I am constantly looking for new testing tools for our hard disk drives (read about the reasons that inspire me in our article called 13 IDE Hard Disk Drives Roundup). So, I certainly couldn’t pass by a pretty interesting PCMark04 test set from FutureMark Company, which you all probably know due to their widely spread 3DMark test package. Especially, since some of my colleagues have already managed to try this test in their reviews…
Although I have been quite skeptical about the mere idea of testing the HDDs with PCMark04 test set for a while, remembering very well the failure I went through when I tried using the previous test package aka PCMark2002 (by MadOnion in those days) for HDD tests (for more details see our article called PCMark2002 as Hard Disk Drive Test). But I am an eternal optimist by nature so when one of the testbeds turned out free I decided to take a closer look at the new PCMark04.
Closer Look: PCMark04
Of all the things offered by PCMark04 I was interested only in the tests developed for the disk subsystem. According to the PCMark04 description in the PDF file on the official FutureMark web-site, the disk subsystem testing set consists of four sub-tests.
Unlike PCMark2002, the new testing software involved the so-called “traces of disk activity”, in other words disk activity traces pre-recorded on some reference system. There was a trace created for each subtest, and then PCMark04 reproduced it on the hard disk drive of the tested system. The performance is estimated according to the time it takes the drive to process the trace and is measured in MB/sec.
FutureMark used a special RankDisk utility developed by Intel for traces creation (actually, it is done by WinTrace32 utility, though PCMark04 mentioned RankDisk). This software tool allows saving a sequence of requests sent to the drive at a pretty low level (by the controller driver), so that we get only the pure HDD performance when this trace is reproduced. At least the PCMark04 developers think so.
RankDisk utility for reproduction of HDD request traces have long been used by the most respected HDD testers, such as the guys from the well-known StorageReview site. That is why the use of this program or even a part of its code in PCMark04 is most welcome.
However, the StorageReview people reproduce the saved traces on a non-formatted drive, which guarantees that the requests will “fall” repeatedly right into the zone of the drive where the trace was initially aiming at. And the PCMark04 developers seem to suggest a different approach: according to this PDF-file they suggest reproducing the traces on a formatted drive. For testing purposes they also have to create a special dummy-file, the trace is rearranged so that it could work only inside this file, and this way they protect the user’s data against possible damage during the test. However, unfortunately, no one can guarantee that this temporary dummy-file will be located in the same part of the drive where the trace has been initially recorded. Moreover, it would be even harder to make sure that this file is created in the very same place on the drives of different storage capacity.