Product review: 4 SATA 1 TB HDD - BeHardware
>> Storage >> Hard Disks

Written by Marc Prieur

Published on February 27, 2008


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In our last hard drive survey in September 2007, we had to plan on spending around 110 € for a 500 GB model, 220 € for 750 GB and 330 € for 1 TB. Since then, the prices of these last two categories have gone down and we are now at a respective 95, 160 and 240 €. So even if they are more expensive per gigabyte, terabyte hard drives have indeed become more interesting.

Samsung, Seagate and Western enter the battle

While last September, Hitachi was the only one to offer a solution with such a capacity, all market players are now represented in this category. The lag between the announcement and availability (something common for this market) was unfortunately once again the case as, for example, the Samsung SpinPoint F1was really only available at the end of the year after it was announced in June! We had access to Seagate’s 7200.11 at the end of summer after its announcement in June, which was a more reasonable delay.

While Hitachi, Samsung and Seagate all feature hard drives that function at 7200 rpm and equipped with 5, 4 and 3 platters with densities of 200, 250 and 333 GB, the Caviar GP is the “UFO” of this survey. It has four 250 GB platters like the Seagate drive which turns at 7200 rpm; however, its speed is unknown.

Actually, Western opted to underline its IntelliPower technology instead of rotation speed. According to the manufacturer, this technology is
« An excellent compromise between rotation speed, transfer speed and cache size resulting in significant energy savings and exceptional performances »
At one time, « 5400 to 7200 RPM » was mentioned on Western’s English speaking website concerning IntelliPower; however this was removed. This wasn’t such a bad idea because one might mistakenly think that the speed would vary between these two figures. In reality, this isn’t the case and the rotation speed of this product line is more like 5400 rpm than 7200 rpm as Western Digital prefers to stress the energy savings related to this choice. In this article, we will see if in practice performances can keep up!

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The hard drives, tests

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

- Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 – HDS721010KLA330 (GKAOA51D)
- Samsung SpinPoint F1 – HD103UJ (1AA01108)
- Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 – ST31000340AS (SD03)
- Western Digital Caviar GP – WD10EACS (01.01B01)

Hitachi 7K1000 1 To
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 and then a server load type simulation of files with IOMeter. This was followed by an evaluation of 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 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 performances

Synthetic performances

Cache speed measured with h2benchw’s « Core Test » reveals that the Samsung drive is the best in this domain while the Seagate model is in last place.

For sequential speed, it’s of course the SpinPoint F1 with its 333 GB platters that do the best even if the speed is a bit choppy at the start of the drive leading us to believe that this density is not yet perfectly mastered. This HDD is the first to have peaks that surpass 100 MB /s even going higher than 113 MB /s while Seagate comes close to breaking this symbolic mark. Better yet, the Samsung also doesn’t go under 54 MB /s at the end of the drive. Finally, despite its 250 GB platters, the Western is penalized by its poor rotation speed which is close to 5400 rpm – we don’t know what the exact figure is. It therefore comes in last place, behind the 7K1000 and its 200 GB platters.

This rotation speed also negatively affects the access time of the Caviar GP which places last. Either way, the difference is not that great compared to the Samsung. In the top position we find Seagate’s 7200.11, which by the way does not offer acoustic management. Too bad.

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Perfs-Application scores

Performances – Application scores
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.

The 7K1000 comes out on top in this test, followed by Samsung’s SpinPoint F1. In last place, we find the Seagate and then the Western, the latter doing rather well considering its characteristics. It does, however, suffer quite a bit from the activation acoustic management, which as we have seen before lowers its access time by 7.1ms.

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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 Samsung drive was very fast in tests which measured purely theoretical speeds; however unfortunately, this advantage isn’t carried over into more practical reading and writing operations. This is proof that pure speed is not everything and firmware and cache algorithms can have a strong impact.

The 7200.11’s performances are also disappointing in simple operations as it comes in last behind the Caviar GP. Despite its low rotation speed the Western drive grabs the second place in copying tests and posts a fine performance ! As for the SpinPoint F1, it’s the fastest while the Hitachi model is in the back of the pack.

