Half a Terabyte on 2.5 Inches: Nine Hard Disk Drives Roundup

Some time ago we already reviewed the first 2.5-inch models with 500 GB storage capacity. Now time has come to compare side by side the solutions from all manufacturers that are currently available in the market.

by Aleksey Meyev
08/03/2009 | 06:57 PM

Half a year ago we welcomed early 2.5-inch hard disk drives with a capacity of 500 gigabytes and now every manufacturer offers such products. A delay with the introduction of a new series would allow the opponents to rake in all the profits.

 

It is in human nature to be always asking for more. 320GB HDDs had seemed just fine in terms of speed and capacity but as soon as there appeared larger-capacity products, their higher recording density also bringing a promise of a performance growth, the previous favorites were abandoned. The recording density per platter grew up from 160 to 250 gigabytes, allowing the manufacturers to reach the beautiful round number of 500 gigabytes. Coupled with the considerable reduction in price (such HDDs cost about $100 in retail now), this has made the new models highly popular. People use them to increase the amount of disk space in their notebooks, to modernize or assemble a super-compact home PC, in mobile enclosures, in blade servers, in NASes with 2.5-inch bays, etc. To cut it short, the new 2.5-inch HDDs have caught the spotlight.

And we are lucky to have as many as nine such HDDs in our hands: one 5400rpm 250GB-platter model from each of the six makers, two early models based on three platters, and one 7200rpm model with two platters. It’s time to write a review!

Testing Participants

Fujitsu MJA2 BH: MJA2500BH

 

There is a high chance that this HDD, hardly different from its opponents in anything, will be the last 2.5-inch hard disk drive from Fujitsu. End of the winter Fujitsu decided to leave the HDD market and took appropriate measures. The company sold its HDD development and production division to Toshiba. It stopped its HDD head production facilities while its platter producing factories and patents were handed over to Showa Denco. Thus, there are currently only five HDD makers left. It is the same story as with Maxtor and, earlier, with IBM and Quantum, let alone numerous smaller brands. Globalization is spreading over the planet on the pretext of helping to get rid of unprofitable businesses.

By the way, Fujitsu also offers one more series with 500GB drives called MJA2 CH. Its models are twin brothers of the series we’ve got a sample of but feature integrated encryption. The MJA2 CH series is somewhat broader, with a bottom capacity of 80GB, whereas the encryption-less series begins from a 250GB model.

Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B: HTS545050B9A300

 

Hitachi was one of the first companies to introduce 500GB drives – it was a Travelstar 5K500 series model with a 3-platter design and 12.5 millimeters thick. Many clients were dissatisfied with the increased thickness and the series was updated as soon as Hitachi had acquired denser platters. Following the evolution of its desktop counterpart, the new series got the name of Travelstar 5K500.B, a dual-platter design, and a normal thickness of 9.5 millimeters.

It is the newest trend to release multiple HDD series based on the same platform. Hitachi, in particular, offers three 5K500.B sub-series: ordinary models, models with encryption, and models optimized for 24/7 operation. Hitachi is taciturn about the distinguishing features of the latter sub-series, but we’ve got a sample of the basic disk, without any special features.

Samsung SpinPoint M7: HM500JI

 

This HDD had a 500GB predecessor, too. That was an M6 series model with three platters and a standard thickness of the case, which was quite impressive (no other developer had ever come up with such a product). But manufacturing HDDs with two platters is easier and dual-platter HDDs are more economical, so Samsung released a new series as soon as it had new 250GB platters. Besides the platters, the electronics seems to have been revised substantially for the new series.

Seagate Momentus 5400.6: ST9500325AS

 

Of course, such a prominent maker as Seagate could not afford lagging behind its opponents. So, the company now offers the sixth generation of 2.5-inch Momentus drives with a spindle rotation speed of 5400rpm. Like other makers, Seagate offers a 500GB model with data encryption but it belongs to the Momentus 5400 FDE series.

Seagate Momentus 7200.4: ST9500420ASG

 

However, Seagate also offers a unique model that has no counterparts in the other makers’ line-ups. We are talking about the 500GB Momentus 7200.4 drive that has a spindle rotation speed of 7200rpm. Seagate has outpaced its opponents in this market sector as they can only offer 7200rpm 2.5-inch models with a capacity of only 320GB as yet. We are very curious to learn the speed and power consumption characteristics of this product in comparison with the others.

