500 GB Hard Disk Drives Roundup

Far not everyone out there needs enormous hard disk drives. Many users out there feel quite happy with smaller HDDs for their systems storing most of their data on external media. And quite a few users do not really have that much data to store anyway. We hope our roundup of 3.5-inch 500 GB HDDs will be helpful for these particular users.

by Aleksey Meyev
05/03/2010 | 11:08 AM

Hard disk drives are quickly and constantly growing up in capacities. Of course, every one of us would be glad to be presented a large HDD as a gift, but when it comes to purchasing one for your own money, there are other factors to consider. Some users just don’t need huge system disks as they store all their data on external media or dedicated servers (this is especially true for corporate users). Others have nothing to fill a large disk with. Therefore, such users often prefer 500-gigabyte hard disks which can offer a very high performance as they are based on highest-density platters available today. Having only one or two platters inside, such HDDs are also generally cold. Their larger-capacity cousins provide some notion about their performance but we will have a few surprises in this review.

 

As a matter of fact, we’ve got lots of data on 500GB HDDs because there have been as many as four generations of such disks, counting by the recording density per platter. We were tempted to compile a monumental comparative report but it would be too hard to read. So, we had to limit ourselves to 12 modern models which are available in shops today.

Testing Participants

Hitachi

Deskstar 7K1000.C: HDS721050CLA362, 500 GB

 

Hitachi is represented by one model from the newest Deskstar 7K1000.C series which is widely available in shops and is supposed to deliver best performance. As opposed to the larger-capacity models from the same series, the 500GB model has 16 rather than 32 megabytes of cache. Will it be able to make up for that shortage? Well, it has something to build upon indeed as it is based on a single platter of the highest recording density available today and is equipped with new electronics.

Samsung

EcoGreen F2: HD502HI, 500 GB

 

SpinPoint F3: HD502HJ, 500 GB

 

The Samsung brand is represented by two runners: a model from the updated power-efficient EcoGreen F2 series (a spindle rotation speed of 5400 RPM) and a model from the SpinPoint F3 series (7200 RPM). Each of these disks has 16 megabytes of cache and, theoretically, only one platter.

Seagate

Barracuda 7200.11: ST3500320AS, 500 GB

 

Barracuda 7200.12: ST3500418AS, 500 GB

 

Barracuda LP: ST3500412AS, 500 GB

 

We’ve got three drives from Seagate here. Two of them are “fast” HDDs with a spindle rotation speed of 7200 RPM that belong to different generations. The 7200.11 series model is based on two platters (with three active head/surface pairs) whereas the newer 7200.12 series model has only one platter. Each HDD has an impressive 32 megabytes of cache.

The third Seagate hails from the power-efficient Barracuda LP series which has joined the ranks along with the 7200.12 series. This HDD has 32 megabytes of cache and one platter rotating at 5900 RPM.

Western Digital

Caviar Black: WD5001AALS-00L3B2, 500 GB

 

Caviar Blue: WD5000AAKS-00A7B2, 500 GB
Caviar Blue: WD5000AAKS-00M9A0, 500 GB
Caviar Blue: WD5000AAKS-00V1A0, 500 GB

 

Caviar Green: WD5000AACS-00ZUB0, 500 GB

 

Caviar Green: WD5000AADS-00S9B0, 500 GB

 

Western Digital has had massive participation in our recent tests and we’ve got as many as six HDDs from this brand for this review, too.

First goes the representative of the top-performance Caviar Black series with 32 megabytes of quick cache memory.

There are also three HDDs from the mainstream Caviar Blue series. Like the Black series, they have a spindle rotation speed of 7200 RPM but only 16 megabytes of cache. The Blue series is generally somewhat inferior to the Black series in speed. Why did we take as many as three models? The fact is Western Digital has a rather confusing product nomenclature. As our previous tests showed, WD drives from the same series but with different endings of their full model names (which are never quoted in price lists) may differ greatly in their parameters.

For example, we’ve got one model here that was released when the whole series was called Caviar SE16 – you can see it in the photos above. We also have two newer models which already have the blue label (we don’t have photos of them, unfortunately). You can see the full names above while we will be referring to them by the characteristic pair of symbols denoting the subseries: A7, M9 and V1. These are the third and fourth symbols after the dash in the full product name. All of these versions can be bought in shops, so we feel we must test all of them, too. Frankly speaking, we did not try to collect them all. We were just searching for a model with one rather than two platters.

