by eugene

Hard Drives, v2.0


Note: Since the publication of this review, this drive has been retested under Testbed4, a newer hardware/software/benchmark platform. Please see this article for updated results. This review remains for reference purposes only.
See also Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 Review
See also Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 SATA Review
See also Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD Review

The growth of hard drive areal densities has slowed dramatically in recent days. When StorageReview first launched over six years ago, for example, drive densities doubled every three to four months with no end in sight! By contrast, it has been more than a year since drives such as the 83 GB/platter WD Caviar and MaXLine II appeared. While techniques to increase platter densities themselves have continued, limitations arise in the read and write heads- they just are not up to reading and writing data reliably from bits so closely packed together.

Though platter density has been the chief "driver" behind drive "generations," the absence of ever-increasing density has not prevented manufacturers from revising their existing models. In this article we will examine the changes delivered by three product familes:

Top of the drive Hitachi Deskstar 7K400: The 400-gigabyte Deskstar 7K400 leverages the technology introduced by the 250 GB 7K250 and extends the family's architecture to five 80-gigabyte platters. As a result, the 7K400 is the first five-platter Deskstar since the infamous 75GXP. Specified seek time remains at 8.5 milliseconds. The drive features an 8-megabyte buffer and FDB motors. It comes in both PATA and SATA interfaces, and is backed by a three-year warranty.

Top of the drive Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD: WD's flagship Caviar sticks with the firm's tradition of retaining the same model number, a point of continuing confusion in the enthusiast community. Our latest sample was manufactured June 8th, 2004. A striking difference between this sample and previous units is the drive's color- jet-black versus the standard silver of previous Caviars. In the past there has been some speculation on how WD would designate FDB-motor Caviars. In classic WD style, however, the firm has quietly snuck FDB operation into its existing JB (PATA) and JD (SATA) lines. Our intial WD2500 sample was equipped with ball-bearing motors. This second sample features FDB motor operation. An 8.9 millisecond seek time and a standard 8-megabyte buffer round out the package. The drive is protected by a one- (retail package) to three- (OEM/bare-drive) year warranty.

Top of the drive Seagate Barracuda 7200.7: Unlike the 7K400 and WD2500JD, Seagate's latest Barracuda edges forward with 100 GB/platter densities. The firm's current flagship tops out at just two platters, yielding a 200 GB capacity. Seagate specs the drive with an 8.5 ms seek time. The 7200.7 features an 8-megabyte buffer and as has been the case since the Barracuda ATA IV, is available exclusively with FDB motors. Seagate backs the Barracuda series with an across-the-board five-year warranty. Note that upcoming 7200.7 models will feature SATA Native Command Queuing (NCQ). This review sample, however, does not incorporate the feature.

Featuring large capacities and quiet 7200 RPM operation, these three drives target a variety of markets such as capacity-hungry power users looking to store audio and video files, personal video recorders that seek to incorporate massive recording times, and networks looking to add nearline storage at an affordable price.

In the following tests, the Deskstar 7K400, Caviar WD2500JD, and Barracuda 7200.7 are compared against the following drives for the following reasons:

Maxtor MaXLine III New-generation, large capacity 7200 RPM SATA drive
Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 The previous flagship Deskstar
Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD StorageReview's first sample of WD's flagship
Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 The 80 GB/platter version of Seagate's SATA drive



Low-Level Results

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

Average Read Access Time- An average of 25,000 random 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.

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.

Note: Scores on top are better.
Service Time Graphs (in milliseconds)
Average Read Service Time
Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250 GB SATA) - 12.1|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB SATA) - 12.7|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (200 GB SATA) - 12.9|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (160 GB SATA) - 13.5|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD (250 GB SATA) - 14.1|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 2nd Sample (250 GB SATA) - 14.6|
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Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB SATA) - 16.3|
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The Deskstar 7K400 and Barracuda 7200.7 deliver measured random access times of 12.7 and 12.9 milliseconds respectively. When taking into account the 4.2 millisecond rotational latency of a 7200 RPM spindle speed, the drives respectively measure out at 8.5 and 8.7 milliseconds- right on the money for the Hitachi and a negligible 0.2 ms miss for the Seagate. The Caviar's measured seek time, on the other hand, works out to 9.9 ms (4.2 subtracted from 14.1) and thus misses WD's claim by a full millisecond.

