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2.5-Inch Hard Drives Roundup

August 28, 2007



160 GB 2.5" Perpendicular Magnetic Recording hard drives
versus older 7200 rpm models

Performance of mobile platforms is rapidly growing - there appear new processors and chipsets, system memory clock grows, families of graphics cards are updated, even wireless data transfer speed is increased from 11 Mbps through 54 to 300 Mbps. And only hard drives for notebooks are developing extensively, they are slowly growing mostly their capacity, and do not accelerate much.

Indeed, the average random access time of mobile storage drives has settled long ago. It does not change from generation to generation - spindle rotational speed stays in this segment at 5400 rpm. And only rare 7200 rpm models from IBM/Hitachi and Seagate tried to break this tradition. But they were not successful, because 1.5 milliseconds of difference in the average access rate (owing to the lower rotation latency) do not make any difference compared to much higher absolute results (15-17 ms). Besides, even though mobile 7k1 hard drives outperformed 5k4 models of the same generation in linear transfer rates by 10-20% (which is evidently smaller than the difference in spindle rotational speed), their advantage in real applications was even smaller.

We can see a break-through only with the launch of Hitachi Travelstar 7K100. But at the same time, there appeared the first mobile 5K4 hard drives with perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR). They didn't make a revolution in speed (and capacity), but they still outperformed their predecessors by 10%-20%.

So, there are two leading types of storage drives on the market of notebooks and other devices with 2.5-inch hard drives: 100 GB 7k1 models (see the review above) and 5k4 drives with PMR, up to 160 GB. Several manufacturers announced new models of higher capacity. And we are expecting some of them in our testlab. And if you are interested in maximum HDD performance, so that your HDD system is not a bottleneck, you should pay attention to these very hard drives. This roundup will compare modern 160 GB PMR 5k4 models and 100 GB 7k1 drives from Hitachi, Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital. We'll do it on the eve of their successors, 250 GB models with PMR of the second generation. Detailed reviews of each of these PMR products are available on our web site:

This article will analyze all of them plus another model - Seagate Momentus 5400.3 SATA. It appeared a lad later than its UATA modification, demonstrating higher performance.

And one more thing. As we examined PMR 5k4 models from various manufacturers, we always came to the same conclusion - delays with the first PMR models (Hitachi relative to Seagate, Samsung relative to the first two models, etc) always did good to the products. Each time the new product was a tad better than its competitors of the same class in terms of performance in typical notebook tasks. The reason was not in technical characteristics in official specifications (they are identical almost in all representatives of this class, see Table 1), but in real parameters we measured in tests and applications.

Table 1. Main characteristics of 2.5-inch hard drives of the first PMR-generation with the spindle rotational speed of 5400 rpm.


Series

Hitachi Travelstar 5K160

Samsung SpinPoint M80

Seagate Momentus 5400.3

WD Scorpio ML80

Models
HTS541616J9AT00
HTS541616J9SA00
and others.
HM160JP(JI)
HM120IP(II)
HM080HP(HI)
ST9160821A
ST9160822AS
and others.
WD1600BEVS
WD1600BEAS
and others.
Capacity, GB
160
120
80
60
40
160
120
80
160
120
100
80
60
40
160
120
100
80
60
40
Number of heads/platters
4/2
3/2
2/1
1/1
4/2
3/2
2/1
4/2
3/2
2/1
1/1
4/2
3/2
2/1
Buffer, MB
8
8
8
8 or 2
Average seek time, ms, reading/writing
11/13
12/14
12,5/-
12/-
Maximum buffer to disk data transfer rate, Mbits/s
540 (466)
530
44 MB/s
600
Interface
SATA/150 and UltraATA/100
SATA/150 and UltraATA/100
SATA/150 and UltraATA/100
SATA/150
Operating shock resistance (2ms), G
325
325
350
300
Non-operating shock resistance (1ms), G
1000
1000
900
900
Idle acoustic noise, dBA, type.
22 (25 max.)
24 (2 platters)
22 (1 platter)
23
22
Seek acoustic noise, dBA, type.
24 (27 max.)
26 (2 platters)
25 (1 platter)
29
25
Temperature, P, on(off)
+5b55
(-40b+65)
+5b55
(-40b+70)
+0b60
(-40b+70)
+0b60
(-40b+65)
Power consumption, Watt:
spin-up
seek/read-write
idle/standby

5.0
1.8
0,8/0,25

4.5
2,1/2,0
0,6/0,25

5.0
2,0/2,0-1,8
0,8/0,2

5.0
2.5
1,3(2,0)/0,25

We shall skip the analysis of their specifications (you can do it yourself with our table) and their technologies (for example, a head parking technology that guarantees 600 000 Load/Unload cycles), and proceed straight to our tests.

