by eugene

160 GB Notebook Drive Roundup


The 2.5" notebook drive market continues to expand with several manufacturers recently announcing units that manage to cram 200 GB or more inside their tiny cases. Widespread use of perpendicular recording methods, where bits of information are stored on platters vertically rather than horizontally, fuels continually rising capacities.

Manufacturers and users alike also watch in anticipation as this final sector of drive-based storage continues to evolve and consolidate from its older legacy paradigm of a 2x22 pin grid power/data connector to the increasingly consistent 22-contact paradigm enjoyed by the SATA and SAS standards.

As we prepare to turn our attention to a series of individual drive reviews that pit the newest contender against other similar units, let us take this time to strengthen the base against which new units may be compared by rounding up a few 160-gigabyte drives submitted by Hitachi, Seagate, and WD.

We will take a look at the following units:

Top of the drive

Hitachi Travelstar 5K160

  • 5400 RPM
  • ATA-100 (SATA also available)
  • 80 GB/platter
  • 11 millisecond seek time
  • 8-megabyte buffer
  • Available in (GB): 160, 120, 80, 60, 40
A versatile line that fully straddles the PATA and SATA divide: unlike other offerings, the Travelstar 5K160 family offers all its sizes and capacities equipped with both interfaces.
Lowest Real-Time Price (160 GB):
Top of the drive

Seagate Momentus 5400.3

  • 5400 RPM
  • ATA-100 (SATA also available)
  • 80 GB/platter
  • 12.5 millisecond seek time
  • 8-megabyte buffer
  • Available in (GB): 160, 120, 100, 80, 60, 40
The industry's first product to utilize the increasingly-common perpendicular-recording paradigm, the Momentus 5400.3 extends Seagate's mature Momentus 5400 platform to 160 GB and remains Seagate's primary offering for legacy PATA interfaces.
Lowest Real-Time Price (160 GB):
Top of the drive

Seagate Momentus 7200.2

  • 7200 RPM
  • SATA
  • 80 GB/platter
  • 11 millisecond seek time
  • 8-megabyte buffer
  • Available in (GB): 160, 120, 100, 80
First of a new-generation of 7200 RPM units that combine a performance-oriented spindle speed with 160 GB or more of capacity, the Momentus 7200.1 promises to close the gap between notebook and desktop drives, albeit at a hefty cost/GB ratio.
Lowest Real-Time Price (160 GB):
Top of the drive

Western Digital Scorpio WD1600BEVS

  • 5400 RPM
  • SATA
  • 80 GB/platter
  • 12 millisecond seek time
  • 8-megabyte buffer
  • Available in (GB): 160, 120, 100, 80, 60, 40
A second-generation WD design that bridges a gap as the firm transitions to the SATA interface for the Scorpio line. The firm's current designs top out at 5400 RPM; as a result, WD differentiates its units with buffer sizes –- units with a 2-meg buffer are also available.
Lowest Real-Time Price (160 GB):

In our tests, the two SATA drives (Momentus 7200.2 and Scorpio WD1600BEVS) will have their NCQ ability enabled. All four 160 GB drives will be compared against the following:

Hitachi Travelstar 7K100 (100 GB) Previous-generation 7200 RPM drive
Seagate Momentus 7200.1 (100 GB) Previous-generation 7200 RPM drive
Seagate Momentus 5400.2 (120 GB) Previous-generation 5400 RPM drive
Western Digital Scorpio WD800VE Previous-generation 5400 RPM drive




Access Time and Transfer Rate

For diagnostic purposes only, StorageReview measures the following low-level parameters:

Average Read Access Time- An average of 25,000 random read accesses of a single sector each conducted through IPEAK SPT's AnalyzeDisk suite. The high sample size permits a much more accurate reading than most typical benchmarks deliver and provides an excellent figure with which one may contrast the claimed access time (claimed seek time + the drive spindle speed's average rotational latency) provided by manufacturers.

Average Write Access Time- An average of 25,000 random write accesses of a single sector each conducted through IPEAK SPT's AnalyzeDisk suite. The high sample size permits a much more accurate reading than most typical benchmarks deliver. Due to differences in read and write head technology, seeks involving writes generally take more time than read accesses.

WB99 Disk/Read Transfer Rate - Begin- The sequential transfer rate attained by the outermost zones in the hard disk. The figure typically represents the highest sustained transfer rate a drive delivers.

WB99 Disk/Read Transfer Rate - End- The sequential transfer rate attained by the innermost zones in the hard disk. The figure typically represents the lowest sustained transfer rate a drive delivers.

For more information, please click here.

