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Western Digital Caviar WD400BB
  September 21, 2000 Author: Eugene Ra  
Evaluation unit provided by Western Digital Corp.


The 7200 rpm drive race is heating up. Though IBM was the first to the market with a unit featuring 15 GB/platter, manufacturers such as Quantum, Seagate, and Western Digital have all decided to skip the 15 GB plateau in favor of disks that pack 20 gigs of data on a single platter. Somewhat to our surprise, it's Western Digital that's the first to get us one of these next-generation units.

WD's 10 GB/platter Caviar WD205BA was a middling performer. Though it initially posted decent WinBench 99 scores on our original testbed, our newer, contemporary test machine combined with the IOMeter suite deployed earlier this year revealed a drive that failed to set itself apart in most tests. The Caviar 205BA seemed to be WD's first attempt at a 7200 RPM unit without the help of IBM (who's technology assisted in the Expert series of drives). Even so, WD has taken steps to assert their position at the forefront of the 7200 RPM ATA competition by rapidly deploying a 20 GB/platter drive.

In addition to its 7200 RPM spindle speed and 20 GB/platter areal density, the WD400BB features an 8.9 millisecond seek time and a 2 megabyte buffer. Like its predecessor, the 400BB's flagship incarnation features only two platters, yielding a 40 GB capacity. A three-year warranty protects the drive.

The Caviar WD400BB is the first WD drive that will ship exclusively with the ATA-100 interface. Remember that since IDE drives have yet to break sequential transfer rates greater than even 40 MB/se that ATA-66 (and in most cases, even ATA-33) interfaces will run the drive at optimal performance. Our testbed remains equipped with a Promise Ultra66 controller.

WB99/Win2k Low-Level Measurements

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Click here to examine the STR graph for this drive

The WD400BB's measured access time is 13.9 milliseconds, somewhat of a disappointment when specs indicate that the unit should feature a score closer to 13.0 ms. With the new DiamondMax Plus 45 shaving quite a bit of time off of Maxtor's traditionally high access times, WD's drive earns the dubious distinction of the highest access time featured in a current drive.

There are quite a few readers eagerly awaiting the sequential transfer rate results from the new breed of 20 GB/platter 7200 RPM units. Like Maxtor's new drive (which features just 15 GB/platter), the WD400BB fails to beat the IBM Deskstar 75GXP on its outermost tracks, posting a speed of 33.6 MB/sec. On the other hand, the drive's inner-zone score is easily the most impressive we've recorded to date from an ATA drive at 23.5 MB. A look at the WinBench 99 outer zone transfer rate of 33 MB/sec is maintained through nearly half of the drive's capacity... quite unusual, and definitely not a bad thing.

WB99/Win2k WinMarks

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WinMark scores are, to put it mildly, impressive. The WD400BB's Business Disk WinMark score of 8.4 MB/sec is a full 7% higher than that of the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 45, itself a record-breaker. The margin in the High-End WinMark is similarly impressive... also 7%.

In fact, the WD's Business score brings it within two percent of the current leader, Quantum's SCSI Atlas 10k II. Many manufacturers (Quantum included) believe that WB99 continues to paint the most reliable picture when it comes to workstation disk performance. Assuming this were true, the WD400BB provides 98% of the performance of the Atlas 10k II in business applications.

SR readers know, of course, that we like to temper WinBench 99 results with a healthy dose of IOMeter. Let's see how WD's unit fares.

IOMeter Performance

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Western Digital's new drive posts an IOMeter Workstation Index score (a normalized average of Light, Medium and Heavy Workstation access pattern scores) of about 150, an improvement over its predecessor of 12%. Though such a score doesn't propel it to the heights enjoyed by category-leading drives such as the IBM Deskstar 75GXP or the Quantum Fireball Plus LM, it does set the WD apart from Maxtor's DiamondMax Plus 45 and Seagate's Barracuda ATA II.


Packing just two platters, the WD400BB is indeed a quiet and cool design. Active cooling should be unnecessary in most cases. Even when seeking, the drive is quiet. Though not as silent as units from Fujitsu or Samsung, the drive is nonetheless quieter than recent units from Maxtor, themselves not exactly roaring disks.

The Safe Buy Award

Simply put, this designation means we'd purchase this product without regret. Sure, there may be a slightly better, slightly faster, and/or slightly less-expensive model from a competitor, but you can't go wrong with this particular unit. This award is applicable, of course, to all units at the top of their class, but also applies to units that, though not quite best-of-class, provide a strong showing nonetheless. The 400BB's WinMark scores shatter previous records... they stand in a class of their own. IOMeter scores, though not staggering, represent improvement over previous models (and some of the competition, for that matter). When combined with quiet and cool operation, such performance makes WD's unit a viable alternative to the Quantum Fireball LM (fast but noisy) and, depending on final pricing, the Deskstar 75GXP (fast but relatively pricey). Those looking for a drive smaller than 40 gigs should consider it.

Western Digital Caviar WD400BB
Estimated Price: $199
Also Available: 10 GB, 20 GB, and 30 GB sizes
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