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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 we have already seen in the past, this type of load is to the advantage of Western drives, to such an extent that despite its lesser rotation speed, the Caviar GP shares the lead with the 7200.11. While the performances of the Seagate drive are worst with a single access, it takes the most advantage of NCQ with a gain of 128% between 1 and 128 accesses. This is followed by the Western (+107%), Samsung (+82%) and finally the Hitachi 7K1000, which has a mere 63% gain.

Once acoustic management is activated, the impact on performances is rather significant and it varies depending on the number of simultaneous commands. With lower numbers (1 to 4), the SpinPoint F1 only loses 7-11%, while for Hitachi the reduction is 24-26%, and finally for Western it’s 26-29%. On the other hand, with 32 commands we are at 15% for Hitachi, 22% for Western and 24% for Samsung.

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Consumption, temp., noise

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

Logically, the more there are platters, the more energy the drive will consume. Therefore, for the 7200 rpm drives the worst was the Hitachi (5 platters) followed by the Seagate (4) and then the Samsung (3). However, the drive that consumed the least was the one with four platters, the Caviar GP, which uses its reduced rotation speed amongst other things to attain such a result.
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 (SMART).

The 7K1000 is by far the drive that heats up the most followed by the Samsung despite its low number of platters and internal probe which seemed to be a bit optimistic. (Not even turned on, the temperature reading was inferior to the room temperature.) The Seagate drive heats up the least of all 7200 rpm drives while the Caviar GP logically gives the best scores.

15°C affiché contre 20°C ambiant !
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 use in this test is fanless so that we can isolate the hard drive’s sound level:

In rotation, it’s logically the Western drive which has the best result. It is therefore the perfect solution if you want to combine large storage capacity and low sound levels. The other drives are relatively close to each other. They are more audible in rotation with a slight disadvantage for the SpinPoint despite its only having 3 platters. In access without acoustic management, the Hitachi is the loudest.

Here we would like to point out that, Seagate has made enormous progress with the 7200.11 in terms of noise levels produced in access. Indeed, since the 7200.7 SATA, Seagate was in last place in this domain and all the more so that they did not offer an option to reduce noise for fear of losing time in access (due to acoustic management). Of course, this option still isn’t available but the 7200.11 starts off being less noisy in access and actually shares 1st place with the Western drive.

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
- Samsung SpinPoint F1
- Seagate Barracuda 7200.11
- Western Digital Caviar GP

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We have to admit that when starting this survey we were a bit pessimistic about the Western Caviar GP. And actually, the fact that no clear indication of its rotation speeds isn’t too transparent on Western’s part. This drive has a special spot on the market which it has to assume 100%.

Despite this, we have to say that this drive offers very interesting characteristics. With a lower rotation speed, performances are still good and even in the top spots for drive to drive file copying and simultaneous access. Its low energy consumption, reduced temperature and minimal noise level make it an ideal candidate for a living room PC or NAS, for example.

The Samsung SpinPoint F1 has characteristics that are very impressive as it has a record surface density which help it to attain never before sequential speeds of up to 113 MB /s! Unfortunately, these first rate performances don’t really enable it to distinguish itself even more in practical tests. Nor do the reduced number of platters give it an advantage in temperature or noise levels. However, we do have to say that it is the product offering the best compromise in this survey.

As for the Seagate 7200.11, it’s unfortunate that it’s application performances are slightly inferior just like its file reading/writing speeds and in IOMeter with one session of simultaneous access. On the other hand, when there are multiple accesses, it takes the lead while not heating up too much and remaining discreet in access. This is a first in 5 years for Seagate and it’s better late than never.

Finally, the Hitachi is getting old. The fact that it has 5 platters and lesser surface density does not have much of an impact on performances; however, for this reason it uses the most energy and especially heats up 8°C to 10°C more than the Seagate model. In the end, its advantage in application performances seems quite small compared to this problem.

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