at its best. The aging Barracuda 7200.10 has no real advantage over Hitachi and Western other than its 5 year warranty offered by this manufacturer. In all of the more « practical » uses, results show its rivals are ahead.

The 7K1000s were the fastest in the application index tests while at the same time being the most silent. Western is ahead in the manipulation of files, which isn’t negligeable on this capacity size which can involve significant volumes, as well as in simultaneous access as its results in IOMeter show. However, these performances have a significant disadvantage in terms of noise which could cause some potential buyers to look elsewhere.

Hitachi is the only one to offer a drive that attains the TB and is therefore without competition. This capacity, however, is reached with 5 platters which has a non negligible impact on heat dissipation. The difference between the 750 GB model was 3 to 4°C.

You may have gathered that none of these hard drives has our total admiration. However, if we had to pick a winner, it would be the 750 GB Hitachi 7K1000. It has no big disadvantage and has an interesting access time due to partial use of its 200 GB platters.

Overall, we have to say that hard drives with capacities superior to 500 GB aren’t too interesting in terms of price per GB. In fact, you will have to plan on spending around 110 € for 500 GB, 220 € for 750 GB, or finally 330 € for 1 TB. In the end, if you really need the space, you can simply opt for two 500 GB drives.

Of course, the situation will change in the upcoming months, notably with the reduction in the number of platters starting with the arrival of the Seagate 7200.11 and the SpinPoint F1 from Samsung. Moreover, at the moment the latter manufacturer is seriously lacking in the “over 500 GB” category.

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