The market of hard disk drives seems to be the most difficult one for PC hardware makers when it comes to fighting for the customer. Distinguishing one’s brand with an eye-catching exterior design of the product is not an option. Western Digital was the only manufacturer who tried to do something like that with the version of its Raptor drive that had a transparent window. It is also impossible to drop the product price much lower than the competitors’ prices: the profitability is already low due to the tough competition whereas every company also has to do some research and improve the manufacturing process. Attracting the customer with exclusive technologies is not an option, either. Most of the technologies are utilized by every manufacturer (for example, all of them now park the heads on the ramp and use perpendicular recording) or the point of a technology may be so complex that it wouldn’t be possible to explain it in easy language to the common user. Thus, the only characteristic which is clear to everyone is storage capacity and every manufacturer is trying to increase it more and more.
The race for higher storage capacities is not something useless, though. Large applications with their data, high-definition video content, collections of music and photos all need to be stored somewhere. The hard disk is often the first component that asks for an upgrade in a new computer. While the system may still deliver enough performance for most of your applications, you find yourself having run short of disk space. You can easily solve this problem with a desktop PC by adding a second hard disk, but with a notebook you have to replace the old HDD with a new and larger one.
Large storage capacity also means high speed. This correlation can be explained easily: large disks have platters with higher recording density, which is one of the few available methods of increasing performance. Another method of increasing the drive’s capacity is installing multiple platters into it. This method does not increase the drive’s sequential read speed but lowers its access time because there is a higher chance of one of the heads being near the desired sector.
In our previous review of 2.5-inch drives we discussed models with capacities of 250 and 320 gigabytes. Today we invite you to the next level in order to compare the 320GB models with the Hitachi 5K500 whose storage capacity is 500 gigabytes. Half a terabyte in the 2.5-inch form-factor seemed a fantastic thing just a few years ago. And considering that today’s top-performance notebooks support two drives, we can say that they have passed the 1TB milestone.
The spindle rotation speed of the HDDs we are going to test today is 5400rpm. Such products are a compromise between price and performance. 4200rpm models are rather slow while 7200rpm ones find it harder to reach the same recording density at the current level of technologies (the problem is in accurate reading and writing of information, to be exact) and also have higher power consumption. 7200rpm drives and the 10,000rpm VelociRaptor from Western Digital are targeted at servers, compact desktops and desktop-replacement notebooks whereas mass notebooks need more economical disks. Storage capacity is more important than speed for external storage devices, too.
Now, let’s take a look at the hard drives we are going to benchmark.