Roundup: 2.5-inch Hard Disk Drives with 500 GB, 640 GB and 750 GB Storage Capacities

It has been a while since we last talked about 2.5-inch hard disk drives. It is time to introduce to you new models with storage capacities exceeding half a terabyte already. Moreover, we are also going to present to you our new testing methodology.

by Aleksey Meyev
06/16/2010 | 08:56 AM

It is little less than a year since our last review of 2.5-inch hard disk drives and this is through no fault of ours. The manufacturers have been just too tardy transitioning to 320-gigabyte platters that enable dual-platter drives with a storage capacity of 640 gigabytes. Anyway, 2.5-inch HDDs have finally made it to that mark and there have also appeared 500GB models with a spindle rotation speed of 7200 RPM.

 

Western Digital doesn’t have such HDDs, its Scorpio Black series still being limited to 320 gigabytes, but has something else to offer instead. It has the world’s first 2.5-inch hard disk with a capacity of 750 gigabytes which, together with the introduction of a new testing method, is the main reason for our writing this review. We are also looking forward to this summer and autumn which seem to have a lot of new products in store for us. That’s why we want to publish this review right now in order to present the changes we’ve made to our testing methodology, compare the new HDDs with old ones and not to carry the burden of the past over to our upcoming articles.

We have deliberately put aside three-platter products which offer the record-breaking capacity of 1 terabyte. Unfortunately, they are all “thick” at 12.5 millimeters as opposed to a standard 2.5-inch HDD’s thickness of 9.5 millimeters. The overwhelming majority of modern notebooks and external HDD enclosures are designed for the standard dimensions and cannot accommodate a thick HDD. Retailers are all just too aware of that, so such HDDs can mostly be found in branded external storage devices.

Testing Participants

Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B: HTS545050B9A300 – 500 GB

 

One year has passed yet this model remains the highest-capacity 2.5-inch hard disk from Hitachi. The company has not released any other models. We will see if it can compete with newer opponents successfully.

Hitachi Travelstar 7K500: HTS725050A9A364 – 500 GB

 

The Deskstar 7K500 was released somewhat later than the junior-series model and differs from the latter in its higher spindle speed (7200 RPM) and larger cache buffer (16 instead of 8 megabytes). This model comes in three variants: besides the basic one, there are the BDE subseries with hardware data encryption and the EA subseries optimized for around-the-clock operation under low loads.

Samsung SpinPoint M7: HM500JI – 500 GB

 

This HDD from Samsung is well known to us. It is the 500GB model from the SpinPoint M7 series. Of course, it is not new, yet still available and suitable for our purposes as a reference point in comparison with newer products.

Samsung SpinPoint M7E: HM641JI – 640 GB

 

And here comes one of the new drives. Samsung did not introduce a whole new series to mark the transition to 320GB platters. Instead, the company just spun off the M7E subseries our 640GB model belongs to. It has as much cache memory as its predecessors – 8 megabytes.

By the way, Samsung has announced a highly interesting SpinPoint MP4 series that has 320GB platters rotating at 7200 RPM and 16 megabytes of cache. Unfortunately, we have not yet managed to get an MP4 drive for our tests.

Seagate Momentus 5400.6: ST9500325AS – 500 GB

 

As we are going to pit new HDDs against their predecessors, it would be wrong not to include the Seagate Momentus 5400.6 into the comparison.

Seagate Momentus 5400: ST9640320AS – 640 GB

 

As you might expect from a company aspiring to be the leader of the industry, Seagate has already introduced its 640GB model. The new series is called simply Momentus 5400 without any ordinal number. Does it mean we are up to a new series of 5400RPM drives in the nearest future?

One new series has already come out without much fuss, yet the Momentus Thin is nothing exceptional. It seems to be a single-platter model in a 7mm case and its small dimensions should be appreciated by netbook and tablet PC makers.

Seagate Momentus 7200.4: ST9500420AS – 500 GB

 

The last member of the Seagate team is the Momentus 7200.4, the first 500GB drive to have a spindle rotation speed of 7200 RPM. It also has a double amount of cache (16 megabytes) compared with its cousins that have slower platters. The Seagate website announces a 750GB model already which seems to hail from a whole new series that, like the junior one, lacks an ordinal number in the end of the name. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet got these drives for tests.