Note: Scores on top are better.
Transfer Rate Graphs (in megabytes per second)
Transfer Rate - Begin
Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB SATA) - 65.7|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (200 GB SATA) - 64.7|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 2nd Sample (250 GB SATA) - 60.6|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250 GB SATA) - 60.4|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB SATA) - 60.4|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD (250 GB SATA) - 57.9|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (160 GB SATA) - 56.2|
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Transfer Rate - End
Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB SATA) - 38.2|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 2nd Sample (250 GB SATA) - 37.8|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (200 GB SATA) - 37.2|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD (250 GB SATA) - 36.5|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250 GB SATA) - 32.9|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB SATA) - 32.9|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (160 GB SATA) - 32.7|
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With its slightly higher density, the 200 GB Barracuda 7200.7 achieves an outer-zone transfer rate of 64.7 MB/second, rivaling the (also 100 GB/platter) Maxtor MaXLine III. Hitachi's transfer rates remain identical between the firm's 250 GB and 400 GB units. Interestingly, the WD Caviar delivers a slight improvement in rates both at the outer and inner tracks, suggesting that the latest WD2500JD drives feature a different zone configuration than previous units despite the similar densities.


Single-User Performance

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

StorageReview.com Office DriveMark 2002- A capture of 30 minutes of actual computer productivity use that exactingly recreates a typical office-style multitasking environment. The applications include: Outlook XP, Word XP, Excel XP, PowerPoint XP, Calypso (a freeware e-mail client), SecureCRT v3.3 (a telnet/SSH client), CuteFTP Pro v1.0 (an FTP/SSH client), ICQ 2000b), Palm Hotsync 4.0, Gravity 2.3 (a Usenet/newsgroups client), PaintShop Pro v7.0, Media Player v8 for the occasional MP3, and Internet Explorer 6.0.

StorageReview.com High-End DriveMark 2002- A capture of VeriTest's Content Creation Winstone 2001 suite. Applications include Adobe Photoshop v5.5, Adobe Premiere v5.1, Macromedia Director v8.0, Macromedia Dreamweaver v3.0, Netscape Navigator v4.73, and Sonic Foundry Sound Forge v4.5. Unlike typical productivity applications, high-end audio- and video- editing programs are run in a more serial and less multitasked manner. The High-End DriveMark includes significantly more sequential transfers and write (as opposed to read) operations.

StorageReview.com Bootup DriveMark 2002- A capture of the rather unusual Windows XP bootup process. Windows XP's boot procedure involves significantly different access patterns and queue depths than those found in other disk accesses. This test recreates Windows XP's bootup from the initial bootstrap load all the way to initialization and loading of the following memory-resident utilities: Dimension4 (a time synchronizer), Norton Antivirus 2002 AutoProtect, Palm Hotsync v4.0, and ICQ 2000b.

StorageReview.com Gaming DriveMark 2002- A weighted average of the disk accesses featured in five popular PC games: Lionhead's Black & White v1.1, Valve's Half-Life: Counterstrike v1.3, Blizzard's Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction v1.09b, Maxis's The Sims: House Party v1.0, and Epic's Unreal Tournament v4.36. Games, of course, are not multitasked- all five titles were run in a serial fashion featuring approximately half an hour of play time per game.

For more information, please click here.

Note: Scores on top are better.
Desktop Performance Graphs (in I/Os per second)
SR Office DriveMark 2002
Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB SATA) - 472|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250 GB SATA) - 459|
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Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB SATA) - 448|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 2nd Sample (250 GB SATA) - 433|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (200 GB SATA) - 422|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (160 GB SATA) - 418|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD (250 GB SATA) - 417|
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SR High-End DriveMark 2002
Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB SATA) - 459|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 2nd Sample (250 GB SATA) - 455|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB SATA) - 448|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250 GB SATA) - 442|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (160 GB SATA) - 424|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD (250 GB SATA) - 418|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (200 GB SATA) - 412|
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SR Bootup DriveMark 2002
Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB SATA) - 478|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB SATA) - 435|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 2nd Sample (250 GB SATA) - 429|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (160 GB SATA) - 410|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (200 GB SATA) - 397|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD (250 GB SATA) - 394|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250 GB SATA) - 389|
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SR Gaming DriveMark 2002
Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB SATA) - 609|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250 GB SATA) - 588|
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Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB SATA) - 551|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (160 GB SATA) - 549|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 2nd Sample (250 GB SATA) - 542|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD (250 GB SATA) - 541|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (200 GB SATA) - 534|
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The newer drives deliver slight improvements across the board in the SR Office DriveMark 2002, a capture of actual productivity application use. The Deskstar 7K400 leads the pack at 472 I/Os per second, besting the previous record score turned in by its predecessor. The WD2500JD also improves to 433 I/Os per second and erases the slight gap that separated the -JD from its (not shown, see the StorageReview Performance Database for more information and custom comparisons) -JB (PATA) brother. Seagate's 200 GB Barracuda 7200.7 edges ahead of the 160 GB version ever so minutely with a 1% gain to 422 I/Os per second.