Weighing in with a measured access time of 14.2 milliseconds (ms), Seagate's Momentus 7200.2 tops the chart when it comes to positioning metrics. After accounting for the average 4.2 ms rotational latency associated with a 7200 RPM spindle, the 7200.2's measured seek time is left at 10.0 ms and beats Seagate's claim by a full millisecond. Likewise subtracting the 5.6 ms associated with a 5400 RPM drive, the Momentus 5400.3 yields a 10.3 ms seek time, ending up 2.2 ms under the firm's spec. Not bad at all for drives from a company that traditionally has been anything but conservative when it comes to seek time claims. Hitachi's Travelstar 5K160 slightly trails the Momentus 5400.3 with a measured seek time of 16.5 ms. After subtracting 5.6 milliseconds, the drive's measured seek time lays bare at 10.9 ms, hitting the company's 11 ms claim. At the rear when it comes to the 160-gigabyte units featured in this roundup, WD's Scorpio WD1600BEVS turns in a read access time of 17.4 ms. The unit nonetheless makes the firm's 12 ms claim with a resultant average seek time of 11.8 ms.

With its 7200 RPM spindle and 80 GB/platter density, the Momentus 7200.2 sets itself in a class of its own when it comes to sequential transfer rates. At 61.6 MB/sec, the 7200.2 builds upon the score turned in by its 7200.1 predecessor by adding nearly 15 MB/sec to its outer-zone score. The WD1600BEVS leads the 5400 RPM pack with an outer-zone rate of just under 50 MB/sec. The 5K160 follows closely behind at 47.5 MB/sec while the Momentus 5400.3 finds itself in the lower area of the chart with a relatively sedate 44.2 MB/sec mark. Generally speaking, rates proportionately decay across all four 160 GB models as data moves towards the inner tracks. Follow these links for a look at their transfer rate graphs:

Some Perspective

It is important to remember that seek time and transfer rate measurements are mostly diagnostic in nature and not really measurements of "performance" per se. Assessing these two specs is quite similar to running a processor "benchmark" that confirms "yes, this processor really runs at 2.4 GHz and really does feature a 400 MHz FSB." Many additional factors combine to yield aggregate high-level hard disk performance above and beyond these two easily measured yet largely irrelevant metrics. In the end, drives, like all other PC components, should be evaluated via application-level performance. Over the next few pages, this is exactly what we will do. Read on!





Single-User Performance

StorageReview uses the following tests to assess non-server use:

StorageReview.com Office DriveMark 2006- A capture of VeriTest's Business Winstone 2004 suite. Applications include Microsoft's Office XP (Word, Excel, Access, Outlook, and Project), Internet Explorer 6.0, Symantec Antivirus 2002 and Winzip 9.0 executed in a lightly-multitasked manner.

StorageReview.com High-End DriveMark 2006- A capture of VeriTest's Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 suite. Applications include Adobe Photoshop v7.01, Adobe Premiere v6.5, Macromedia Director MX v9.0, Macromedia Dreamweaver MX v6.1, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9.0, Newtek Lightwave 3D 7.5b, and Steinberg Wavelab 4.0f run in a lightly-multitasked manner.

For more information, please click here.

Unsurprisingly, the Momentus 7200.2 leads the pack in the SR Office DriveMark 2006 by building a upon the previous category leader, Seagate's own 7200.1, by about 3%. The Travelstar 5K160 sets itself apart from the other two 160 GB contenders, distancing itself from the Momentus 5400.3 and Scorpio WD1600BEVS with a 5% cushion.

The 7200.2 distances itself from its predecessor by a greater margin in the SR High-End DriveMark 2006. Here Seagate's powerhouse enjoys a 10% gain over the performance turned in by the 7200.1 and bests Hitachi's 7200 RPM Travelstar 7K100, the unit that previously lead the pack when it comes to more demanding content creation applications that deal with large data files.

The Travelstar 5K160 again tops the 5400 RPM pack, though the Momentus 5400.3 nips at its heels. WD's Scorpio, on the other hand, lags towards the bottom of the chart.

Gaming Performance

Three decidedly different entertainment titles cover gaming performance in StorageReview's test suite.

FarCry, a first-person shooter, remains infamous for its lengthy map loads when switching levels.

The Sims 2, though often referred to as a "people simulator," is in its heart a strategy game and spends considerable time accessing the disk when loading houses and lots.

Finally, World of Warcraft represents the testbed's role-playing entry; it issues disk accesses when switching continents/dungeons as well as when loading new textures into RAM on the fly.

For more information, please click here.