The Seagate Momentus XT is yet another highly anticipated product but we will cover it in our next review.

Western Digital Scorpio Blue: WD5000BEVT-22ZAT0 – 500 GB

 

Here is one more representative of the 500GB generation, this time from Western Digital.

Western Digital Scorpio Blue: WD6400BEVT-00A0RT0 – 640 GB

 

The Scorpio Blue series progressed to 640 gigabytes as soon as 320GB platters had become available. Western Digital did not want to lose the race for high storage capacity.

Western Digital Scorpio Blue: WD6400BPVT-00HXZT0 – 640 GB

 

Then, unexpectedly, another 640GB model popped up in the Scorpio Blue series. The change of the second letter in the model name from E to P denotes a transition to 4KB formatting. Yes, it is the same Advanced Format technology we know from 3.5-inch drives.

The previous model began to leave the shelves quickly as if Western Digital focused all its production efforts on the new model. This must be due to a higher yield of platters with Advanced Format technology.

Western Digital Scorpio Blue: WD7500BPVT-22HXZT0 – 750 GB

 

The same series now includes a 750GB model with 8MB buffer. It features Advanced Format technology, too. Western Digital offered 750GB models before, but this one is based on only two platters whose recording density is as high as 376 gigabytes per platter. Other makers have announced similar products of their own, but this is the only dual-platter model of that capacity we have actually seen so far.

You may note that the new cycle of progress has not been as dramatic as before: the recording density used to grow in steps of 50% whereas the transition from 250 to 375 gigabytes has taken not one but two steps.

Advanced Format provoking a lot of questions and arguments, we will briefly repeat what we detailed in our first review of an HDD with that technology.

Advanced Format is a variant of the Long Data Sector technology that describes the transition of HDDs from 512-byte to 4-kilobyte sectors. Storing 4 kilobytes of data will now require one new sector instead of eight older sectors. As a result, the same amount of data takes less space on the platters while the ECC field gets larger, which means that the HDD can store more data and is overall more reliable. Western Digital’s Advanced Format implementation supports full emulation of 512-byte sectors: for any electronic devices communicating with the HDD, the latter is represented as having 512-byte sectors, but its platters are actually formatted in 4KB sectors each of which contains eight virtual 512-byte sectors. All the required address translations are performed by the HDD’s electronics and are no concern of the user.

The biggest downside of this emulation is its interaction with Windows XP which, when formatting a hard disk, reserves the first 63 sectors (512 bytes each) and begins the partition at sector 64. As a result, all requests for 4KB data blocks are shifted by 512 bytes relative to the hard disk’s sectors (the real sectors, not the emulated ones), provoking a performance hit at writing. Instead of just writing a single block of data, the HDD has to read two blocks, modify them, and only then write them to the platter.

This problem can be solved by means of the so-called alignment. With 3.5-inch drives, you can close pins 7 and 8 with a jumper to automatically shift the whole logical structure of the hard disk by 512 bytes. Or you can use the WD Align utility which can be downloaded from the Western Digital website. This tool shifts the already existing partitions on the HDD, aligning its logical structure to the physical sectors. 2.5-inch HDDs do not offer this choice: you have to use WD Align for them.

This alignment thing provokes some confusion, so here are the facts you should know if you’ve got a 2.5-inch drive with Advanced Format:

A small note: WD Align has a protection mechanism and will not allow you to align a partition if that is not necessary. So if you have any doubts, use WD Align and it will tell you what to do.

If you want to use a 2.5-inch HDD with Advanced Format in an external enclosure, Western Digital recommends that you first format the drive by connecting it to a mainboard’s SATA port. If you have Windows XP, you will have to run WD Align after that. If you have Windows Vista or 7, you can install the HDD into the external enclosure right after the formatting.

Firmware Versions

The next table shows the firmware versions of the HDDs we are going to benchmark today.

You should keep it in mind that the same models of HDDs may perform differently with other firmware.

Testbed and Methodology

The following testing utilities were used:

Testbed configuration:

The HDDs were tested with the generic OS drivers and formatted in NTFS (wherever formatting was required) as one partition with the default cluster size. 32-gigabyte NTFS partitions with the default cluster size were created for FC-Test. The HDDs were connected to a mainboard port and worked with enabled AHCI.