And there are also two models from the power-efficient Caviar Green series that has a reduced spindle rotation speed. Our samples both have a spindle speed of 5400 RPM but differ in terms of cache memory: 16 megabytes in the AACS and 32 megabytes in the AADS.

It is because of this difference in cache that we included both models into this test session. It is always interesting to see how the amount of cache affects performance.

HDD Firmware

The firmware versions of the HDDs are listed in the following table:

You should keep it in mind that the performance of HDDs may vary depending on what firmware they have.

Testbed and Methods

The following testing utilities were used:

Testbed configuration:

The HDDs were tested with the generic OS drivers. We formatted them in FAT32 and NTFS as one partition with the default cluster size (for some tests, we created 32GB partitions). The HDDs were connected to a mainboard port and worked with enabled AHCI.

Performance in IOMark

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

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

The top speed depends on whether the first sectors of logical formatting are on a good head/surface pair or not. Therefore, we can only learn from the summary diagram that the two fastest 7200 RPM models have one platter each. These are the Samsung F3 and WD Blue V1. The data-transfer graphs also make it clear that the Seagate 7200.12 and the Hitachi 7K1000.C belong to this same generation of HDDs with 500GB platters, too. It is hard to say anything definite about the WD Blue M9. Let’s wait till the IOMeter tests.

It is simple with the power-efficient products. Every one of them, save for the WD AACS, is based on a single platter.

Now, let’s check out the speed of the cache buffer.

Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C

Alas, the Hitachi 7K1000.C draws an odd zigzagging graph that we already know from our tests of other new products from this company. There is absolutely no burst reading at some data block sizes.

Samsung Ecogreen F2

Samsung Spinpoint F3

The Samsung HDDs show what we already know from our recent comparison of 1-terabyte models: the EcoGreen F2 series behaves like the SpinPoint F1 series and has a characteristic reduction of burst write speed at large data blocks. The SpinPoint F3, on the contrary, produces a near-ideal graph.

Seagate Barracuda 7200.11

Seagate Barracuda 7200.12

Seagate Barracuda LP

The Seagate products show the results of the developer’s work on earlier errors: the 7200.11 series loses its speed suddenly on large data blocks whereas the newer series are better (although not yet perfect) in this respect.

Western Digital Caviar Black

Western Digital Caviar Blue (A7)

Western Digital Caviar Blue (M9)

Western Digital Caviar Blue (V1)

Western Digital Caviar Green, 16 MB

Western Digital Caviar Green, 32 MB

We don’t have much to say about the WD drives. They all work with the cache in the same manner and have minor flaws when writing large data blocks.

The Hitachi 7K1000.C has the highest burst read speed (but only when the data blocks are of a certain size) whereas the new series from Seagate (7200.12 and LP) and the Samsung F3 are the best overall.

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 read speed graphs suggest that the single-platter models are all ahead in terms of top speed. Take note that the Caviar Black and Caviar Blue A7 are not in that group. Frankly speaking, it is a surprise to see WD Blue drives ahead of Black ones. By the way, the Blue M9 is a single-platter drive after all. The difference between the Caviar Green ones is obvious, too: the new platter ensures a hefty advantage for the model with 32MB cache.

Three HDDs disappoint us. The old Seagate 7200.11 is not fast at small data chunks and slows down suddenly when reading large data blocks. The Samsung F2 does not process small data blocks quickly, either. The Hitachi 7K1000.C is also slow with small chunks of data, which is a shame as it falls behind the leading group there.

We see the HDDs have the same problems at writing as at reading. Besides, the Seagate 7200.12 suddenly has a lower top speed, being no better than its power-efficient cousin. Take note that the power-efficient drives with 500GB platters are almost as fast as the 7200RPM products of the previous generation. So, those seemingly slow HDDs are not so sluggish after all as such speed was considered absolutely normal just a year ago.

Disk Response Time and IOMark: 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.