Interestingly, the Momentus 7200.2 stumbles quite a bit when it comes to our FarCry access pattern. Here Seagate's latest not only trails its predecessor and the Travelstar 7K100 but also the manufacturer's own current-generation offering, the 5400.3. Placing only slightly behind the 7200.2 is Hitachi's 5K160, with WD's 160 GB Scorpio falling behind its own 80 GB precursor and bringing up the rear.

Seagate's latest regains its form when it comes to Maxis's popular people simulator, besting previous leader Hitachi by a 13% margin. The 5400 RPM offerings from Seagate and Hitachi tie in placing at the top of the 5400 RPM pack. The 160 GB Scorpio again trails its contemporaries, though this time around it does manage a significant improvement over WD's older 80 GB model.

Most significant here is the Momentus 7200.2's tumble to the bottom of the chart. Even the Scorpio WD1600BEVS, thus far hardly a stellar performer in its own right, tops Seagate's 7200 RPM offering. The news is not great for the Scorpio either, as the newer 160 GB model places significantly behind its 80 GB predecessor. In another class rest the other two 160 GB offerings, the Travelstar 5K160 and Momentus 5400.3 once again tying with one another by turning in respectable numbers that place them in the middle of the field.


Multi-User Performance

Unlike single-user machines (whether a desktop or workstation), servers undergo highly random, non-localized access. StorageReview simulates these multi-user loads using IOMeter. The IOMeter File Server pattern balances a majority of reads and minority of writes spanning requests of varying sizes.

IOMeter also facilitates user-configurable load levels by maintaining queue levels (outstanding I/Os) of a specified depth. Our tests start with the File Server pattern with a depth of 1 and double continuously until depth reaches 128 outstanding I/Os.

Drives with any sort of command queuing abilities will always be tested with such features enabled. Unlike single-user patterns, multi-user loads always benefit when requests are reordered for more efficient retrieval.

For more information click here.

While one would not expect notebook-oriented drives in a server environment, these 2.5" drives do serve a role in space-confined applications such as blade servers where SAS-based options such as Seagate's Savvio line remain prohibitively priced. For such applications, the SATA interface not only provides seamless interoperability with the enterprise-oriented SAS interface, but also Native Command Queuing (NCQ), a features that permits the drives to better scale in IO/s per second delivered as queue depths rise.

Under such a scenario, the 7200 RPM SATA-based Momentus drives offer performance in another league when contrasted with PATA offerings, whether 5400 or 7200 RPM. By virtue of its own NCQ capability, the 5400 RPM SATA-based WD Scorpio also manages to hang with the Momentus units. The WD1600BEVS scales nicely and remains competitive, offering substantially higher IOps than non-SATA units at realistically-heavy concurrency levels of 4-8 IOs.


Noise and Power Measurements

Idle Noise- The sound pressure emitted from a drive measured at a distance of 3 millimeters. The close-field measurement allows for increased resolution between drive sound pressures and eliminates interactions from outside environmental noise. Note that while the measurement is an A-weighted decibel score that weighs frequencies in proportion to human ear sensitivity, a low score does not necessarily predict whether or not a drive will exhibit a high-pitch whine that some may find intrusive. Conversely, a high score does not necessarily indicate that the drive exhibits an intrusive noise profile.

Operating Power Dissipation- The power consumed by a drive, measured both while idle and when performing fully random seeks. In the relatively closed environment of a computer case, power dissipation correlates highly with drive temperature. The greater a drive's power draw, the more significant its effect on the chassis' internal temperature.

Startup (Peak) Power Dissipation- The maximum power dissipated by a drive upon initial spin-up. This figure is relevant when a system features a large number of drives. Though most controllers feature logic that can stagger the spin-up of individual drives, peak power dissipation may nonetheless be of concern in very large arrays or in cases where a staggered start is not feasible. Generally speaking, drives hit peak power draw at different times on the 5V and 12V rails. The 12V peak usually occurs in the midst of initial spin-up. The 5V rail, however, usually hits maximum upon actuator initialization.

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Of note, all 160 GB drives under review are as loud or louder than older units when sound pressure is objectively measured. Seagate's Momentus 5400.3 ties the 100 GB Travelstar 7K100 with a noise floor of 40 dB/A at a distance of three millimeters. The other three units build upwards from there. Subjectively speaking, however, the 5400.3, WD1600BEVS, and 5K160 offer whisper-quiet, unobtrusive operation. The Momentus 7200.2, however, emits a slight mid-pitch hum. Though not “loud" by any means, the sound may be discernable if no other background noise such as system fan is present.