Toshiba MKxx55GSX: MK5055GSX

 

The 500GB drive from Toshiba is the last one on our list. It is no different from its opponents. It is just another 2.5-inch hard disk with the maximum storage capacity available today.

The other HDDs to be included into this test session were covered in our previous article on early 500GB HDDs. These are the Hitachi Travelstar 7K500, Samsung SpinPoint M6 and Western Digital Scorpio Blue.

We want to say a few words about the Samsung SpinPoint M6. We had had suspicions about the specs of this HDD but the publication of them at the company’s website made it clear that Samsung had made a small miracle and packed three platters and six heads into a case of a standard rather than increased thickness. This should allow Samsung to come up with larger-capacity products ahead of its opponents, although a 750GB model is not expected yet (but if the recording density is increased just a little, three platters will yield 1 terabyte, which is a highly appealing opportunity).

Summary

The following table lists the specifications and firmware versions of the tested HDDs:

Most of the models are very like each other, don’t you think? The Seagate 7200.4 stands out with its higher spindle rotation speed and double amount of buffer memory (16 rather than 8 megabytes). And it is only Seagate’s HDDs that have a declared seek time other than 12 milliseconds. So, the HDDs are indeed very similar in their specs.

Testbed and Methods

The following testing utilities were used:

Testbed configuration:

We installed the generic OS drivers for the drives and formatted them in FAT32 and NTFS as one partition with the default cluster size. For some tests 32GB partitions were created on the drives and formatted in FAT32 and NTFS with the default cluster size, too. The drives were connected to a Promise SATA300 TX4302 controller installed into a PCI-X slot and switched from the quiet mode (with Advanced Acoustic Management enabled) into the ordinary operating mode if necessary.

Performance in IOMark

We recorded the data-transfer graphs of the HDDs with our own IOMark tool:

The following diagram compares the read speed at the beginning and end of the partition created on each hard disk:

The Seagate 7200.4 stands out, of course. Its data-transfer rate is considerably higher thanks to the higher speed of its spindle. The speed is as high as 100MBps on the fastest cylinders at the beginning of the disk, so you can hardly now call 2.5-inch HDDs sluggish! The other 250GB-platter drives deliver similar performance, the Fujitsu MJA2 BH being somewhat faster and the Toshiba being somewhat slower than the others. The 3-platter Samsung M6 looks good in comparison with the newer products but the Hitachi 7K500 is slow.

If you take a look at the graphs, you can see that most of the HDDs produce very smooth read graphs whereas the Western Digital has a fluctuating speed. This company seems to employ a very aggressive adaptive formatting in its products to squeeze the maximum out of each particular platter.

Next we will see how the HDDs work with their buffer memory. You can see the graphs by clicking the links below and we will discuss a diagram with the top speeds.

Judging by the top speeds, the 250GB-platter models are roughly equal when it comes to working with the buffer except that the Western Digital is somewhat slower than the others and that the Fujitsu’s writing and reading speeds differ much. Hitachi has obviously replaced the electronics in the newer model as its buffer speed is much higher. We can’t say the same about Samsung’s products: the Samsung M6 seems to be just set at SATA-150 rather than SATA-300 mode.

The graphs are an interesting view, too. Hitachi’s updated electronics has a fluctuating speed of writing large data blocks into the cache: some blocks get in quickly, but others take quite a lot of time. It is even worse with the Fujitsu: the maximum speed of reading from the buffer is only achieved on very large data blocks. Otherwise, the Fujitsu’s speed is no higher than 200MBps. The new Samsung M7 is rather mediocre at writing blocks larger than 320 sectors – its speed sinks by about 25% then. Seagate’s HDDs have similar problems. Their speed lowers to about 150MBps and 100MBps when reading and writing, respectively, data blocks larger than 256 sectors. It is only the HDDs from Toshiba and Western Digital that show stable results in this test.

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 hard drive’s sequential read/write speed on the size of the requested data block. This test is indicative of the highest speed the drive can achieve.

