by Andrey Kuznetcov
07/06/2004 | 01:14 PM
Nearly all of the major manufacturers of hard disk drives have recently expanded their model lines of external storage devices, making us pay more attention to this market.
Today, we would like to offer you the results of our testing session with three 120GB external HDDs from Maxtor and Western Digital. This capacity seems to be the optimal one if we take the cost per one megabyte of storage as the guiding factor.
This external drive from Maxtor belongs to the OneTouch family. The device owes its name to the elongated button, by pressing which you automatically back up your files onto it. The button is placed on the metallic gray-blue case and has a LED that indicates the drive’s status. The butt-end of the drive carries a power switch, a USB port, a power connector and vent holes.
The device uses a 120GB hard disk drive with a 2MB buffer. The spindle rotation speed is 7200rpml; the declared seek time is 9.3msec. The device supports the USB 2.0 interface, which gives it a sustained data-transfer rate up to 34MB/s. The dimensions of the A14B120 are 41x140x210mm; its weight – 1.38kg.
The paper box also includes a power adapter with cable, a stand for placing the drive vertically, a USB cable, two floppies (with drivers, utilities and Dantz Retrospect Express) and a brief user manual.
The average retail price of the A14B120 model is $180.
This is a member of the USB Series II family. The case’s color scheme uses two shades of gray. The front panel of the drive has two LEDs indicating the operational mode. The rear panel has a USB port and a power connector as well as several vent holes.
The 120GB drive is equipped with a 2MB buffer. It rotates the disk with 7200rpm speed. The average seek time is declared to be 8.9msec. The drive supports the USB 2.0 interface. The dimensions of the device are 44x218x154mm.
The package also includes a power adapter with a cable, a software CD, a USB cable and a short installation manual.
The average retail price of the WDXU1200BB is $175.
This drive comes from the ComboSE family, something like an elite class in the external HDD series from Western Digital. The device has a case of transparent plastic with special pink-violet highlighting. The face side of the drive has two LEDs, indicators of the operational mode. The rear panel contains two IEEE1394 ports, a USB port and a power connector.
The 120GB HDD is endowed with an 8MB buffer and rotates its spindle at 7200rpm speed. The average seek time is 8.9msec. As you may have noticed, the drive is cosmopolitan in connectivity, attaching across either FireWire or USB 2.0 interfaces. Its dimensions are 44x218x154mm.
The device comes with the following accessories: a short installation manual, a power adapter with cable, a software CD, a USB cable, a FireWire cable.
The average retail price of the WDXC1200JB is $200.
We used two benchmarking tools for our tests: WinBench 99 2.0 and FC Test 1.0.
The testbed was configured as follows:
We connected the drives to the USB 2.0 controller integrated into the ICH5 South Bridge of the i865PE chipset and to a PCI FireWire controller based on the VIA VT6307 chip (for the WDXC1200JB model that alone supports this interface). We ran our tests with the default drivers of the operating system. We formatted the drives in FAT32 and NTFS into one partition with the default cluster size. In some cases, mentioned below, we used 32GB partitions, also created in FAT32 and NTFS with the default cluster size. Before testing, we wrote the Maxtor drive through to avoid the forced write verification implemented in that device.
We start out with WinBench 99 and the graphs of linear read speed. They show us that the potentially high transfer rates of the drives are cut off by the effective bandwidth of the interfaces they connect through.
The following table contains the results of the drives in WinBench when their entire surface was used:
The WDXC1200JB wins both Business Disk Winmark and High-End Disk Winmark tests, attached to USB 2.0 and FireWire interfaces, respectively. I should confess that this is a natural outcome – that drive has 8MB of cache memory against 2MB of the other two devices. In its turn, the Maxtor OneTouch is slightly better than the second drive from Western Digital, although has a higher (i.e. worse) access time.
Now we perform the test again over a 32GB partition. The WDXC1200JB, with any interface, is legging it much faster than the other drives in High-End Disk Winmark. However, the FireWire interface seems a preferable connection here. The OneTouch A14B120 takes the third position. Probably, when a limited portion of the disc space is used, the difference in the access time is negated. The WDXU1200BB is the last one in this test. If we compare the results of this test with the previous one, we’ll notice that the performance difference between the full and 32GB of capacity is small due to the “leveling” effect imposed by the limited bandwidth of the interfaces.
As we switch to the NTFS file system, we see the numbers become smaller. The Western Digital WDXC1200JB takes the first and second places with USB 2.0 and FireWire, respectively, since it has a higher Business Disk Winmark score in the first case. Its 8MB buffer gives it a big advantage. Another Western Digital, the WDXU1200BB, finds itself on the third position, followed by the Maxtor OneTouch A14B120.