The most dramatic change in our test method is the transition from the outdated Windows XP to Windows 7. Our testbed includes a mainboard with an Intel ICH7 South Bridge. ICHx controllers are widespread and do not have bandwidth problems typical of standalone disk controllers.

There are some changes in the list of our tests, too, although it is based on the old one. First, we have finally got rid of PCMark 2004 and 2005, leaving the Vantage version only. These tests largely duplicate each other or other tests and produce similar results. Besides, we have some suspicions that the next version of this benchmark is about to come out, 3DMark 2010 having been announced already. Then, we have abandoned the Workstation pattern because PCMark Vantage provides a better picture of an HDD’s workstation performance. We now use WinRar version 3.91 and have replaced Perfect Disk with the Disk Defragmenter integrated into Windows 7.

Finally, we have adjusted some of the IOMeter tests. For example, we now test the HDDs in more detail under random-address loads, using a step of 2 rather than 4. The maximum data block size is now 2 megabytes, the largest that modern Windows OSes employ. If the disk request is even larger, the performance becomes influenced by the HDD’s sequential speed. Thus, we only compare HDDs in terms of operations per second in this test.

Another important change concerns the multithreaded tests. The distance between the data threads used to be 8 gigabytes so that the threads did not overlap and all the four threads could fit within the same hard disk. Today, considering the increased speed and capacity of modern HDDs, we increase the distance between the threads to 100 gigabytes, which is enough for the load to become more real (it is like reading simultaneously two files that were written to the disk not one after another, but after a while) and the threads still fit into all existing HDDs. When reading multiple threads, the HDD’s heads have to move a lot now and any peculiarities of its behavior get more conspicuous. We will have to use the older method for SSDs, but the distance between the data threads is unimportant for SSDs.

As for Western Digital drives with Advanced Format technology, we align the load in IOMeter tests that include write operations in such a way that the LBA addresses of data requests are multiples of 4 kilobytes and correspond to the physical structure of the HDD’s platters. This helps avoid the extra load we saw in earlier tests. We do not do any additional aligning because it is unnecessary in Windows 7.

Performance in IOMark

We use our internal IOMark tool for low-level tests. Let’s begin with sequential reading.

Let’s compare the HDDs according to the speed at the beginning and end of the full-capacity partitions created on them.

We can see that new platters improve performance, but not by much. We should not expect any breakthroughs from HDDs such as we used to see in the past. Anyway, the 320GB platters are generally 5 to 10 MBps faster than their 250GB predecessors. The transition to 375GB platters seems to have allowed Western Digital to speed up by about 5 MBps more and get very close to the 100MBps milestone which has already been left behind by 7200RPM products.

Take note that the read graphs of all the drives, save for the high-capacity products from Western Digital, are very smooth. The WD models, on the contrary, have a large difference between the head/platter pairs. Interestingly, this difference is smaller in the new 750GB model than in the older 640GB ones.

Now what about reading from the cache buffer and writing into it?

Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B, 500 GB

Hitachi Travelstar 7K500, 500 GB

The Hitachi 7K500 is much better at writing large data blocks into the cache than its 5400RPM cousin, and both are overall good in this test.

Samsung Spinpoint M7, 500 GB

Samsung Spinpoint M7E, 640 GB 

Dramatic changes can be observed in the Samsung camp: the M7 used to be downright slow at writing data blocks larger than 320 sectors (160 KB) whereas the new M7E produces a near-ideal graph. This radical improvement comes at the expense of the burst read speed which has lowered somewhat. We guess the price is acceptable.

Seagate Momentus 5400.6, 500 GB

Seagate Momentus 5400, 640 GB

Seagate Momentus 7200.4, 500 GB

Seagate HDDs do not improve. They only deliver decent speeds when processing small data blocks. At large blocks, the write speed plummets down and the read speed follows it, although in a less dramatic fashion. The 640GB model seems to differ for the better, but we can hardly call that a serious improvement.