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

IOMeter: Sequential Read

We can see very diverse results at reading. Just as expected, the Seagate 7200.4 delivers the highest top speed. It stops very short of the 100MBps mark in this test. The Fujitsu is the best among the 5400rpm models, reaching 87.5MBps. Judging by the gap from the Hitachi 7K500, the transition to the denser platters brought a 15MBps advantage to Hitachi’s HDDs. Therefore the Samsung M6 performs impressively. Despite 3 platters, it is very fast at reading. It seems to have a rather high recording density along the tracks.

The HDDs differ greatly on small data blocks and in terms of reaching the top speed. The Toshiba and Seagate 5400.6 reach their best as soon as 2KB data blocks whereas the Fujitsu, being the fastest in terms of top speed, accelerates to its full on 32KB data chunks only. Take note that the Seagate 5400.6 and 7200.4, although actually from the same product generation, handle small blocks differently: the 7200rpm HDD is slower than the 5400rpm model then.

The HDDs from Hitachi and Samsung show some good progress. The increased recording density and the reduced number of platters lead to a higher top speed and faster processing of small data blocks.

IOMeter: Sequential Write

The HDDs’ speeds are more uniform at writing. Most of the new models go neck and neck. Somewhat surprisingly, the Fujitsu falls behind, being inferior to the 3-platter models even. Oddly enough, the Seagate 7200.4 is no different from the 5400rpm HDDs here. The Western Digital is obviously superior to the others when writing small data blocks.

Disk Response Time

In this test IOMeter is sending a stream of requests to read and write 512-byte data blocks with a request queue of 1 for 10 minutes. The total number of requests processed by the HDD is over 60 thousand, so we get a sustained response time that doesn’t depend on the HDD’s buffer size.

Theoretically, platters with a smaller diameter should ensure a better response time than that of 3.5-inch HDDs because the angle of movement of the heads is smaller. But practically, this rule is only true for high-speed server HDDs. The noise from quickly moving heads would be too high to please a notebook user. The heads actuator would have to be made more robust, i.e. massive, which would be hard to achieve within a 9.5mm thick enclosure. Thus, compact HDDs are somewhat inferior to their 5400rpm 3.5-inch counterparts in terms of response time.

The HDD from Western Digital is obviously the best in this test. It is 1.5 milliseconds faster than the closest 5400rpm pursuer at reading and even ahead of the Seagate 7200.4, which is quite a shame for the latter.

The same WD drive boasts very effective deferred writing that leads to a low write response time. The Seagate 5400.6 and the Fujitsu have a good response time at writing, too. The Seagate 7200.4 is no good again (but it is good that its response time at writing is not higher than at reading as it used to be with Seagate’s drives before).

Random Read & Write Patterns

Now we’ll see the dependence between the drives’ performance in random read and write modes on the size of the data block.

We will discuss the results of the disk subsystems at processing random-address data in two versions. For small-size data chunks we will draw graphs showing the dependence of the amount of operations per second on the data chunk size. For large chunks we will compare performance depending on data-transfer rate in megabytes per second. This approach helps us evaluate the disk subsystem’s performance in two typical scenarios: working with small data chunks is typical for databases. The amount of operations per second is more important than sheer speed then. Working with large data blocks is nearly the same as working with small files, and the traditional measurement of speed in megabytes per second becomes more relevant.

Let’s start with reading.

IOMeter: Random Read, operations per second

Reading small random-address data chunks goes on according to the results of the HDDs in the response time test above. The lower the response time, the higher the speed is. There are no inexplicable slumps or anything. Just a perfect picture.

IOMeter: Random Read, megabytes per second

It is the sequential read speed that affects the processing of large data blocks. Therefore the Seagate 7200.4 is ahead here whereas the Hitachi 5K500 slows down. The Fujitsu is the best among the 5400rpm drives based on 250GB platters.

IOMeter: Random Write, operations per second

The HDDs differ more when writing random-address small-size data blocks. The Western Digital is in the lead, followed by the Fujitsu. Third place goes to the Seagate 5400.6. The 7200rpm Seagate seems to have some problems with deferred writing as its speed is very low. The Hitachi 5K500 seems to have problems as well – that’s not right for a HDD to slow down like that.