Our contenders:

  1. Hitachi Travelstar 5K160 HTS541616J9SA00, 160 GB SATA
  2. Hitachi Travelstar 7K100 HTS721010G9AT00, 100 GB SATA, 7200 rpm
  3. Samsung SpinPoint M80 HM160JI, 160 GB SATA
  4. Samsung SpinPoint M80 HM160JC, 160 GB UATA
  5. Seagate Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821AS, 160 GB SATA
  6. Seagate Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821A, 160 GB UATA
  7. Seagate Momentus 7200.1 ST910021A, 100 GB UATA, 7200 rpm
  8. WD Scorpio ML80 WD1600BEVS, 160 GB SATA

All our contenders have an 8 MB buffer. SATA models support NCQ, but we don't use NCQ in these tests and suggest that our readers get the details on the web site. The 7k1 drives are represented by UATA models, and PMR 5k4 drives (six models) are represented by models with both interfaces. However, WD and Hitachi, for example, try to supply as few PATA models as possible, replacing them with SATA modifications.




Hitachi Travelstar 5K160 HTS541616J9SA00




Hitachi Travelstar 7K100 HTS721010G9AT00




Samsung SpinPoint M80 HM160JI




Samsung SpinPoint M80 HM160JC




Seagate Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821AS




Seagate Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821A




Seagate Momentus 7200.1 ST910021A




WD Scorpio ML80 WD1600BEVS

Our HDD benchmark procedure has suffered no changes so far. So you can compare results of the new drives with models already reviewed on our web site. We used the following testbed:

  • CPU: Intel Pentium 4 3.0C
  • Motherboard: ABIT IC7-G based on the i875P chipset with ICH5R south bridge
  • RAM: 2×256 MB DDR400
  • Video card: Matrox Millennium G400
  • Main hard disk: Seagate Barracuda SATA V
  • PSU: Zalman ZM400A-APF, 400 W

The mobile drives are mounted firmly on the metal racks of a testbed chassis and connected to the UltraATA/100 or SerialATA ports on the ICH5 bridge. No special cooling devices for the hard drives were used.

Baseline Test Results

Graphs of linear transfer rates are published below.

WD Scorpio ML80 WD1600BEVS
Hitachi Travelstar 5K160 HTS541616J9SA00
Samsung SpinPoint M80 HM160JI
Samsung SpinPoint M80 HM160JC
Seagate Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821AS
Seagate Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821A

Note the slightly different approaches of manufacturers to data density, which is increased owing to PMR: some of them (Seagate, Samsung) condense tracks along the platter radius (especially at the initial stage); others (Hitachi, WD) increase linear data density along the tracks, which resulted in higher growth of linear transfer rates than in competing products. Leadership of 5k4 PMR models from WD and Hitachi is the best proof (see the diagram).

But Seagate Momentus 5400.3 drives manufactured with a one-year difference also demonstrate noticeable gains in linear transfer rates relative to each other. So adaptive formatting with streamlined PMR technologies can improve performance of storage drives within the same model/series. We should also mention that 160 GB 5k4 models have practically caught up with 7k1 models of the previous generation in linear access rates. Only Hitachi 7K100 has a little advantage here.

The average random access time for reading differs in our contenders:

Samsung hard drives are the slowest here, although WD models are not much faster. The Hitachi drive demonstrates a tad better results. But only Seagate Momentus 5400.3 drives show outstanding results in this task, they almost catch up with 7k1 models, which latency is lower by 1.5 ms! We can only congratulate Seagate M5400.3 with its results in this test - it even catches up with the M7200.1 models. But it must be noted that these drives have the noisiest active seek mode. You can actually hear it, unlike the situation with competing drives. Seek acoustics management is supported by all manufacturers, except for Seagate.

Efficiency of caching data for writing can be evaluated with the random access test under Windows.

Seagate models are outperformed here. WD and Hitachi drives are again better than other models. So we can expect the best results from them in consumer applications.

Application tests

However, PMR models from Samsung offer the best performance in multi-threaded writing and reading tests with 100 MB files - they do it owing to good optimizations of caching algorithms.

Seagate drives demonstrate the slowest multi-threaded reading. What concerns writing, it's Hitachi. Priority of firmware algorithms in this test (even though it's a streaming test) makes 7k1 models slower (!) than the fastest 5k4 models. It must be taken into account, when you choose a hard drive for compact systems.

We evaluate HDD performance in a typical PC user mode with WinBench 99 Disk WinMark in Business and High-End patterns (open the links to the diagrams), as well as with two other popular track tests - Futuremark PCmark04 and C'T H2benchW.

All out contenders come in a tight group in the first test. We have leaders, of course (Hitachi 7k1 and Samsung/WD PMR 5k4 models), but they are not unconditional favourites.