Western Digital Scorpio Blue (BEVT), 500 GB

Western Digital Scorpio Blue (BEVT), 640 GB

Western Digital Scorpio Blue (BPVT), 640 GB 

Western Digital Scorpio Blue (BPVT), 750 GB

The Western Digital drives show some improvement. Their graphs get smoother in the right part of the diagram and the fluctuations of speed get smaller. This result is not perfect, but good. Hopefully, they will be improving even more in the future.

Oddly enough, it is the Hitachi 5K500.B that boasts the highest top speeds of burst reading and writing. Its reading is excellent indeed but its writing, as we have seen above, is actually far from ideal.

Performance in Intel IOMeter

Sequential Read & Write Patterns

IOMeter is sending a stream of read and write requests with a request queue depth of 4. The size of the requested data block is changed each minute, so that we could see the dependence of the drive’s sequential read/write speed on the size of the data block. This test is indicative of the maximum speed the drive can achieve.

The numeric data can be viewed in tables. We will be discussing graphs and diagrams.

The Hitachi 7K500 boasts the highest top speed in this test, outperforming the Seagate 7200.4 by a narrowest margin. Interestingly, the leaders reach their top speed on larger data blocks than the slower models.

As for the 5400RPM products, the 750GB Western Digital and the 640GB Samsung M7E come together to the finish although we expected the first drive with 375GB platters to come out the winner. Well, sequential speeds are not a strong point of Western Digital products: its 640GB drives are both somewhat slower than their opponents here.

We’ve got some good words to say about the Samsung M7E. It is the only drive to achieve its top speed on 4KB data blocks and is also fast at processing even smaller chunks of data.

Writing is overall similar to reading except for a couple of things. First, the Seagate 7200.4 falls behind the Hitachi 7K500 and differs but slightly from the 5400RPM drives. Second, the 640GB drive from Western Digital with Advanced Format is much better than its predecessor (BEVT) which is even inferior to the 500GB model.

Disk Response Time and Average Positioning Speed

For 10 minutes IOMeter is sending a stream of requests to read and write 512-byte data blocks with a request queue of 1. The total of requests processed by each HDD is much larger than its cache, so we get a sustained response time that doesn’t depend on the HDD’s buffer size.

The response time diagram shows a couple of interesting things. First, the 7200RPM drives do not enjoy any serious advantage in terms of read response. Yes, they are in the lead, but the 500GB drive from WD is just as good as them, the Samsung M7E following close behind. Second, the transition to 320GB platters has not increased the response time as we might have feared after our tests of 3.5-inch HDDs. It looks like the new platters are free from such compromises.

When it comes to writing, the Seagate 7200.4 shows a very high response time. This parameter is even higher with the WD drives that have Advanced Format, but at least they have an excuse for that. Due to their physical structure with 4KB sectors, they have to process a 512-byte write request in the following way: first they read the whole sector, then change the required 512 bytes in it, and only then they write the whole changed sector back to the platter.

Random Read & Write Patterns

Now we will see how the performance of the drives in random read and write modes depends on the size of the requested data block.

The random read results agree with the results of the response time test with a couple of curious exceptions. The 640GB WD BEVT slows down too much on very large data blocks while the Seagate 7200.4 has a sudden acceleration on 4 to 128KB data blocks, producing a very odd hump in the graph. It is the first time we ever see a graph like that and cannot think of an explanation for it.

We’ve got interesting results at random writing. The 500GB Western Digital and Hitachi 7K500 are the clear winners. The Hitachi 5K500.B behaves differently from its faster cousin and its performance with medium-sized data blocks is nothing more than satisfactory. Well, the Seagate 7200.4 performs even worse. It seems to have a strictly limited number of cache lines, which explains its low performance with data blocks of any size, save for large ones.

The WD drives with 4KB sectors behave just as expected. As long as the request is smaller than the size of one sector, their performance is low, being limited by the extra read and modify operations. But when the request is larger than one sector, these HDDs speed up and get closer to their predecessors. The 750GB model is ahead, which seems to be due to some firmware optimizations rather than to its higher recording density.

Database Patterns

In the Database pattern the drive is processing a stream of requests to read and write 8KB random-address data blocks. The ratio of read to write requests is changing from 0% to 100% with a step of 10% throughout the test while the request queue depth varies from 1 to 256.