IOMeter: Random Write, megabytes per second

It is the sequential write speed that becomes important when the HDDs are processing large data chunks and the Seagate 7200.4 is rising steadily from last to first place. The Hitachi 5K500.B is surprisingly poor. Although faster than its 3-platter predecessor, it is much slower than the other HDDs of its class.

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 the following link to view the tabled results in IOMeter: Database.

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

At the shortest queue depth this test is largely a competition of deferred writing algorithms although the Western Digital and Seagate 7200.4 differ from the others at a very high percentage of reads. The HDD from Western Digital is unrivalled in deferred writing whereas the Seagate 7200.4 is poor despite its 16 megabytes of cache. The 5400rpm Seagate 5400.6 looks much better.

When the queue depth is increased to 16 requests, it is request reordering algorithms that come into play. The Western Digital is still good, but the Seagate Momentus 5400.6 is close behind it. The Seagate Momentus 7200.4 is in the lead at high percentages of reads thanks to its large cache and higher spindle rotation speed.

When the queue is the longest, the HDDs deliver higher performance because NCQ algorithms are complemented by the driver’s request reordering. The Seagate 7200.4 slows down here while the Western Digital takes first place, followed by the Seagate 5400.6.

Summing up this section of our test session, the next diagrams will show you the performance of each HDD at five different queue depths.

The Fujitsu has both NCQ and deferred writing, but the latter is far from effective. As for request reordering, the company should still polish it off: the slumps in the graphs don’t look good at all.

Hitachi revised the firmware for the newer model. It is hard to tell how successful this revision is. The performance hit under mixed load (when the ratio of reads to writes is close to 50/50) is eliminated but the efficiency at long queue depths is now lower. So, the company has still got some work to do here.

Samsung is polishing its firmware off in a steady and wary way. It is good that the newer version has acquired deferred writing and request reordering but why is their efficiency so low? Server loads are still a trial for Samsung’s HDDs.

Seagate’s HDDs behave differently. The 7200rpm model is faster at short queue depths but slower than the 5400rpm model at long queue depths. And while the Seagate 5400.6 has good deferred writing, the Seagate 7200.4 has almost none of it. We must confess Seagate’s firmware never ceases to surprise us.

The Toshiba is similar to the Fujitsu in having average-efficiency deferred writing and far-from-perfect request reordering algorithms.

Western Digital’s HDD is almost ideal. Everything works just as needed in it. This company seems to have developed firmware which is highly adaptable for different HDDs.

Web-Server, Fileserver and Workstation Patterns

The drives are tested under loads typical of servers and workstations.

The names of the patterns are self-explanatory. The Workstation pattern is used with the full capacity of the drive as well as with a 32GB partition. The request queue is limited to 32 requests in the Workstation pattern.

The results are presented as performance ratings. For the File-Server and Web-Server patterns the performance rating is the average speed of the drive under every load. For the Workstation pattern we use the following formula:

Rating (Workstation) = 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.

The Seagate 7200.4 is beyond competition under such load, enjoying a nice lead over the Western Digital which is the best of the 5400rpm models. Samsung’s two HDDs and the Toshiba are poor in this test as they suffer a performance hit at medium queue depths.

The standings are different when there are write requests in the load. The Western Digital is now first, followed by the Seagate 5400.6. The speedy Seagate 7200.4 rolls back to third place due to its modest writing capabilities. The two 3-platter drives are at the bottom of the diagram: the Hitachi 5K500 has very low results at short queue depths whereas the Samsung M6 does not speed up much at long ones.

Our formula gives bigger weights to the results at short queue depths, so the Western Digital is first even though it loses to the Seagate 5400.6 at long queue depths. The 7200rpm Seagate is no winner because of its problems with writing. Hitachi’s HDDs have the lowest ratings.

When the test zone is limited to 32 gigabytes, it is the two HDDs from Seagate that compete for first place, and the 7200rpm model comes out the winner. Hitachi’s HDDs like this load more and join the group of HDDs with average results. The 3-platter Samsung M6 is on the losing side here.

