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Western Digital Caviar WD450AA
  May 24, 2000 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Western Digital Corp.

Introduction

About a year ago, we watched as Western Digital trumpeted the fruits of its alliance with IBM. The former had just started shipping two new drives, the Expert AC418000 and the Caviar AC420400. We eagerly put those drives through the paces, finding that they provided among the best performance/price values around. Performing similarly to the IBM Deskstar 22GXP and the Deskstar 25GP respectively, both drives managed to capture StorageReview.com's Summer 1999 ATA Editor's Choice Awards. WD followed up with the Caviar WD205AA and the Expert 273BA, both excellent-performing drives in their own rights... and both similar to the Deskstar 34GXP and Deskstar 37GP.

Since then, something strange has happened. WD released the 10 GB/platter Caviar WD307AA, with no corresponding release seen from Big Blue. Shortly afterwards, the Expert line was dropped. 7200rpm duties were subsequently picked up by the Caviar family with the release of the WD 205BA. Likewise, there was no corresponding 7200rpm 10 GB/platter product from IBM. Thus, following the brief period of technology exchange, it's clear that the companies have gone their separate ways.

The Caviar WD450AA is Western Digital's second-generation post-IBM product. Like the previously reviewed Maxtor DiamondMax 60, the drive stores an amazing 15 gigs of data per platter. Unlike Maxtor, however, WD has capped the flagship Caviar with three rather than four platters, resulting in a maximum capacity of 45 gigs... certainly nothing to sneeze at. As is the case with all of WD's "AA" suffixed products, the WD450AA features a 5400rpm spindle speed. The unit's seek time is rated at 9.5 milliseconds, a bit high in a market where manufacturers are often delving below 9ms. The drive features a two megabyte buffer. A three year warranty protects the drive.

Acknowledging the push towards "quieter acoustics" (at least from a marketing perspective), WD has introduced "Sound Logic" on this product. Though the company doesn't outline what exactly goes into making the drive quieter, the spec sheets note a two decibel reduction in the sound of an "average" seek pattern. As always, the ear is ultimately the judge.

Does WD's line remain a contender without close ties to Big Blue's drives? Let's take a look at some figures!

WB99/Win2k Low-Level Measurements

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Click here to examine the STR graph for this drive

The obvious drive to contrast the WD450AA's performance against is retail-archrival Maxtor's DiamondMax 60. Both drives feature 5400rpm spindle speeds combined with 15 gig/platter capacities.

The WD450AA's access time measures in at 15.4 milliseconds. Taking into account the drive's rated 9.5ms access time along with it's 5.6ms latency (an effect of its 5400rpm spindle speed), 15.4ms is right in line with specs after overhead is considered. The WD's access time measures lags a bit behind Maxtor's offering, which actually beats its specified 9.0ms seek.

High areal density allows the WD450AA to turn in an outer-zone sequential transfer rate of 25.6 MB/sec... speedy compared to previous offerings, but still just a tad slower than the DiamondMax 60's 27.8 MB/sec.

Let's turn to how these low-level figures translate into high-level WB99 performance.

WB99/Win2k WinMarks

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The WinBench 99 Disk WinMark scores between the WD405AA and the Maxtor DiamondMax 60 are much closer than one would guess given the drives' low-level perfomance. WD's offering lags Maxtor's drive by a mere 1% in the Business Disk WinMark 99. The High-End Disk WinMark is even closer, positing a dead-heat between the two drives.

Where WinBench fails to detect a difference, IOMeter might. Shall we?

IOMeter Performance

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The lower access time of Maxtor's DiamondMax 60 gives it a considerable advantage over the WD450AA in Linear and Very Light loads when it comes to Workstation performance. Under such conditions, we find the WD drive trailing the Maxtor by about 7%.

Under any heavier load, however, firmware optimizations start to muddy the picture. Light, Medium and Heavy scenarios all suggest virtually equal performance, with the WD actually pulling ahead by a negligible amount under Medium loads. Thus, for most purposes, IOMeter concurs with WinBench 99, placing the two drives on practically equal grounds.

We should take a moment to note that neither the WD or the Maxtor can deliver the performance scored by Quantum's "value-class" Fireball lct10. Of course, a converse scenario is also true... the Fireball doesn't score nearly as well as the WD and Maxtor in WinBench. It should, of course, be clear to readers that we heavily favor IOMeter due to WinBench 99's advancing age and increasingly inconsistent hypotheses.

Conclusion

The WD450AA is a quiet drive by almost all measures, though we have to give the nod to the Maxtor DiamondMax 60 in a direct comparison of subjective acoustics. Both drives feature indiscernible idle noise. Maxtor's drive, however, is just a tad less obtrusive when it comes to seeks. As a three-platter 5400rpm drive, the WD450AA runs cool to the touch and shouldn't be hard to integrate into even a cramped system.

Overall, Western Digital's release of the WD450AA allows it to keep up in terms of performance with the DiamondMax 60. Whether one looks at WinBench 99 or IOMeter, performance differences are about as non-existent as we've ever witnessed between two direct competitors. Maxtor's offering gets the marginal nod, only due to its slightly quieter operation and its availability in a 60 gig version. If one can do with 30 gigs, the Fireball lct10 also deserves a strong look. But if you're looking for quiet, competent 5400rpm drive and WD's 15 GB/platter drives are the only available choice at your preferred retailer, consider yourself fortunate nonetheless.

Western Digital Caviar WD450AA
Estimated Price: $279
Also Available: Not Specified
Specifications
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