You can click these links to view the tabled results:

We will build diagrams for request queue depths of 1, 16 and 256.

It is the 7200RPM drives that come out the winners at the shortest queue depth and high percentages of reads. The Hitachi 7K500 is also very good at high percentages of writes, being only inferior to the splendid 500GB drive from Western Digital there. The Seagate 7200.4 is not fond of writing at all, just like the BPVT series drives from WD which are slower than their predecessors.

We can observe some unexpected changes in the standings at the longer request queue depth. We have two 5400RPM drives – the WD BEVT and the Seagate 5400.6 – contending for top place. Interestingly, their 640GB successors are both worse at writing, the 640GB WD BEVT being also rather poor at reading. The HDDs with Advanced Format are still the worst overall, especially at writing. The Seagate 7200.4 is slow at high percentages of writes, too, although boasts highly effective reordering of read requests.

We don’t see any more changes in the standings when the request queue gets even longer.

Winding up this part of our tests, we will build diagrams showing the performance of each HDD at five different request queue depths.

The Hitachi drives all behave in the same manner. They have good deferred writing algorithms but their read request reordering is weak and only shows up at long queue depths.

The Samsung drives can do some deferred writing and increase their performance somewhat at higher request queue depths, but that’s about all the good news about them. These HDDs find it very hard to work under mixed loads, especially at high queue depths. They just don’t know what performance optimization algorithms to apply then.

The Seagate series of 5400RPM drives is very consistent. The firmware of the 500GB drive has been inherited by the 640GB model except that the deferred writing algorithms have become less effective at high request queue depths. The performance growth at reading can still be observed.

The Seagate 7200.4 is quite good at reading, but its weak deferred writing algorithms make it much slower than the other HDDs from Seagate at high percentages of writes.

The old WD BEVT drives behave similar to their desktop counterparts and deliver effective deferred writing and good request reordering. They also have a characteristic performance hit at 90% writes and long request queue depths. The new models with Advanced Format behave in the same manner except that their deferred writing is not that effective.

Web-Server, File-Server Patterns

The drives are tested under loads typical of servers. The names of the patterns are self-explanatory. The results are presented as performance ratings which are calculated as the average speed of the drive at every load.

This pattern includes read requests only, and the Seagate 7200.4 beats the 500GB WD BEVT, which has a lower spindle rotation speed, to get first place. The newer products with larger capacities are in the middle of the table and do not differ from their predecessors.

Interestingly, the HDDs produce graphs that go above or below each other but have the same shape. This is the consequence of today’s HDDs still behaving in the same way under simple loads. The Seagate 5400 is the only model that tries to stand out among the others but its performance at high queue depths is lower than that of its opponents.

This pattern contains some write requests, so the Seagate 7200.4 and both drives from Samsung suffer from being slow at high request queue depths. The two WD BPVT drives and the Hitachi 5K500.B have a dislike towards writing, judging by their poor results at short request queue depths. Thus, this test is won by the not-very-new WD BEVT with a capacity of 500 gigabytes.

Multithreaded Read & Write Patterns

The multithreaded tests simulate a situation when there are one to four clients accessing the hard disk at the same time – the clients’ address zones do not overlap. We will discuss diagrams for a request queue of 1 as the most illustrative ones. When the queue is 2 or more requests long, the speed doesn’t depend much on the number of applications. You can also click the following links for the full results:

Well, the increased distance between the data threads proves to be a serious difficulty for most of the tested HDDs. Three models from Western Digital are ahead irrespective of the number of data threads: the two old BEVT series drives and the new 750GB model. The fourth drive from Western Digital has much more modest results in every case despite the seemingly similar firmware.

The HDDs from Samsung and Hitachi are good at two threads, but the Hitachi team give up the fight at three threads. The Seagate drives wake up and leave all the others behind, save for the three leaders, when processing four data threads.

Some people argue that high performance of a particular drive may be due to its dedicating most of its resources to one data thread while ignoring the others. We measured the speed of each thread and show it in the diagrams: each thread is colored a different shade. As you can see, sometimes the leading HDDs indeed choose one data thread as the main one. Sometimes but not always. When there are a different number of threads, the same model may distribute the total speed evenly among them. And if you also consider the distribution of speed among the threads at requests queue depths other than 1, you will find no regularities at all (you have to believe us as we won’t publish such a huge table here).

