by eugene

Samsung SpinPoint P120

Samsung SpinPoint P120 Available Capacities
Model Number Capacity
SP2004C 200 GB
SP2504C 250 GB
Lowest Real-Time Price (250 GB):


Earlier this year, Samsung's storage division was just the second manufacturer to venture significantly beyond the 100 GB/platter plateau set by rivals Seagate and Maxtor in 2004. Incorporating a relatively modest two-disc assembly, the SpinPoint P120 crams 125 gigabytes per platter to achieve its flagship 250 GB capacity.

As the firm's first native SATA offering, the P120 incorporates a 3.0 Gb/sec SATA interface and Native Command Queuing (NCQ). Samsung specs seek times at 8.9 milliseconds. Unlike most of today's larger drives, the P120 sticks with a smaller 8-megabyte buffer rather than ramping it up to 16.

Top of the driveMuch like Hitachi, Samsung has yet to segment its SATA storage offerings into discrete enterprise and desktop lines. As a result, the firm positions the P120 as a solution to both standard desktop use as well as light-duty server applications.

Traditionally speaking, SpinPoints have delivered whisper-quiet operation while leaving a bit to be desired when it comes to sheer performance. Does the P120 break the mold? Let us turn to some tests and find out! As a contemporary 7200 RPM drive, the SpinPoint P120 will be compared against these drives in the tests that follow:

Hitachi Deskstar 7K500 (500 GB) High-capacity competing unit (100GB/platter)
Maxtor MaXLine III (300 GB) High-capacity competing enterprise unit (100 GB/platter)
Samsung SpinPoint P80 (160 GB) Predecessor to the review drive (80GB/platter)
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 (500 GB) High-capacity competing desktop unit (125 GB/platter)
Western Digital Caviar RE2 WD4000YR (400 GB) High-capacity competing enterprise unit (100 GB/platter)

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.

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The SpinPoint P120 weighs in with an average read access time of 14.3 milliseconds and as a result lags other contemporary drives by a millisecond or two. Subtracting 4.2 ms to account for the average latency of the P120's 7200 RPM spindle nets a measured read seek time of 10.1 ms. Samsung claims an 8.9 spec... off by about one millisecond. The SpinPoint's average write access time trails its read score by about half a millisecond.

Unlike the Barracuda 7200.9, a drive that also incorporates 125-gigabyte platters, the SpinPoint employs an aggressive zoning scheme and hits 71.3 MB/sec in its outer zone. Samsung's drive is only the second 7200 RPM unit to break the 70 MB/sec mark and and rests just short of Seagate's enterprise-oriented NL35 (not shown, see the SR Performance Database). Rates decay down to 41.5 MB/sec, a 7200 RPM record. Though it should not have any bearing on high-level performance, the SpinPoint delivers one of the more jagged transfer rate graphs around.

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: 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. 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.

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Delivering an SR Office DriveMark 2006 of 735 I/Os per second with NCQ disabled, the SpinPoint P120 fares well in our new productivity measure. Although it lags capacious hot-rods from Hitachi and WD, the P120 easily bests Seagate's Barracuda 7200.9, Maxtor's aging MaXLine III, and its own predecessor, the SpinPoint P80. As usual, enabling NCQ results in a small slide.

Samsung's performance is adequate but not spectacular in the High-End DriveMark. At 546 I/Os per second, the P120 tussles with the Barracuda towards the middle of the chart. Here NCQ hampers scores just a bit more- activating the feature triggers a 5% regression in the drive's score.

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.

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Things take a turn for the worse as we turn to our gaming traces. Playing back a capture from Ubisoft's FarCry, the SpinPoint P120 manages just 592 I/Os per second and lags the competition to the point where significant differences arise in this notoriously long-loading FPS title.

The SpinPoint tenaciously maintains pace with other drives in a replay of disk accesses found in EA's popular people simulator. Though its scores technically grace the bottom of the chart, the P120 in reality performs about as well as the Barracuda 7200.9 and MaXLine III.

Samsung's contender continues to languish towards the bottom in a replay of Blizzard's massively-popular World of Warcraft. While it manages to more or less match the performance of the Maxtor, the P120 falls short of the speed offered by the Barracuda and gets left in the dust by the Caviar and Deskstar.

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.

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Samsung offers a fair NCQ implementation with the SpinPoint P120. The drive commences at linear loads by delivering 77 I/Os per second and scales upward in ruler-straight fashion to max out at 120 when depths reach 32 or more. As a result, the P120 tops the showings turned in by drives from Seagate and Hitachi but trails WD's category-leading WD4000YR and Maxtor's surprisingly-resilient MaXLine.

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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With an objectively assessed sound pressure of just 38.9 dB/A, the SpinPoint P120 is the quietest drive we have ever measured. Subjective impressions match the phenomenal score. At idle, the P120 is an extremely quiet drive... it requires concentration to perceive the drive's platters spinning in the relatively quiet room where we take our measurements. The P120's seek noise profile is almost as impressive, virtually indiscernible over our testbed's hushed cooling fans.

An unassuming two-platter design yields the SpinPoint a noteworthy advantage when it comes to operating power consumption. With an idle dissipation score of 7.3 watts and a maximum of 10.3 watts when seeking, the P120 enjoys a two- to four-watt advantage over the flagships of the competition. This stingy power consumption in turn keeps the drive's operating temperatures low and makes the SpinPoint even more attractive to those seeking to minimize the amount of moving parts (i.e., fans) in their systems.

The P120's two-disc advantage carries over to our peak power measurements. Samsung's showing of 22.8 watts remains lower than most of the competition. In an interesting demonstration that no rule remains hard-and-fast, however, the one unit that bests the SpinPoint is the 5-platter Deskstar 7K500.


The 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 readers, the Samsung SpinPoint P120 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 readers, a predecessor of the Samsung SpinPoint P120, the Samsung SpinPoint P80 , 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.


While it delivers decent performance in basic productivity applications, the Samsung SpinPoint P120 stumbles when it comes to high-end editing software and contemporary entertainment titles. Particularly disappointing is the unit's gaming performance- its attractive price likely places the P120 on the short list for those looking to build an inexpensive rig. In Samsung's defense, we should note that the P120 has been available for the better part of this calendar year and does not enjoy the performance benefits sometimes delivered by the monstrous capacity of a Deskstar 7K500 or Caviar RE2. The firm has recently announced a 3-platter, 400 GB design that may perform competitively against these larger drives.

Here and now, however, the SpinPoint P120 does excel when it comes to acoustics. Taken on its own, the drive itself is an extremely quiet design. Further, thanks to its low power dissipation scores, the SpinPoint radiates less heat into its environment and thus requires less potentially-noisy cooling. As a result, the P120 may warrant consideration where acoustics and cool operation outweigh sheer performance and capacity.

  Review Discussion