Hitachi's Travelstar 5K160 leads the pack when it comes to power draw, an important attribute in the context of notebooks that strive to run as long as possible on a charge while maintaining cool and quiet operation. At idle, the 5K160 draws just 0.5 watts and maintains an edge over the competition even under a full load.

The Momentus 5400.3 does almost as well, turning in seek and idle power dissipation measurements nearly as low as that of the Hitachi's. WD's 160 GB offering places a bit lower on the charts, drawing a full watt when idle and consuming a few tenths more when seeking. Finally, the Momentus 7200.2's dissipation numbers place just behind the Scorpio. Such a showing is an improvement overall for the 7200 RPM line, however, representing a 40% drop in idle power consumption and a signicant, albeit not as dramatic, lowering of active power draw.

When spinning up from a cold start, the Momentus 5400.3 enjoys a significant advantage over all over drives, drawing 20% less power than the next closest unit. Said unit is Seagate's own Momentus 7200.2, enjoying its own improvement over its predecessor. WD's Scorpio brings up the rear, peaking at a full 1.4 watts more than the 5400.3.


Reliability

The StorageReview.com Reliability Survey aims to amalgamate individual reader experiences with various hard disks into a comprehensive warehouse of information from which meaningful results may be extracted. A multiple-layer filter sifts through collected data, silently omitting questionable results or results from questionable participants. A proprietary analysis engine then processes the qualified dataset. SR presents results to readers through a percentile ranking system.

According to filtered and analyzed data collected from participating StorageReview.com readers, the Hitachi Travelstar 5K160 is more reliable than of the other drives in the survey that meet a certain minimum floor of participation.

According to filtered and analyzed data collected from participating StorageReview.com readers, a predecessor of the Hitachi Travelstar 5K160, the Hitachi Travelstar 5K100 , is more reliable than of the other drives in the survey that meet a certain minimum floor of participation.

According to filtered and analyzed data collected from participating StorageReview.com readers, the Seagate Momentus 5400.3 is more reliable than of the other drives in the survey that meet a certain minimum floor of participation.

According to filtered and analyzed data collected from participating StorageReview.com readers, a predecessor of the Seagate Momentus 5400.3, the Seagate Momentus 5400.2 , is more reliable than of the other drives in the survey that meet a certain minimum floor of participation.

According to filtered and analyzed data collected from participating StorageReview.com readers, the Seagate Momentus 7200.2 is more reliable than of the other drives in the survey that meet a certain minimum floor of participation.

According to filtered and analyzed data collected from participating StorageReview.com readers, a predecessor of the Seagate Momentus 7200.2, the Seagate Momentus 7200.1 , is more reliable than of the other drives in the survey that meet a certain minimum floor of participation.

According to filtered and analyzed data collected from participating StorageReview.com readers, the WD Scorpio WD1600BEVS is more reliable than of the other drives in the survey that meet a certain minimum floor of participation.

According to filtered and analyzed data collected from participating StorageReview.com readers, a predecessor of the WD Scorpio WD1600BEVS, the WD Scorpio WD800VE , is more reliable than of the other drives in the survey that meet a certain minimum floor of participation.

Note that the percentages in bold above may change as more information continues to be collected and analyzed. For more information, to input your experience with these and/or other drives, and to view comprehensive results, please visit the SR Drive Reliability Survey.


Some Last Words

Hitachi Travelstar 5K160: Across the board, Hitachi's workhorse offers the best 5400 RPM performance out of all tested 5400 RPM 2.5" drives. Further, the 5K160 delivers on the firm's ambitious power draw claims and dissipates the fewest watts of any drive. It is an easy choice for those looking to balance performance with cool, quiet, and (battery-wise) long-lasting operation.

Seagate Momentus 5400.3: Though it manages to match the Travelstar in many tests, in others the Momentus lags behind Hitachi's drive. Overall, the 5K160 remains more compelling.

Seagate Momentus 7200.2: At almost double the cost per gigabyte of the other drives featured in this roundup, the 7200.2 is a solid, next-generation choice for road warriors looking to desktop-style responsiveness and capacity. A notable exception may lie in the realm of gaming, where, surprisingly, the otherwise speedy drive stumbles.

WD Scorpio WD1600BEVS: WD is the newest player in the 2.5" drive market and it seems to show. Though there are some high points, such as the drive's performance under multi-user access, the Scorpio does not keep up with the likes of Hitachi's and Seagate's drives when it comes to more realistic productivity and gaming uses. Scorpio seems to be a work in progress, though the firm's timely announcement of a next-generation 250 GB product (in the past, WD followed with notebook products a quarter or two later than the competition) indicates the gap may be closing.

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