There are no dramatic performance hits at multithreaded writing because the large amounts of cache memory and deferred writing algorithms of modern HDDs help smooth out the negative aspects of multithreaded load. We can see three leaders clear enough: the Hitachi 7K500, the 750GB BPVT series drive from WD and the Samsung M7E.

Performance in FC-Test

For this test two 32GB partitions are created on the drive and formatted in NTFS. A file-set is then created, read from the drive, copied within the same partition and copied into another partition. The time taken to perform these operations is measured and the speed of the drive is calculated. The Windows and Programs file-sets consist of a large number of small files whereas the other three patterns (ISO, MP3, and Install) include a few large files each.

You should be aware that the copying test not only indicates the speed of copying within the same HDD but is also indicative of the latter’s behavior under complex load. In fact, the HDD is processing two data threads then, one for reading and another for writing.

This test produces too much data, so we will only discuss the results obtained in the Install, ISO and Programs file-sets. You can use the following link to view full results.

Writing files proves to be a difficult task for many HDDs. While the poor performance of the WD BPVT series with small files could be expected, we don’t know what prevents them from delivering good speed in the other patterns. The low speed of the 750GB model in the ISO pattern is especially disappointing. The Seagate 7200.4 is not as good as we might expect, either.

On the whole, the 640GB drives are better than their 500GB counterparts, the Samsung M7E being an especially nice sight. The Hitachi 7K500 is in the lead irrespective of the file-set.

Reading doesn’t provoke any surprises. The 7200RPM HDDs are ahead, followed by the 640GB models. The 750GB BPVT series drive from WD is again far from good. It shouldn’t have any problems at reading, yet its speed is only as high as that of the 500GB models.

The Hitachi 7K500 wins at copying whereas the Seagate 7200.4 and Samsung M7E share second place. The Seagate does not like to copy large files which must be due to its firmware algorithms.

Performance in PCMark Vantage

Compared with the previous versions, the Vantage version of PCMark is more up-to-date and advanced in its selection of subtests as well as Windows Vista orientation. Each subtest is run ten times and the results of the ten runs are averaged.

Here is a brief description of each subtest:

Basing on these subtests, the drive’s overall performance rating is calculated.

The performance ratings reflect the standings of the HDDs correctly. The 7200RPM models are superior if used as a system disk. The Hitachi 7K500 has a higher rating than its opponent due to better firmware.

As for the 5400RPM products, the transition to new platters added storage capacity for them but did not increase their performance. It is clear that firmware algorithms matter more than the slightly higher recording density here.

The Western Digital HDDs with Advanced Format take bottom positions in the results table. They are slightly worse than their predecessors as system disks.

Defragmentation

Next goes our homemade test of defragmentation speed. We created a very defragmented file system on a 32GB partition of a disk by loading it with music, video, games and applications. Then we saved a per-sector copy of the disk and now copy it to the disk we want to test. Next we run a script that evokes the integrated defragmenter of Windows 7 and marks the time of the beginning and end of the defragmentation process. For more information about this test, you can refer to this article.

A high spindle rotation speed is an important advantage in this test: the two top places are occupied by the 7200RPM drives, the Hitachi being again ahead of its opponent. The rest of the HDDs come to the finish with close results. The Seagate 5400 is ahead of that group whereas the WD drives are the slowest. The 750GB model is especially poor in this test. Its 640GB predecessor with Advanced Format takes much less time to do the defragmentation.

Performance in WinRAR

Now we are going to show you one more interesting test in which we use WinRAR version 3.91 to compress and then uncompress a 1.13GB folder with 8118 files in 671 subfolders. The files are documents and images in various formats. These operations are done on the tested drive. This test depends heavily on CPU performance, but the storage device affects its speed, too.

This test often has its own particular favorites among hard disk drives. Here, the Samsung M7E is the fastest drive to create the archive. Second place goes to the Hitachi 7K500. The Seagate 7200.4 is third. The 640GB BEVT drive from Western Digital and the Seagate 5400.6 take last places.

