2.5” Hard Disk Drives Roundup

Today we are going to test 6 hard disk drives of 2.5” form-factor from Seagate, Fujitsu, Hitachi and Toshiba, which can not only be used in notebooks, but are also becoming very popular as mobile storage devices and miniature desktop solutions.

by Andrey Kuznetcov
10/03/2003 | 10:34 PM

We have already introduced to you Seagate’s new hard disk drive of the 2.5” form-factor that belongs to the Momentus family (see our Seagate Momentus HDD Review for details). The drive features high spindle rotation speed and low power consumption, comparable to devices with 4,200rpm speed.

 

So, we liked the drive very much, but wanted to know how it ranked among other “notebook” HDDs now available.

This is the matter we are going to look into today. Besides the Momentus drive from Seagate, we took six other 2.5” hard disks from three manufacturers. Such devices are actually multi-functional. First, they can be used according to their main purpose – in notebooks. Second, they are becoming popular as mobile storage devices, too. Third, there is a clear tendency to miniature hard disk drives in desktop systems. If the tendency proves strong, we may see the old 3.5” HDD being replaced by its smaller 2.5” counterpart. The main difference between the two is… the size, of course! The physical size of the platter determines the capacity of the drive and notebook drives are more restricted here. Otherwise, HDD models with the UltraATA interface have much in common. They offer the same maximum speed (7,200rpm). As for the cache-buffer size, some small drives may surpass bigger ones (16MB against 8MB). So, keeping all these things in mind, let’s start the testing.

Hard Disk Drives Specifications

 

Hitachi Travelstar 80GN (IC25N080ATMR04-0)

Fujitsu MHS2060AT

Seagate Momentus ST94811A

Toshiba MK4018GAS

Interface

ATA-6

ATA-6

Ultra ATA/100

ATA-5

Storage Capacity

80GB

60GB

40GB

40GB

Platters

2

2

1

2

Heads

4

4

2

4

Buffer size

8MB

2MB

8MB

2MB

Spindle rotation speed, rpm

4,200

4,200

5,400

4,200

Latency, ms

7.1

7.14

5.6

7.14

Interface data transfer rate, MB/s

100

100

100

100

Average seek time, ms

12

12

10

12

Power consumption during reading, W

2.1

2.3

2.87

2.3

Power consumption in idle state, W

0.65

0.65

1.2

0.9

Power consumption in sleep mode, W

0.1

0.1

No data

0.1

Operating Shock, (Gs) @ 2ms

200

225

225

190

Non Operating Shock, (Gs) @ 2ms

800

900

800

800

Dimensions, mm

9.5x70x100

9.5x70x100

9.5x70x100

9.5x70x100

Weight, g

99

99

99

98

Approximate price

$300

$190

New!

$120

 

Toshiba MK4019GAX

Toshiba MK6021GAS

Toshiba MK6022GAX

Interface

ATA-5

ATA-5

ATA-5

Storage Capacity

40GB

60GB

60GB

Platters

2

2

2

Heads

4

4

4

Buffer size

16MB

2MB

16MB

Spindle rotation speed, rpm

5,400

4,200

5,400

Latency, ms

5.55

7.14

5.56

Interface data transfer rate, MB/s

100

100

100

Average seek time, ms

12

12

10

Power consumption during reading, W

2.5

2.3

2.5

Power consumption in idle state, W

1.05

0.9

1.05

Power consumption in sleep mode, W

0.1

0.1

0.1

Operating Shock, (Gs) @ 2ms

200

200

200

Non Operating Shock, (Gs) @ 2ms

800

800

800

Dimensions, mm

9.5x70x100

9.5x70x100

9.5x70x100

Weight, g

102

98

101

Approximate price

$150

$190

$230

Hitachi Travelstar 80GN (IC25N080ATMR04)


I guess there is no need to remind you that many hard disk drives produced by Hitachi have been handed over to it by IBM. This drive is no exception, too. It belongs to the Travelstar 80GN family. The capacity of our disk was 80GB and it is the maximum storage capacity for present-day 2.5” HDDs. The capacity is made up by two 40 GB platters. The spindle rotation speed of 4,200rpm is the starting point, according to today’s standards. The cache-buffer size is 8MB. Note that two junior models from this family (of 40GB and 20GB storage capacities) have a 2MB buffer.