The situation in C'T H2benchW is different. Hitachi Travelstar 7K100 is the absolute leader here. But the second place is unexpectedly taken by Seagate M5400.3 SATA, it even outperforms the M7200.1 model from the same manufacturer! However, many other 160 GB 5k4 models fare well in this test, especially hard drives from Samsung and Hitachi.

And finally, the Adobe Photoshop swapping performance test again shows booming competition of the new 5k4 models with last-year 7k1 ones: WD Scorpio ML80 is the obvious leader among its "fellow-tribesmen". It has almost caught up with the excellent Hitachi 7K100, and Samsung models have caught up with Seagate 7K100.

IOMeter tests

And now let's see how our models under review fare in various IOmeter patterns, although they are not typical patterns for these drives. However, using databases on notebooks is not an exotic situation, so these patterns have a practical aspect as well. Let's start with mean results of traditional File Server, Web Server and Database patterns.

As we can see, low seek time does not necessarily contribute to a victory in this test - although the 7k1 models are leading here (if we don't take into account results of SATA 5k4 drives with NCQ based on the SiI3124 controller). The fastest 5k4 models are at the back of the pack (the WD model with its high seek time is among them). We again repeat that firmware algorithms are as important as physical aspects of hard drives.

In more personal tasks, such as reading, writing, and copying large and small files, performance is evaluated with our own IOmeter patterns with random access to data from the entire disc (the diagram contains averaged results).

We can finally see almost absolute leadership of the 7k1 models. It happens mostly owing to high results in the large file copy test. But Hitachi 5k4 is getting close to Seagate 7k1. And Samsung models are generally fast here. The "updated" Seagate M5400.3 performs almost on a par with the leaders now. By the way, the WD model writes files very fast, and slumps in copying files.

You can have a look at the detailed results of each test at the following links:

No less interesting results are demonstrated in the streaming read/write test with large or small blocks. This test imitates a digital VCR in timeshifting mode or video editing HDD load. Both Hitachi drives (7K100 and 5K160) perform well with large blocks. What concerns small blocks, 5k4 models from Samsung and Hitachi lead here. They again prove that physical parameters of 2.5-inch hard drives are not as important for high performance in applications as optimal firmware algorithms of caching data.

Power consumption and heat dissipation

Power consumption and heat dissipation of mobile hard drives is no less important than their performance. We measured typical power consumption of hard drives in various modes, see Table 2.

Table 2. Current drain (mA) of hard drives on the +5V line in various modes.

Model / Mode

Idle

ATA transfer

Write

Read

Seek

Start

Label

Fujitsu MHV2120BH
140
380
460
440
480
710
600
Hitachi TS 7K100 HTS721010G9AT00
120
370
570
690
580
830
1100
Hitachi TS 7K100 HTS721010G9SA00
280
540
750
850
740
850
1100
Hitachi TS 5K160 HTS541616J9SA00
170
370
530
460
500
810
700
Hitachi TS 7K60 HTS726060M9AT00
150
370
650
850
650
830
1100
Samsung SpinPoint M80 HM160JI
155
380
530
490
460
630
850
Samsung SpinPoint M80 HM160JP
100
350
530
480
440
610
850
Seagate Momentus 7200.1 ST910021A
190
430
630
690
570
720
580
Seagate Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821AS
170
520
630
630
530
670
487
Seagate Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821A
130
310
510
560
460
580
487
WD Scorpio ML80 WD1600BEVS
175
410
670
650
550
800
550

We can see that power consumption of SATA hard drives is generally higher by 0.2-0.3 W in the typical notebook usage mode and higher by 0.5 W in the intensive usage mode. The 7k1 models consume much more power than the 5k4 models of the latest generation so far, their performance being generally on a par! The most economical 160 GB models are UATA drives from Samsung and Seagate. Hitachi SATA model is also economical under heavy load. WD Scorpio drives turned out disappointingly hot, just like the 7k1 SATA models (see the details in the corresponding reviews).

Conclusions

Advance of the first generation of mobile PMR drives with the spindle rotational speed of 5400 rpm and top capacity of 160 GB did not make a revolution - many people were looking forward to it, hoping for the new recording method. But it stirred up some foundations. It's not that easy to choose a high-performance mobile hard drive now, because mobile 7k1 models are not the only leaders. They are sometimes outscored by 160 GB 5k4 models not only in capacity and power efficiency, but also in performance in some applications. However, hard drives are progressing. Hitachi and Seagate will launch the first generation of promising PMR 7k1 models soon. Besides, competitors are also flexing muscles with their 250 GB 5k4 models...

Alex Karabuto (lx@ixbt.com)
August 28, 2007

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