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The results of PCMark04 benchmarking set showed that Hitachi 7K250 is an indisputable performance leader. Other three drives performed about the same. However, I would still like to point out that Maxtor 7Y250P0 was very fast in the Copy test and WD2500JB was quite slow in XP Startup and File Copying.

Now I am going to sum up our verdict about the PCMark04 as a test for hard disk drives. At first let’s see if this benchmark meets the requirements I formulated two years ago (see our article called PCMark2002 as Hard Disk Drive Test).

I believe that each good benchmark should meet the following requirements:

  • It should be of reasonable size: Yes. According to the today’s standards 35MB is not that much at all (compared with the same 3DMark03, for instance).
  • It should be free for the end-user: No. The free version of this test provides only the overall performance index without any detailed results for each PC subsystem.
  • It should work properly under any popular OS: No. If you want to test your PC thoroughly, you need to purchase Windows XP, it is especially critical for the HDD tests :)
  • It should not be optimized for the products of some particular company: So far, I do not have any info about any optimizations of the kind.
  • It should generate "repeating" results, i.e. the difference in the results obtained during multiple tests shouldn't be too big: As for the disk subsystem, this seems to be done.
  • The test algorithm and the results obtained should be easy to explain: Here I can speak only for myself :) having read this PDF-file and the FAQ on the site of FutureMark Company I didn’t encounter any problems working with PCMark04.

Now I should estimate how adequate the results obtained during HDD testing were. The performance values we got in PCMark04 do correlate with our ideas about the contemporary HDD speeds (see our article called 7200rpm Hard Disk Drives Roundup: Major League). However, I would still like to dwell on the results of one test. According to PCMark04 two drives out of four performed the file copying at about 40MB/sec. While the maximum read speed from these drives is a little more than 60MB/sec.

As far as I understand, during file copying the HDD should:

  1. read some data from the platter into the buffer;
  2. transfer the data from the buffer into the PC memory;
  3. move the heads to the track where the data should be saved;
  4. move the data from the PC memory back into the HDD buffer;
  5. write the data block.

This 1-5 cycle is repeated until all data has been moved from A to B. But even if we assume that the latest and greatest hard disk drive skips the steps 2 and 4 and performs step 3 immediately, the copy speed will still never be more than 50% higher than the maximum read speed!

In other words, for the hard disk drives with 60MB/sec read speed the copy speed cannot be higher than 30MB/sec. and this is what our FC-Test shows. The maximum copy speed we could obtain was equal to 25MB/sec. And here we have 40MB/sec. Something should be wrong…

And now about the testing methodology for HDD tests in PCMark04 (if you decide to do it). When you compare the results of hard disk drives tested in NTFS, FAT32 and unformatted, you will get the most precise results in the latter case, what I have actually expected.

If we compare the absolute values of hard disk drives tested in various modes, I will have to point out a significant performance drop of the three drives out of four when we ran XP Startup without any file system installed. I cannot tell you if it is the influence of the OS or the benchmark peculiarity…

So, you CAN use PCMark04 for HDD testing, but you’d better test unformatted drives and do not run File Copy test.

Good luck now!

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