Multithreaded Read & Write Patterns

The multithreaded tests simulate a situation when there are one to four clients accessing the virtual 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:

As usual, the addition of a second read thread affects the HDDs in different ways. The Western Digital slows down less than the others and takes the lead as the consequence. Both drives from Seagate are good at processing two threads whereas the new Samsung M7 is downright poor. This must be a common feature of many new HDDs from Samsung (we have seen the same in our 3.5-inch HDD tests).

The third thread does not change anything while the fourth provokes some changes in the standings. The Western Digital slows down, giving way for both HDDs from Seagate as well as for the Fujitsu. Both drives from Hitachi join the Samsung M7 as the slowest performers in this test.

The Samsung M7 is, on the contrary, the best HDD when writing two threads. Besides it, the Samsung M6, Western Digital and Seagate 7200.4 deliver good performance, too. The new Hitachi 5K500.B is a disappointment. Despite its higher recording density, it is worse than its predecessor at multithreaded writing.

The Hitachi 5K500 and Toshiba join the group of losers when there are even more threads to be written. A small change among the leaders: the Seagate 7200.4 goes ahead and takes first place.

Performance in FC-Test

For this test two 32GB partitions are created on the disk and formatted in NTFS and then in FAT32. After that a file-set is created. It is then read from the disk, copied within the same partition and then copied into another partition. The time taken to perform these operations is measured and the speed of the disk 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.

We’d like to note that the copying test is indicative of the drive’s behavior under complex load. In fact, the HDD is working with two threads (one for reading and one for writing) when copying files.

This test produces too much data, so we will only discuss the results achieved with the Install, ISO and Programs file-sets in NTFS. You can use the links below to view the full results:

There are three leaders at writing: the HDDs from Western Digital and Toshiba and the Samsung M7. The latter two go neck and neck while the Western Digital is somewhat ahead on large files and somewhat behind on the small files of the Programs pattern. As for the losers, the low performance of the Hitachi 5K500 is predictable but the poor results of the Seagate 7200.4 are quite a surprise.

However, the Seagate 7200.4 shows its best when reading large files of the ISO pattern. It is not that good with smaller files, falling behind the Fujitsu and Western Digital.

It is the Hitachi 5K500 and Seagate 5400.6 that fail in this test.

The Toshiba, Samsung M7 and Western Digital show stable and high performance when copying files within the same 32GB partition. The 3-platter Hitachi 5K500 has a very poor speed but the Seagate 5400.6 might be faster, too.

We have different leaders when copying from one partition to another. The HDD from Western Digital is still in the top three but is now joined by the Fujitsu and the Seagate 7200.4 which is especially good at copying large files. The Hitachi 5K500 and Seagate 5400.6 are slow again.

Performance in PCMark 2004/2005

PCMark 2005 has the same tests as the 2004 version (not only in names, but also in results as we have seen a lot of times), so we only use one test from PCMark 2004 which is not available in the 2005 version. It is called File Copying and measures the speed of copying some set of files.  The other tests are:

The final result of the average of ten runs of each test.

Copying in PCMark 2004 is not exactly the same as copying in FC-Test. The Samsung M7 takes the lead here. The HDDs from Western Digital and Toshiba are in the top three, too. The Seagate 5400.6, Samsung M6 (this gap between Samsung’s HDDs cannot be explained by recording density alone), and Hitachi 5K500 are the slowest drives in this test.

The Seagate 7200.4 is better than the others at booting Windows XP up, but the gap from its pursuers is not as large as we might expect from a HDD with higher spindle rotation speed. The Fujitsu and the new Hitachi 5K500.B are very good, too.

The Application Loading test shows the same standings as the previous one: the Seagate 7200.4 is in the lead, followed by the Fujitsu and Hitachi 5K500.B. Samsung’s HDDs are poor in this test, including the new M7.

We see almost the same standings in the General Usage test, too. The only difference is that the Fujitsu cedes its place among the leaders to the Hitachi 5K500.

Scanning for viruses is highly sensitive to some peculiarities of caching mechanisms. The Fujitsu MJA2, Seagate Momentus 7200.4 and Toshiba MK5055GSX pass this test better than the other drives. Recording density is also important for this test as is indicated by the HDDs that take last places.