Maxtor's upcoming MaXLine III manages to slide by the Deskstar for first place in the High-End DriveMark 2002, a test that features more sequential and more write accesses. Hitachi exhibits a very slight increase when moving from the 7K250 to the 7K400. The Caviar's improvement, relatively speaking, is the most significant, bringing it within striking distance of the Maxtor's position.The 7200.7, strangely enough, actually regresses slightly when one moves from the 160 GB to the 200 GB iteration.

The MaXLine again leads in the Bootup DriveMark, a special trace that captures Windows XP's unique bootup disk access. The 7K400 turns in the best improvement of the three revised contenders by reaching 435 I/Os per second. WD's gain is incremental while the Barracuda again slips slightly.

SR's Gaming DriveMark represents a weighted average of five popular PC entertainment titles. Perhaps due to the relatively diverse nature of this suite, differences remain quite diluted. The 7K400 hits 609 I/Os per second to grab the crown- yet overall exhibits just the amount of improvement one would expect a larger capacity to exert. The Caviar's showing remains virtually identical while the Seagate again displays a slight slip between versions.


Multi-User Performance

StorageReview uses the following tests to assess server performance:

StorageReview.com File Server DriveMark 2002- A mix of synthetically-created reads and writes through IOMeter that attempts to model the heavily random access that a dedicated file server experiences. Individual tests are run under loads with 1 I/O, 4 I/Os, 16 I/Os, and 64 I/Os outstanding. The Server DriveMark is a convenient at-a-glance figure derived from the weighted average of results obtained from the four different loads.

StorageReview.com Web Server DriveMark 2002- A mix of synthetically-created reads through IOMeter that attempts to model the heavily random access that a dedicated web server experiences. Individual tests are run under loads with 1 I/O, 4 I/Os, 16 I/Os, and 64 I/Os outstanding. The Server DriveMark is a convenient at-a-glance figure derived from the weighted average of results obtained from the four different loads.

For more information click here.

Note: Scores on top are better.
Server Performance Graphs (in I/Os per second)
SR File Server DriveMark 2002
Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250 GB SATA) - 127|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (200 GB SATA) - 126|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD (250 GB SATA) - 124|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (160 GB SATA) - 123|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB SATA) - 122|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 2nd Sample (250 GB SATA) - 117|
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Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB SATA) - 101|
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SR Web Server DriveMark 2002
Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250 GB SATA) - 143|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB SATA) - 135|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (200 GB SATA) - 133|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (160 GB SATA) - 126|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 2nd Sample (250 GB SATA) - 124|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD (250 GB SATA) - 122|
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Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB SATA) - 113|
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Seek time continues to be the crux when it comes to the highly-random, non-localized nature of multi-user server access. Witness for example the Maxtor MaXLine III's relatively poor Server DriveMarks, a direct result of the unit's 16.3 ms measured access time. The Deskstar 7K400's access time is higher than that of its smaller brother (12.7 ms vs 12.3 ms) and results in a drop in server scores. The same applies to the revised WD2500JD (14.6 vs 14.1). Seagate bucks trends here with the Barracuda 7200.7. Shaving average access time to 12.9 ms from 13.5 ms allows the 'Cuda a slight gain in the File Server DriveMark.


Legacy Performance

eTesting Lab's WinBench 99 Disk WinMark tests are benchmarks that attempt to measure desktop performance through a rather dated recording of high-level applications. Despite their age, the Disk WinMarks are somewhat of an industry standard. The following results serve only as a reference; SR does not factor them into final judgments and recommends that readers do the same.

