Articles: Storage

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One year is just a moment for a centuries-old oak tree and a long enough time for a man, but about half a lifecycle for a modern hard disk. Driven by tough competition, the manufacturers have made a point of updating their product lines at least once each six months. The production time of each particular modification is getting shorter, and writing HDD reviews is quite a tricky task. Just when you get enough products to perform a comparative test, there appears a new one that should be reviewed as well. And if you put the review away for a while to perform some other tests, you often return to it to find that it is too late: most of the products are already out of production, replaced with more advanced ones, and are leaving the shops rapidly. That was what happened to our review of 250GB hard disk drives we wanted to publish last summer. There are reasons why this article wasn’t completed then.

So, does it make sense to get back into the past to compare things that will not be? We guess it does. HDDs with a storage capacity of 250 gigabytes currently have the most optimal price/performance ratio. Significant changes have happened only to Maxtor’s products (Seagate’s HDDs are now being sold under this brand) while the Hitachi Deskstar T7K250, Samsung SpinPoint P120S, Seagate Barracuda 7200.9, and some models from Western Digital can still be seen in shops. Among the thirty 250GB products included into this review we have only published the results of the three HDDs from Hitachi before (for details see our article called Way to the Top: Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 HDD Review).

Our new testbed has a new SATA/PATA controller, so we can offer you the test results of 27 HDDs tested on it.

Methodology and Testing Participants

Having so many products to be tested, we will publish their characteristics in an abbreviated way so that you could just see the difference between them. The results in the tables will be sorted by model number in alphabetic order.

The two generations of Hitachi’s Deskstar HDDs differ mainly in the electronics: the newer generation doesn’t support Tagged Command Queuing and its ATA model has mastered the UltraDMA 133 protocol all the manufacturers, save for Maxtor, used to neglect. The Serial ATA version has an increased data-transfer rate of 3Gbps and supports Native Command Queuing. The increased areal density allowed to reduce the number of platters per drive to two with appropriate improvements in terms of noise and power consumption. The read/write speed has grown up a little, from 60 to 65 million bytes per second at the beginning of the disk.

Maxtor brought forth a multitude of 250GB models. Now that this manufacturer ceased to operate, we want to pay our homage to the respectable brand by including all the tested versions into this review.

The four HDDs with the letter Y in the name are the oldest Maxtors in this review: three 80GB platters and the first-generation Serial ATA interface. They have taken part in many of our previous test sessions. The MaXLine series intended for data storage systems doesn’t differ from the DiamondMax series fundamentally except for an increased MTBF (1 million hours) and a 3-year warranty.

The next generation of Maxtor drives is a highly variegated one: the original issue (6B250S0/R0) was later complemented with the RoHS-compatible versions (6L250S0/R0), and then the models with increased read/write speeds and a second-generation Serial ATA interface appeared (7V/6V250F0). The Serial ATA 2.0 interface provides a twice higher data-transfer speed (up to 3Gbps), hot swap and staggered spin-up features, and allows the drive to process up to 32 commands simultaneously (Native Command Queuing). NCQ is not the distinguishing trait of the third revision, though. The previous revisions of DiamondMax 10 with a Serial ATA interface had it, too.

All of them come with a 16MB buffer (as opposed to an 8MB one in the previous generation) and contain three platters. The 7B250S0 model tested by us is a presale sample with reduced areal density (and, accordingly, with reduced read/write speeds). The 6L250S0 is a retail sample but it has reduced areal density, too (its sequential read speed is even lower than that of the previous generation of Maxtor HDDs). The tested 6B250S0 and 6L250R0 didn’t use the full capacity of the platters. That is, they are full-fledged 300GB HDDs with an electronic capacity limiter whereas the two drives from the server-oriented MaXLine III series do not use one of the six surfaces.

Samsung set a small record with its P120 series: the read speed was higher than 70MB/s at the beginning of the disk. No other manufacturer could offer such a high “linear” speed at that time. Moreover, the Serial ATA version was declared to support a data-transfer speed of 300MB/s and Native Command Queuing. There’s nothing to add more – the rest will be seen in the tests.

Seagate is represented with two product lines in this review. The lifecycle of the Barracuda 7200.8 series proved to be rather short, but it brought about such innovations as a 16MB buffer, NCQ, and an areal density of 125GB per platter. So, the reasons for the hasty release of the Barracuda 7200.9 series with no distinguishing features, except for a data-transfer rate of 3Gbps, are vague. Traditionally since the Barracuda 7200.7 series, the ATA models have a deliberately slowed-down seek, although this is not mentioned in the Barracuda 7200.8 documentation.

There were six models from Western Digital, too. Four of them belong to the first generation of 250GB HDDs (the desktop and server series with ATA and Serial ATA interfaces). The remaining two are newer products: the WD2500KS has updated electronics and a 16MB buffer while the WD2500JS has new electronics and “denser” platters. So, we’ve got an opportunity to check out what is a more important performance-related factor, areal density or the amount of cache memory.

Let’s start out now.

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