Western Digital WD1000BB-SE provided by Western Digital Corporation.
See also Seagate Barracuda ATA IV Review
See also Western Digital Caviar WD1000BB Review
Why retest the Barracuda ATA IV?
When we initially reviewed Seagate's Barracuda ATA IV we were surprised with the 14.9 millisecond access times that WinBench 99 delivered in light of lower scores reported from a variety of other sites. We combed through these other reviews searching for any mention of Automatic Acoustic Management (AAM) but came up empty. As a result, we assumed the drives were reviewed in their default mode. At the time, Seagate also insisted that it did not plan to offer end users a way to toggle factory-set AAM settings but would rather leave the option to its OEMs.
Since then several readers have pointed out that a utility from IBM could be used to disable AAM on the 'Cuda ATA IV (Seagate tells us their own utility is now available through tech support). Doing so brings our measured access times in line with those reported by other sites. Did these sites disable AAM before reporting their results? If so, they didn't report it. Every site in question was based outside North America; perhaps international shipments don't fall under Seagate's new policy of delivering drives with AAM enabled by default. At any rate, it is SR's policy to disable AAM before reporting results. We therefore owe the 'Cuda ATA IV a second look.
Further, disabling AAM on the 'Cuda allows us to scrutinize the effects of a reduction in access time on higher-level benchmarks. SR community members hold measured access times in very high regard- most folks consider a one millisecond reduction quite significant. With today's modern firmware and caching strategies, however, just how much difference does one millisecond make?
Retesting the Barracuda ATA IV allows SR to gauge the effects of a reduction in access times and its impact on high-level performance.
Why retest the Caviar WD1000BB?
Long-time readers may remember that SR wasn't too fond of Western Digital's drives when we launched back in 1998. The performance they delivered simply didn't keep up with the competition. In recent times, however, WD has taken the lead when it comes to both capacity and performance. In the wake of Maxtor's recent acquisition of Quantum's hard disk operations, WD stands as the only major manufacturer concentrating its efforts in the ATA sector. As a result, according to company officials, Western Digital has quite a few interesting and unconventional projects on the table.
To differentiate their offerings from the competition, one of WD's largest OEMs recently requested an ATA drive with an 8-megabyte buffer. The manufacturer responded by retooling its current flagship, the WD1000BB, with an 8-meg cache. Though the WD1000BB-SE primarily caters to OEM needs, some extra units are available directly through the company's online store for $379... an $80 premium over the standard 2-megabyte BB unit.
Aside from its quadrupled buffer, the BB-SE's specs remain similar to the BB. Readers may recall that SR has twice tackled the difference that larger buffer sizes make in the past. The first, involving a pair of Maxtor drives that varied buffer size between 512k and 1024k, proved inconclusive. Our second look contrasted the standard Seagate Cheetah 18LP, equipped with a 1024K buffer, with the 4096K 'A/V' version. Here the Cheetah equipped with the larger cache turned in decidedly better scores. Since then, however, caching strategies, sizes, and SR's own methodologies have evolved considerably. The WD1000BB-SE's 8-meg buffer represents the first increase in ATA buffer sizes since IBM's Deskstar 22GXP and WD's own Expert AC418000 raised the bar to two megabytes nearly three years ago.
Testing the Caviar WD1000BB-SE allows SR to gauge the effects of an increase in buffer size and its impact on high-level performance.
Let's first take a look at the changes these differences deliver from a low-level perspective.