The reduction of the storage space to 32GB cannot shatter the positions of the Western Digital WDXC1200JB – it is again the leader, taking the first two lines of the table. The FireWire interface is more efficient in High-End Disk Winmark, but noticeably poorer in Business Disk Winmark. The Western Digital WDXU1200BB snatches the third place due to a slightly better performance it showed in Business Disk Winmark compared to the OneTouch. The Maxtor nearly catches up with its main competitor because the access time difference is less important in this test.
The diagram above shows how slow the Maxtor OneTouch A14B120 is at accessing the disk. This is natural because the manufacturer ships its external drives with the heads set up for the noiseless operational mode with better acoustic characteristics and low heat generation. The WDXU1200BB happens to have the best access time. The other drive from Western Digital has a better access time working via FireWire than via USB 2.0, but the difference is negligible and lies in the measurement error range.
The FC Test utility is a benchmarking tool we use to measure the speed of hard disk drives under conditions closest to the real ones. The working principle of the program is simple: it measures the time it takes to perform read, write and copy operations over file sets, differing in the number and average size of the files.
The Windows and Programs patterns consist of many small-size files, while the other three patterns contain fewer files of a larger size. We partition the drive in two logical volumes for the copy operations. Then we perform copying between two partitions (copy-far) and copying within one partition (copy near) with the file patterns.
The WDXC1200JB drive seems to be the best in the file-creation test in FAT32. At least, it took the first places in MP3, ISO and Install patterns. By the way, this drive performed better with the USB 2.0 interface rather than with FireWire. The OneTouch A14B120 left a nice impression in the Windows and Programs patterns with their small files. However, the same drive from Maxtor turned to be the slowest in the other three patterns.
There’s no mistaking the winner in the read speed test. The WDXC1200JB was the fastest of all working via the FireWire interface. The OneTouch A14B120 took the second place.
The FireWire-connected WDXC1200JB is briskly copying files within one and the same partition. This drive also looks preferable when attached via USB 2.0 – only losing the ISO pattern to the Maxtor. This is the only success of the Maxtor, by the way, as it loses all the other patterns to the WDXU1200BB.
The WDXC1200JB retains its superiority in the copy-far test. When attached via USB 2.0, it proved to be the fastest drive in four patterns out of five. When attached via FireWire, it matches the performance of the WDXU1200BB. The OneTouch A14B120 is noticeably poorer than its rivals in this test – its bad access time must have hamstringed it here.
Now, let’s see the drives do the same tasks in NTFS. You may note that the OneTouch A14B120 wins the Windows and Programs patterns that include many small files. The WDXC1200JB looks less superior to the others than it was in FAT32, and we can’t name a more efficient interface for it. The WDXU1200BB, also from Western Digital, looks just a little worse than the 8MB-buffered model.
The WDXC1200JB wins this test with the FireWire interface. Well, it is better than the other two devices in four cases out of five when attached via USB 2.0, too. The OneTouch A14B120 takes the third position, being a little better than the WDXU1200BB.
The WDXC1200JB drive wins the test of copying files within one partition irrespective of the interface. It is followed by the WDXU1200BB; the Maxtor OneTouch A14B120 is the last one here.
The OneTouch A14B120 slows down in this test considerably, probably because of its poor access time. The WDXC1200JB looks preferably compared to the other two devices, again. It produces similar results with the two interfaces. The WDXU1200BB won the MP3 pattern and was overall just a little slower than the other drive from Western Digital.
The Western Digital WDXC1200JB emerged as the winner from the crucible of our today’s tests of 120GB external hard disk drives. Of course, its large buffer (8MB) was the heaviest among the contributing factors to its victory. The other drives had 2MB buffers, and the rest of the characteristics were practically equal. Of course, the higher cost of the 8MB model won’t stop the users who want the maximum performance from buying this device. The support of two interfaces makes it the more interesting solution, by the way. Curiously enough, FireWire wasn’t overall superior to USB 2.0 as in our earlier tests of external HDDs. Probably the reason for this is in the improvements made into USB 2.0 controllers lately. After all, the USB boasts a higher theoretical bandwidth: 480Mb/s against FireWire’s 400Mb/s.
Now, about the remaining two drives. They belong to the same class and price niche, and use the USB 2.0 interface only. The WDXU1200BB from Western Digital has a lower access time and wins in several tests, but the Maxtor OneTouch A14B120 sometimes outperforms it. The latter drive is perceptibly slower at copying files between two partitions. As I noted in the review, the reason for the Maxtor drive to be slower is in the noiseless operational mode of the heads, which results in a worse access time, i.e. a certain performance loss. You can’t change this – the manufacturer has chosen for you. In this situation, you select your device basing on your own preferences and the tasks you are going to solve with it.