Unpacking an archive with a lot of small files is a difficult task for HDDs with 4KB sectors but we are surprised at the result of the 750GB model which takes only half the time to accomplish the job compared to its predecessor. The HDDs with ordinary 512-byte sectors perform much better, yet that progress is very good in itself. As for the leaders, they are the Hitachi 7K500 and Samsung M7E which have already won a lot of our tests.

Power Consumption

You can refer to our article called Hard Disk Drive Power Consumption Measurements: X-bit’s Methodology in Depth for details on this test. We will just list the specific modes we measure the power consumption in:

Let’s check out each mode one by one.

There are almost no differences between the HDDs in terms of startup power consumption. None of them meets the USB 2.0 specification if installed into an external enclosure. Each HDD will have to be powered by two USB 2.0 ports. But if we take the new USB 3.0 standard, only two HDDs, the Samsung M7E and the Hitachi 7K500, will not be satisfied with its power capabilities.

By the way, you can install a jumper into the Western Digital drives that increases the time the HDD takes to spin its platters up, but lowers the startup power requirements. We checked this out with the 750GB model and found that its peak power consumption had lowered from 0.86 to 0.75 amperes. This can hardly be called a decisive improvement, though.

All the HDDs, with the exception of the Seagate 7200.4, fit within a 1-watt limit when idle. Three models can be singled out: the 750GB BPVT model from Western Digital, the Seagate 5400 and the Hitachi 5K500.B. As for the impressive result of the first of these HDDs, our ears tell us that it just shuts the motor down if there is no disk access for a few seconds. The power consumption you see in the diagram is what its electronics consumes, waiting for a disk request.

It is the new BPVT series drives from Western Digital and the Seagate 5400 that prove to be the most economical at random operations. The two 7200RPM models require a lot of power at random reading whereas the Hitachi 7K500, Seagate 5400.6 and the 500GB BEVT from WD have the highest power requirements at random writing. As for the possibility of using these HDDs in external enclosures, they can all be powered by a single USB port, except for the 7200RPM models.

The HDDs don’t differ much at sequential operations, the old Hitachi 5K500.B and the Samsung M7 being but slightly better than the rest of the drives. We’ve got only one loser in this test: the Seagate 7200.4 proves to require quite a lot of power at sequential writing, exceeding the 2.5-watt mark.

Conclusion

It looks like the times when higher-density platters always meant performance benefits for hard disk drives are gone. The current manufacturing technology has reached the physical limitations again. It has become harder for HDD makers to raise the recording density higher and higher and they do so mostly by increasing the track density, which cannot provide any performance boost. Nearly each HDD with a storage capacity of over 500 gigabytes we have discussed today is alike to its predecessor in performance. Some improvements are only due to firmware optimizations.

Still, we would like to award a few participants and share our recommendations. If you are looking for the fastest 2.5-inch hard disk drive, you should take a look at the Hitachi Travelstar 7K500. The only downside of this model is its unconfident performance under server loads. In the rest of our tests it is faster than its opponents. According to the results of our today’s test session, Hitachi Travelstar 7K500 HDD receives our Editor’s Choice award:

If you want a server disk, you should choose a Western Digital Scorpio Blue or a Seagate Momentus 5400.6 with a capacity of 500 gigabytes. The Samsung SpinPoint M7E is a little faster than the others among the 640GB products.

These three hard drives, namely 500 GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue and Seagate Momentus 5400.6, as well as 640 GB Samsung SpinPoint M7E receive our Recommended Buy title:

The BVT subseries of the Western Digital Scorpio Blue line-up – the hard disks with 4-kilobyte sectors – are somewhat slower than their opponents. We don’t think this is going to be obvious in real-life applications because large amounts of system memory and advanced caching mechanisms of modern OSes are likely to smooth this difference out. On the other hand, we guess these HDDs are going to be the most interesting choice as a second disk in a notebook or small computer or as an external disk. The capacity of 750 gigabytes is the record-breaking level right now whereas the ability of this HDD to quickly go to deep sleep, shutting the motor down and parking the heads, will come in handy if the disk is used mostly for static data storage.

We are proud to award Western Digital Scorpio Blue WD7500BPVT-22HXZT0 with 750 GB storage capacity with our Ultimate Innovation title: