by eugene

Samsung SpinPoint T166

Samsung SpinPoint T166
Model Number Capacity
HD080GJ 80 GB
HD160HJ 160 GB
HD32xKJ 320 GB
HD50xLJ 500 GB
Lowest Real-Time Price (500 GB):

In our roundup of 250 gigabyte drives published a year and a half ago, contenders from Hitachi, Maxtor, Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital went head-to-head in our comprehensive test suite. Samsung's SpinPoint P120 balanced performance, acoustics, and power draw more adeptly than the competition and forged its way to our newly created "Budget Storage" category on the Leaderboard.

Over the ensuing months, while the 250 GB capacity point continued to see modest reductions in price, it was the once-king-of-the-hill 500-gigabyte sector that tumbled most in price. At the time of this writing, although they have not fallen through the magic $100US price barrier, these half-terabyte units nonetheless represent a sweet combination of capacity and price. Though we followed up with a 500 gigabyte drive roundup shortly after our view of 250-gig drives, we regrettably were unable to include an entry from Samsung. With this review, however, we are pleased to redress the issue with a look at Samsung's SpinPoint T166.

Top of the driveWhile rumors of a larger unit run rampant, the SpinPoint T166 officially remains Samsung's flagship desktop offering. The T166 combines 3 167-gigabyte platters with a 7200 RPM spindle to hold the fort at 500 gigabytes. Samsung specs the drive with an 8.9 millisecond seek time and equips the drive with a 16-megabyte buffer. A smaller 8-megabyte buffer is also an option on the 500- and 320-gig units while the 160 and 80 GB versions are restricted to 8 MB only.

In the following tests, we will contrast the SpinPoint T166 (HD501LJ, 500 GB, 16 GB buffer) with the following drives:

Hitachi Deskstar T7K500 (500 GB) Same-generation competing unit
Maxtor MaXLine Pro (500 GB) Same-generation competing unit (mechanically identical to the DiamondMax 11)
Samsung SpinPoint P120 (250 GB) A predecessor to the review drive
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 (500 GB) Same-generation competing unit
Western Digital RE2 (500 GB) Same-generation competing unit (mechanically identical to the 500 GB Caviar SE16)

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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With a measured read access time of 14.2 milliseconds (ms), the SpinPoint T166 lands itself at the bottom of the pack. Accounting for the rotational latency of a 7200 RPM spindle (4.2 ms) leaves the T166 with a measured seek time of 10 ms, slightly more than a full millisecond off of the manufacturer's 8.9 ms claim.

At 83 MB/sec on its outer tracks, the T166 tops the competition when it comes to sequential transfer rates. An inner-zone score of 45.2 MB/sec is likewise enough to grab the top slot.

Some Perspective

It is important to remember that access 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 806 I/Os per second (IOps) in the StorageReview Office DriveMark, the SpinPoint T166 builds upon its predecessor by about 10%. Samsung's latest lands second only to the category-leading Deskstar T7K500, trailing the Hitachi by just 2%.

The T166 puts even more distance between itself and the SpinPoint P120 in the High-End Office DriveMark, besting its predecessor by a meaty 21%. This score again places Samsung's drive a very close second to the Deskstar T7K500. Both drives set themselves apart in a class of their own in this test.

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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Samsung's newest slips somewhat in our FarCry trace and, instead of placing near the Deskstar as it did in our Office and High-End DriveMarks, the T166 brings up the rear at 637 IOps.

When replaying our Sims 2 disc access capture, the SpinPoint recovers somewhat in contrast to its FarCry showing. 800 IOps is enough to settle into a solid second place.

Concluding our single-user tests, the World of Warcraft access pattern, like FarCry, divorces the T166 from the Deskstar as the SpinPoint withdraws a bit and places towards the lower half of the pack.

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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Though it manages a decent showing in the absence of concurrency, the SpinPoint T166 rapidly falls behind the competition as queue depths ratchet upwards in this multi-user server simulation. Of note is the gap of nearly 25 IOps that emerges between the T166 and its own predecessor, the SpinPoint P120, under heavier loads.

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 objective sounds pressure level measurement of 35.9 dB/A, the SpinPoint T166 turns in by far the lowest score we have ever recorded. This, however, serves as a reminder that objective measurements are not always the end-all when it comes to aspects as complex as acoustics. Subjectively speaking, the T166's level and character is very remniscent of the SpinPoint P120, a unit that places a full 3 dB/A higher up on the charts. That said, the P120 is no slouch itself when it comes to noise floors. In the end, the T166 truly is whisper quiet when idle.

Seeks on the other hand, seem a tad lighter and more muted than the P120. Here too, the P120 is in itself one of the quietest drives around under a full-bore seek, testament to the T166's unobtrusive character.

The addition of another platter (three as opposed to the P120's two) to the T166's assembly seems to hurt the unit slightly when it comes to power dissipation under a full load. The latest SpinPoint's draw weighs in about 8% higher than that of its predecessor. Even so, its 11.1 watts remains competitive. Likewise, 7.1 watts when idle means the drive will integrate very well into a system featuring minimal ventilation.

Perhaps due again to its additional platter, the SpinPoint T166 draws considerably more power across its 12 volt rail when spinning up from a cold start. Its 24.8 watts nonetheless remains on the lower end of the spectrum.


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 T166 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 T166, the Samsung SpinPoint P120 , 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.


Samsung's SpinPoint T166 delivers excellent performance in our pair of disc access captures that represent the everyday performance a drive in a typical desktop system may encounter. Speed-wise, the T166's drawbacks are few... a middling showing in a couple of our gaming tests as well as poor performance in our multi-user tests, an environment for which the T166 is not intended.

In addition to its sparkling productivity results, Samsung's flagship SpinPoint brings stellar acoustics and commendable power consumption figures to the table. The T166 is a whisper-quiet drive, and one that operates efficiently enough that it will not squander its impressive noise floor through cooling requirements.

All in all, like the P120, the SpinPoint T166 delivers a great combination of productivity performance, quiet operation, and power economy. It should be at the top of the list for anyone seeking an inexpensive, high-capacity drive.

  Review Discussion