Hard disk drives from IBM have always been a mixture of original technologies. For example, the one we benchmark today features the following.

A special antiferromagnetically-coupled (AFC) layer helps to increase the data density per platter. In the long run, this technology allows to reach a data density of 100Gbit per square inch. It equals a capacity of 200GB.

 

You can see the difference between the classic magnetic layer and the AFC media in the pictures above. In the latter case, we have two magnetic layers with a thin layer of non-magnetic metal, ruthenium, in between. This RU layer magnetizes them with different polarity, thus creating so-called anti-ferromagnetic couples. The platter coating in Travelstar 80GB drives is called “Pixie Dust” and resembles a multilayer sandwich. It allows data density of 70Gbit per square inch.

Next, this Hitachi drive features fluid dynamic bearings that make the drive more robust to physical impacts and less noisy compared to motors with roller bearings.

The drive’s heads feature giant magneto-resistive effect (GMR). It accounts for a higher sensitivity to the magnetic fields of the platter, which in its turn helps to increase the capacity of the drive.

Partial Response Maximum Likelihood (PRML) technology helps to reach higher data transfer speeds, with fewer program errors per stored megabyte, and to filter the signal coming from the drive.

Enhanced Adaptive Battery Life Extender (ABLE) innovation helps to reduce the power consumption in the idle and standby modes. This is performed by means of dynamic selection of the optimal operational mode. Moreover, the disk’s response time is also reduced.

The heads load/unload technology, employed in the drive, is an alternative to the older Contact Start-Stop Technology – when the disk is stopped, the heads may land right on its surface to a physical contact. According to the new schematic, the heads are parked off the platter. Thus, the data density improves as well as robustness and power consumption.

The performance and reliability of products of the Travelstar 80GN line are upheld by such time-tested technologies as True Track Servo, Drive Fitness Test (DFT) and S.M.A.R.T.

Fujitsu MHS2060AT


Fujitsu Company takes part in our testing with its MHS series drive. “Our” model has the maximum possible capacity, 60GB (two platters and four heads). The family also includes hard disk drives of 20, 30 and 40GB storage capacities. The cache-buffer is ordinary, 2MB. The spindle rotation speed is 4200 rotations per minute. The HDD supports ATA-6 interface.

Unfortunately, Fujitsu is very laconic in describing its produce. From the information on the corporate website, I could only learn that the MHS family drives use platters with a data density of 53.2Gbit per square inch, giant magneto-resistive heads, synthetic ferromagnetic media and MEEPRML technology for channel reading. Besides, the drives use electric motors on fluid dynamic bearings that reduce the noise and increase the robustness. The algorithm for loading/unloading the heads helps to increase the drive’s reliability and robustness, too. The intelligent technology for controlling power consumption automatically adjusts the amount of consumed power.

Seagate Momentus ST94811A


Well, here is the cause for my writing this comparative review. Now we have the opportunity to compare this drive with other 2.5” HDDs. The capacity of our model is 40GB. It uses one 40GB platter and two heads. There exists a 20GB model with one platter, but one head only. The spindle rotation speed is 5,400rpm. The Momentus we test has a cache-buffer of 8MB, but there are models with a 2MB buffer. The supported interface is Ultra ATA/100.

The drive owes its great acoustic characteristics mostly to the SoftSonic motor with fluid dynamic bearings and a special technology called “QuietStep ramp load”. The latter serves a number of purposes. First of all, it diminishes the noise level. For example, it makes imperceptible the clicks occurring when the drive is loading/unloading the heads to/from the ramp. The acoustic characteristics are improved by flexible control over the speed of this process. Second, “QuietStep ramp load” increases the reliability of the hard disk by using an effective parking method. The heads in the Momentus drive are parked off the outer side of the platter rather than on the inside.

Seagate claims the new drive features enhanced power saving technologies. In particular, it is said to consume the same amount of power as slower, 4,200rpm devices.

The drive also features the exclusive 3D Defense technology. The three “D’s” are:

Just like any other drive from Seagate, this one comes in a plastic case that protects against physical damage and electrostatic discharges.