The speed of writing files depends on their average size as is proved by FC-Test, so PCMark 2005 provides an opportunity to check the HDDs out with one more file-set (here, a prerecorded trace). The Samsung M7 delivers a brilliant performance and is followed by the Seagate 7200.4. The HDD from Western Digital is in the top three, too.

Thus, the Seagate 7200.4 takes first place in terms of PCMark 2005 whereas second place goes to the Samsung M7. The HDDs behind the leaders have similar results. Besides the 3-platter models, the Seagate Momentus 5400.6 is poor in this test.

Performance in PCMark Vantage

To make this part of our test session complete, we are going to run the latest version of PCMark called Vantage. Compared with the previous versions, the benchmark has become 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 Seagate 7200.4 enjoys a substantial advantage under this multithreaded load. The HDDs from Western Digital and Fujitsu stand out among the 5400rpm products. Both drives from Samsung are on the losing side here.

The Seagate 7200.4 is good at gaming, topping the same trio of leaders as in the previous test. The Hitachi 5K500 and Toshiba are now as slow as the drives from Samsung.

The Seagate 7200.4 seems to be the best choice for photographers as well. The Western Digital doesn’t like this load for some reason and falls to last place.

The standings return to normal in the Windows Vista Startup test. We see the familiar trios of winners and losers.

There are some considerable changes in the Movie Maker test. The Hitachi 5K500.B takes first place although it has delivered average performance in the previous tests. Second place goes to the Western Digital. Interestingly, the HDDs from Seagate have similar results and are slower than their opponents.

This is yet another test in which the efficiency of caching is tested. The leaders are now the Hitachi 5K500.B, Seagate 7200.4 and Fujitsu. The 3-platter Hitachi 5K500 is only half as fast as the newer version. The HDDs from Samsung and Western Digital have low results, too.

It looks like we’ve got a trio of leaders that work best with multimedia content. The Seagate 7200.4, Fujitsu and Hitachi 5K500.B are again definitely faster than the others. Take note that there are no downright slow drives in this test, save for the 3-platter Samsung M6.

Seagate’s HDDs take two top places when loading applications, the 7200rpm model being considerably faster. Samsung’s HDDs are at the bottom of the diagram again.

Funnily, the standings of PCMark Vantage differ greatly from the standings we have seen in the previous version of this benchmark. This may be the effect of the new OS and new loads, yet it serves to prove once again that you should compare HDDs basing on a number of benchmarks or under some specific loads. Anyway, first place still goes to the Seagate 7200.4 whereas the Fujitsu and the Hitachi 5K500.B compete for second. Besides the 3-platter models, the Samsung M7 is among the losers here.

Defragmentation

Next goes our homemade test of defragmentation speed we usually use for 3.5-inch HDDs. Let’s try it with 2.5-inchers now.

We created a very defragmented file system on a 32GB partition of a hard 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 HDD we want to test. The tested HDD is connected to the mainboard’s SATA controller whose operation mode (AHCI/Standard IDE) is controlled from the mainboard’s BIOS. Next we run a script that evokes the console version of the Perfect Disk 8.0 defragmenter and marks the time of the beginning and end of the defragmentation process. Thus, each drive is tested twice – with AHCI support turned on and off on the controller. You can refer to this article for details about this test.

Unfortunately, some HDDs (the 3-platter Hitachi 5K500 and Samsung M6 and the Western Digital Scorpio Blue) could not be tested.

We’ve got highly interesting results. First, we can see that the Seagate 7200.4 is indeed faster, but not much faster, than the others. The gap from the closest pursuer is a mere half a minute. Second, the HDDs pass this test differently depending on what driver they use. Some HDDs are better with AHCI, and others, without AHCI. The difference between an HDD’s results in these two modes is substantial, amounting to an average half a minute and being as high as 2.5 minutes with the Fujitsu. The Seagate 5400.6 is extremely slow in this test. It seems to have inherited this feature from Seagate’s 7200.11 series of desktop HDDs that are also slower than their opponents at defragmentation.