Note: Scores on top are better.
Legacy Performance Graphs (in megabytes per second)
ZD Business Disk WinMark 99
Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (160 GB SATA) - 17.0|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (200 GB SATA) - 14.3|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 2nd Sample (250 GB SATA) - 13.7|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250 GB SATA) - 11.8|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB SATA) - 11.7|
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Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB SATA) - 10.6|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD (250 GB SATA) - 10.3|
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ZD High-End Disk WinMark 99
Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 2nd Sample (250 GB SATA) - 48.4|
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Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB SATA) - 46.7|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB SATA) - 40.7|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250 GB SATA) - 39.8|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (160 GB SATA) - 39.7|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (200 GB SATA) - 39.4|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD (250 GB SATA) - 36.7|
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Note: Scores on top are better.
Heat and Noise
Idle Noise (in dB/A @ 18mm)
Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (200 GB SATA) - 39.7|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (160 GB SATA) - 40.4|
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Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB SATA) - 41.0|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 2nd Sample (250 GB SATA) - 41.0|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB SATA) - 41.2|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250 GB SATA) - 41.5|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD (250 GB SATA) - 46.1|
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Net Drive Temperature (in degrees celsius)
Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB SATA) - 19.4|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 2nd Sample (250 GB SATA) - 19.9|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (200 GB SATA) - 20.0|
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Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (160 GB SATA) - 20.1|
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Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD (250 GB SATA) - 20.1|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250 GB SATA) - 20.6|
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Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 (400 GB SATA) - 22.3|
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The industry-wide migration to FDB motors has contributed to drastically-reduced hard-drive idle noise. Even Western Digital, a relative latecomer to the game, is well on its way to exclusive FDB motor use. Objectively measured, the difference between a standard BB motor and a properly implemented FDB setup is huge- the WD2500JD drops from a relatively-audible 46.1 dB/A @ 18mm down to a whisper-quiet 41.0 dB/A. Subjectively speaking, the drop is truly a night-and-day difference.

Excepting the ball-bearing-based WD2500JB, all of the drives presented above generate an idle noise floor of about 41 dB/A @ 18mm. While there are exceptions at times, generally speaking such low pressure measurements fall well below the threshold of audibility when properly mounted in a case equipped with all but the quietest power supply and CPU fans.

Seek noises are also quiet across the board. The 7K400, perhaps by virtue of its larger actuator, seeks a tad louder than the others. Accesses generated by the WD2500JD and the 7200.7 are comparable to each other, both slightly less obtrusive than the Deskstar.

As one might expect from a high platter count, the Deskstar 7K400 runs slightly hotter than the competition. The Barracuda, on the other hand, shows that fewer platters count do not necessarily translate into meaningful savings in heat dissipation as its measurements pan out similarly to that of 3-platter designs. All should run well in systems featuring decent ventilation. Though the 7K400 runs slightly hotter, one should also consider that it would generate less heat than the necessary pair of any other drives required to exceed the Hitachi's capacity.


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 7K400 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 7K400, the Hitachi 7K250 , 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 Barracuda 7200.7 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 Barracuda 7200.7, the Seagate Barracuda ATA V , 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 Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD 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 Western Digital Caviar WD2500JD, the Western Digital Caviar WD2500JB , 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.


Conclusion

The Quiet Gets Slightly Larger- Seagate's flagship Barracuda 7200.7 is currently the only shipping drive that inches past the 80 GB/platter rut that has plagued the industry for nearly two years. The family as a whole also remains the only line to feature a non-bridged SATA solution. Though that means little at the present time, the firm's transition to SATA-2-style features such as NCQ may thus be much smoother than that of the competition. The 100 GB/platter 'Cuda's increased density really does not translate into better performance- comparisons between the 200 GB and 160 GB unit remain a wash. Seagate's line continues, of course, to exhibit whisper quiet operation. The manufacturer's five-year warranty leads the industry. Glancing at the specs of the 7200.7's successor, it appears that Seagate may finally be ready to seriously up its SATA ante.

The Fast Gets A Lot Quieter- As it maintains its position as WD's flagship 7200 RPM offering, the WD2500JD continues to evolve. This latest iteration features a different zone layout, revised firmware, and, most significantly, FDB motors. The WD2500JD achieves incrementally improved performance as well as a vastly improved acoustic noise floor and remains a solid choice.

The Fastest Gets Larger... and Faster- The Deskstar 7K400 expands upon the winning formula already delivered by Hitachi's 7K250 through the addition of two more platters and 150 GB of additional capacity. This larger capacity, of course, impacts SR's real-world performance tests and thus allows the 7K400 to realize slightly higher single-user scores across the board. Though the performance gain is hardly huge, Hitachi once again proves that the biggest and baddest 7200 RPM drive can be one and the same.

  Review Discussion