Toshiba MK4018GAS


Toshiba’s drives are most widely represented in this roundup. The MK4018GAS HDD is a low-end model due to its speed (4,200rpm). The capacity of this drive is 40GB: two platters and four heads. The data density is 35.1Gbit per square inch. The cache-buffer size is 2MB and the average seek time is 12ms. The drive supports ATA-5 interface.

The motor of this HDD runs on fluid dynamic bearings.

Toshiba MK6021GAS


This is another representative of the GAS family, differing from the previous one only by higher capacity. This one is 60GB big (four heads), but the data density is already 48.8Gbit/sq. inch. The remaining characteristics are the same.

Toshiba MK4019GAX


The GAX HDD family differs from the GAS series in a number of parameters. GAX drives have a higher spindle rotation speed (5,400rpm against 4,200rpm) and a larger cache-buffer. Desktop HDDs may envy its size – 16MB! The capacity of our model is 40GB. The drive uses four heads and two platters with a data density of 34.7Gbit per square inch. The drive supports ATA-5 interface and uses fluid-dynamic bearings, just like HDDs of the previous family.

Toshiba MK6022GAX


As you may guess by its marking, the second drive from the GAX family has a capacity of 60GB. It is achieved by using four heads and two platters, with a data density of 49.8Gbit per square inch. Other parameters coincide with those of the previous model.

Testbed and Methods

How do we check out the performance of 2.5” drives? I decided to take a look at them from two aspects. In the first case, the drive was installed as a system HDD into a Toshiba Satellite A15-S127 notebook of the following configuration:

The hard disks were formatted into NTFS as one partition and worked in ATA/100 mode. Windows XP with SP1 was the operating system.

We used the following benchmarking software:

Moreover, we used Doc’s AAM Tool to get some extra information about the drives.

In the second case, the drives were connected to the second IDE channel of the desktop’s mainboard as Master (ATA/100 mode). The desktop computer was configured as follows:

The drives were benchmarked with the following programs:

All drives were tested according to the “As Is” principle. That is, we used them as they came to us from the manufacturers, no tuning or tweaking.

Doc’s AAM Tool

 

Fujitsu MHS2060AT

 

Hitachi Travelstar 80GN

 

Toshiba MK4018GAS

 

Toshiba MK6022GAX

 

Toshiba MK4019GAX

 

Toshiba MK6021GAS


Seagate ST94811A

The screenshots above give you some extra info about the drives. For example, the utility tells you the version of the firmware and supported operational modes. Note that the program doesn’t give out the cache-buffer size for some drives.

Performance in WinBench 99

Notebook Mode

Here are the linear read graphs for our testing participants:

The drives from Toshiba, Fujitsu and Seagate drew well-shaped inner transfer graphs in WinBench 99 – without zigzagging slumps. Hitachi’s drive made a jagged line. This is an alarming symptom as it may betray problems with the quality of the disk surface. However, the vertical lines are in order. So, we may have certain design peculiarities here rather than the influence of low-quality platters.

Update from October 8, 2003

And what is especially interesting, it’s the fact that our supposition turned out absolutely correct. On September 18, Hitachi Global Storage Technology site released a document called “Adaptive Formatting”, which describes Adaptive Formatting technology used in Travelstar 80GN, Travelstar 5K80 and Travelstar 7K80 drives. The ieda behind this technology is very simple: instead of adding a heads set with similar features to every drive during its production stage (so that they could format the drive space into standard zones with a set number of sectors per track), they preliminarily format each platter+head combination for the maximum possible (necessary?) number of sectors. This way, the tracks within one cylinder (the tracks on different sides of the platter or on different platters) can feature different bit density. The linear read graph for the hard disk drive formatted with the help of Adaptive Formatting technology will consist of straight read speed graphs for each head connected with each other but short lines. Since the HDD capacity is quite high, the “level of detail” of the graph is insufficient, so that the graph acquires notched looks, which we have already seen here.