Performance in WinRAR

Now we are going to introduce to you one more interesting test in which we use WinRAR version 3.8 to compress and then uncompress a 1.13GB folder with 8118 files in 671 subfolders. The files are documents and images in various formats – the contents of a flash drive of an author of this review. These operations are done on the tested HDD. WinRAR is usually used to benchmark CPUs, but it can make a good test for HDDs if you select the lowest compression level and use a huge amount of files. The HDD’s performance should affect the speed of compressing/uncompressing then.

Unfortunately, we could not perform this test for the 3-platter Hitachi 5K500, Samsung M6 and Western Digital Scorpio Blue.

Does the HDD affect the performance of WinRAR? Yes. The difference of 45 seconds during archiving amounts to 7% of the total duration of the test (about 11 minutes). Perhaps that’s not something you should worry about, but anyway. Uncompressing takes less than 2 minutes and the difference between the HDDs is over half a minute, i.e. over 25%.

Now let’s analyze the results.

Archiving is a mixed load of sequential and random reading of very small files with subsequent writing of a single large file. The Seagate 7200.4 proves to be the best under this load. Three out of the five 5400rpm HDDs pass the test with similar results while the Toshiba and Seagate 5400.6 are slower than them.

When the archive is being unpacked, the HDD reads one large file and writes sequentially numerous small files. This test is won by the new Samsung but its advantage over the others is not large. We can only see that the Fujitsu is slow, probably due to its low speed of writing files.

Power Consumption

You can refer to our article called Hard Disk Drive Power Consumption Measurements: X-bit’s Methodology Indepth 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.

The 3-platter Hitachi 5K500 differs from the others with its high power consumption during startup. It needs over 1 ampere from the +5V line. Hitachi’s new 5K500.B series drive is, on the contrary, the most economical.

The HDDs differ greatly in terms of power consumption in idle mode. The Seagate 7200.4 proves to be the most voracious because it needs more energy to maintain the higher speed of its two platters than the 3-platter 5400rpm models. The Seagate 5400.6 and Western Digital are not much more economical, though. It is the new Hitachi 5K500.B and the Fujitsu MJA2 that really have a modest appetite.

The HDD from Toshiba proves to be the most economical under random loads. It is the best both at reading and writing. Second place is shared by the new products from Hitachi and Samsung. The Travelstar 5K500.B is more economical at reading while the SpinPoint M7, at writing. It is the Hitachi 5K500 and Samsung M6 that are the most voracious in this test. Each of them has three platters and six heads. Even the 7200rpm Seagate 7200.4 needs less power thanks to its 2-platter design.

It is interesting to compare the Seagate HDDs. The 5400rpm model consumes about the same amount of power at both writing and reading whereas the 7200rpm model differs greatly in these two modes. It looks like the difference is due to the efficiency of deferred writing: the more effective and advanced algorithms, the more power is consumed by the HDD’s electronics. This is confirmed by the results of the Western Digital which has a small difference between the two modes, too.

The Hitachi 5K500.B, Toshiba and Fujitsu take top three places at sequential operations. Last three places are occupied by the two 3-platter models and the Seagate 7200.4.

We want to summarize the power consumption results of the Seagate 7200.4. This HDD has a higher spindle rotation speed than the others, which gives it an advantage. What is the tradeoff in terms of power consumption and heat dissipation? Comparing it with the Seagate 5400.6, the difference is not big: less than one fourth of a watt in idle mode and about 0.4 watts under load. The Seagate 7200.4 consumes about 0.4W more when idle and 0.6W more under load in comparison with the most economical 2-platter 500GB drives. (We mostly consider the results at reading because this Seagate behaves rather oddly at writing). And if compared with the rather voracious Western Digital or the 3-platter models, the Seagate 7200.4 is roughly as economical as them.

Conclusion

Now it’s time to sum up all the results and see what HDD is better overall. If you need maximum performance, you may be interested in two models: Western Digital Scorpio Blue and Seagate Momentus 7200.4. The former is somewhat better for databases or similar data structures whereas the latter is better for ordinary uses, especially for reading rather than for writing.

If power efficiency is your priority, you may want to consider the Fujitsu MJA2 BH or the Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B. Overall, each of the HDDs based on 250GB platters is superior to the early 500GB drives based on 3 platters, so it is no wonder that the first generation of 500GB 2.5-inch HDDs has been so quickly replaced with the current one.