The introduction of Adaptive Formatting technology allows to reduce the HDD production costs and to achieve high storage capacities. However, we wouldn’t consider the linear speed deviations to be very “healthy” when you work with high-quality video, for instance. Hopefully, no one is going to use notebook drives for that :)

Seagate ST94811A is the fastest of all at reading data from the disk. Toshiba MK-6022GAX takes the second place and Hitachi Travelstar is the third. Toshiba MK-4018GAS shows the slowest inner transfer speed.

Seagate ST94811A boasts better access time than the others. The pair of drives from Toshiba is worse, although they have the same spindle rotation speed – 5,400rpm. The GAS drive from Toshiba and Fujitsu MHS2060AT have the worst access time of all.

All drives make little use of the CPU resources; this is not a crucial factor in their work. Anyway, Toshiba MK-4018GAS and Fujitsu MHS2060AT are the best in terms of the CPU utilization.

Now, we have come to the most interesting thing. Business and High-End Disk WinMark are two main showings of a HDD as tested in WinBench 99. I’m not surprised to see the Seagate Momentus drive having the highest total result: the first place in High-End WinMark and the second place in Business Disk WinMark (after Toshiba MK-6022GAX). Let me remind you that MK-6022GAX has a twice as large cache-buffer. Hitachi Travelstar is the third. The both GAS drives from Toshiba show lowest performance. Well, we could hardly hope for anything better from old models with a 2MB buffer.

Desktop Mode

Now we will take a look at the results we got when using the drives in a desktop computer. I ran a somewhat shortened list of tests with fewer drives included. Among Toshiba’s drives, only the 40GB models from the GAS and GAX families participated. We formatted the drives as one FAT32 and NTFS partition with the default cluster size.

Seagate ST94811A is a bit slower than Hitachi Travelstar in High-End Disk WinMark, but outperforms it in Business Disk WinMark. Overall, the Momentus once again proved its superiority: by the total of the two tests as well by the other parameters.

The advantages of the Seagate drive prove more eviednt with the NTFS file system. It is better than its rivals in nearly all respects. Hitachi Travelstar is the second fastest. I guess it looks most promising among the rest.

Performance in Intel IOMeter

I used Sequential Read and Write patterns of Intel IOMeter to check out the read and write speeds of the drives. Besides, I ran the Workstation pattern – to estimate the disk subsystem performance when the desktop PC works as a workstation. Again, I shortened the list of participators to four and five models.

Sequential Read Pattern

This test measures the linear read speed with data blocks of variable size. The new Seagate Momentus ST94811A looks not bad here. It is ahead up to 8KB blocks. However, its speed dropped down by 1.5 times as it came to 4KB blocks. Then, it slows down more on 1 and 0.5KB blocks. The Toshiba drives show stable results, dropping their linear read speed on 512-byte blocks only.

Sequential Write Pattern

Seagate Momentus ST94811A makes it through the write speed test quite well. It is fastest up to the 4KB data block and loses in speed on smaller blocks. The pair of drives from Toshiba again shows stable results, dropping the speed on the 512-byte block only.

Workstation Pattern

We calculate the Workstation ratings according to the formula:

Performance = Total I/O (queue=1)/1 + Total I/O (queue=2)/2 + Total I/O (queue=4)/4 + Total I/O (queue=8)/8 + Total I/O (queue=16)/16 + Total I/O (queue=32)/32

Seagate Momentus ST94811A builds up the most effective disk subsystem. This drive wins in every single mode and, of course, has the highest integral result. Fujitsu MHS2060AT is the second and Toshiba MK-4019GAX is the third.

Performance in FC-Test

Here are the results produced by FC-Test:

This test measures the hard disk drive performance during creating, reading and copying five different sets of files that differ in their total sizes. For this test, we formatted the drives in NTFS as one partition with the default cluster size.

The table with results contains a lot of numbers and is rather hard to read. However, you may notice that Toshiba MK-6022GAX wins the file creation (write) test. Hitachi Travelstar fell a little behind. One more drive from Toshiba, MK-4019GAX, is the third.

As for the file read speed, Seagate ST94811A is an indisputable winner on all file sets. It is closely followed by Toshiba MK-6022GAX and Hitachi Travelstar 80GN.

The last file copy operation is performed faster by Seagate ST94811A, too. Hitachi Travelstar takes the second place. Things are more complicated with the third place, but Toshiba MK-4019GAX seems better here.

So, considering the results of all subtests, I would call Seagate Momentus ST94811A the winner in FC-Test. The performance of Hitachi Travelstar 80GN (IC25N080ATMR04) and Toshiba MK-6022GAX is high enough, too. So, these are the best drives among all the models reviewed today. On the other end of the line, we see the two GAS drives from Toshiba. They are slow. Well, it’s hard to compete with faster rivals.

Performance in Battery Eater

First of all, let me explain why I used the Battery Eater utility for this test. There is a good and more popular utility to measure the battery life for notebooks. It is called Mobile Mark. Its algorithm (applications and work modes) simulates what some general user does on the notebook. For example, the notebook doesn’t work in the hardest operational mode – there are pauses in work when the notebook is idle. I guess this would help to check out how long the battery upholds the notebook and how much power this or that HDD consumes. The drawbacks of this program are the lack of stability in tests and long time of testing (about 3 hours in our case). Considering that charging the batteries requires 6 hours, we could spend a whole week for testing our seven drives. That’s why we chose a program by experienced Russian developers called Battery Eater. Its advantages are the small size of the program itself, visual representation of the data, no cost and less time for testing. The last parameter is achieved by loading all subsystems of the notebook to the full. When you run the program, there appears a window where a 3D battery is rendered. Thus, we have the CPU, GPU, HDD and memory working all the time. Of course, this test doesn’t try to simulate reality – you won’t use your notebook in such a work mode often. The extreme workload reduces the battery life to about an hour (in our case). By changing the HDD in the system, we can estimate its role in consuming the power resources of the notebook.

As you see, the gap between the first and last hard drives is about 2 minutes. This is not much, but you should keep in mind that this gap may grow considerably if we were to use the notebook in the ordinary mode. Anyway, Seagate’s claims about the power asceticism of the Momentus proved true. The Hitachi was the second in this test, while the Fujitsu – the last. So, Seagate did make a product that is comparable to 4,200rpm drives in terms of power consumption.

Conclusion

So, we have gathered together seven hard disk drives of the “notebook” form-factor from four manufacturers to check out the alignment of forces in the market after the arrival of the Momentus series from Seagate. The new drive from Seagate is really a praiseworthy product.

All the marketing talk by Seagate we heard at the announcement of the drive turned to be true. The Seagate Momentus ST94811A with 40GB capacity and an 8MB buffer went with waving banners through the performance tests, showing both: stable and high results. It is overall faster than other drives we included into this roundup. The power consumption test named Seagate Momentus ST94811A the winner, too. The notebook with this drive worked longer than with other drives. So, we can confirm with all certainty the manufacturer’s words about the Momentus being as power-saving as 4,200rpm devices.

On the whole, the market of 2.5” hard disk drives has received a significant boost. Sharper competition will surely have a positive effect for the end-user. The companies will have to put more effort into making their products better, to the mark set by the Momentus. Moreover, we can expect the price for notebook drives to go down, even though they enjoy a constantly growing demand. The only peculiarity of the Momentus you should pay attention to is its construction: the upper part of the case hangs above the interface connector. This may prevent plugging it into some notebooks via the adapter.

What should we expect from Seagate next? The 2.5” HDD series from this company will surely offer models of higher storage capacities and spindle rotation speeds (up to 7,200rpm). Competitor companies already offer such products.

After determining the winner of this competition, let us turn to other participators. The GAX family from Toshiba deserves your attention, too, for their 5,400rpm spindle rotation speed and 16MB cache-buffer. Hitachi Travelstar 80GN (IC25N080ATMR04) with its 8MB buffer and 4,200rpm speed is a good product, too. Although it has a slower speed and a smaller cache-buffer than the above-mentioned devices, it did quite well throughout the tests.

The GAS family from Toshiba and Fujitsu MHS2060AT were on the losing side from the start because of their 4,200rpm speed and small cache-buffer (2MB).

So, we congratulate Seagate with a successful product and look forward to other models. As soon as we have more 2.5” drives in our hands, we will perform our comparison once again.