We’ve got three leaders at reading, all of them from the previous generation: the WD Blue A7, Seagate 7200.11 and WD Black. Among the single-platter products the Samsung F3 is the only one to show a good read response, the rest of them competing with the 5400RPM WD AACS. Take note of the poor response time of the Hitachi 7K1000.C: 18 milliseconds is terribly high for a 7200RPM model. Hopefully, this is caused by some specific problems this HDD has with 512-byte data blocks rather than by too slow heads. Overall, you can see that the transition to 500GB platters has not been easy for any manufacturer. The increased recording density makes it more difficult to position the head over the required track.

The write response time of an HDD depends on how efficiently it can cache incoming requests. There are four leaders: the 7200.11 and 7200.12 series drives from Seagate and the Blue V1 and M9 drives from WD. The Samsung F2 is the only HDD to show a downright poor write response.

Next goes the test of average positioning speed. The drive is being bombarded with read requests like in the response time test, and we calculate the difference between the LBA addresses of the previous and next requests and divide it by the time it took to perform the request. In other words, we have the distance (in gigabytes) the drive’s heads can run through in 1 second.

It is generally hard to predict the result of this test as it depends on lots of factors including the HDD’s recording density, heads and number of platters. We have two leaders here: the Samsung F3 and the Seagate 7200.11. At the bottom of the table we see two power-efficient products (the Seagate LP and the WD Green with 32MB cache) which have fallen behind their opponents from the same category, and the Hitachi 7K1000.C. The latter’s firmware is to blame once again. We just can’t find any other reason for the Hitachi drive’s poor performance.

Random Read & Write Patterns

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

We will discuss the results in two ways. 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 basing on data-transfer rate in megabytes per second.

Reading in small data blocks ranks the HDDs up according to their response time. There are no exceptions. You must note that you shouldn’t rely on the response time as specified by the manufacturer. The results of our test above are far more credible.

The WD drives show team spirit, their graphs nearly coinciding.

It is the sequential read speed which is important here and we don’t have any surprises, either. We can note the good performance of the Samsung F3 and the low (compared with same-class products) results of the Caviar Green series. We’ve got one loser: the Seagate 7200.11 is too slow even for a two-platter model.

We’ve got some interesting things at random writing. First, there is some correlation with the response time results at small data blocks. Second, the HDDs with large amount of cache do not have any advantage. It is not the total cache size but the number of individual requests it can store simultaneously that’s important.

This test is won by the Seagate 7200.11 and WD Blue A7, indicating that the new generation is not best all around. On the losing side we can see the single-platter WD Green with 32MB cache and the Samsung F2 which is especially poor even for its reduced spindle rotation speed.

It is the speed of sequential writing that determines how fast the HDDs write large random-address data blocks. The single-platter 7200RPM models are in the lead, except for the Seagate 7200.12. The Seagate 7200.11 is the slowest among the dual-platter drives.

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.

We’ve got rather odd results at the shortest queue depth. It differs much from the typical picture like “the HDDs are ranked up according to their caching efficiency yet are overall very similar”. Particularly, the Seagate 7200.11 proves to be better than its successor 7200.12 at any percentage of writes. The new Samsung F3 is good, too, but its performance is not good enough at high percentages of writes to make it a leader. The Samsung F2 is much worse, having very passive firmware algorithms.

The WD drives inexplicably split up in pairs. The single-platter Blue M9 and V1 boast active deferred writing whereas the Black and the Blue A7 draw very similar graphs and deliver higher performance at high percentages of reads. The dual-platter Green model with 16MB cache is faster than its single-platter cousin with twice the amount of cache memory.

Seagate and WD clash when the request queue gets longer, the 7200RPM models from WD still performing in pairs. It is hard to name the winner: WD’s Black and Blue A7 are splendid at reading and their single-platter cousins, at writing. Seagate’s older 7200.11 is still ahead of the 7200.12. The Seagate 7200.11 seems the overall winner to us, but by a very small margin.

As for the rest of the tested products, the Samsung F3 is good at reading but has too unaggressive deferred writing. Its power-efficient cousin behaves in a similar way but slower. The Hitachi 7K1000.C, on the contrary, is no good at reordering read requests. The Seagate LP is excellent at pure reading but very poor under mixed loads.

There are no changes in the WD camp at the longest queue depth: the same pairs are doing their synchronous performances. The Seagate 7200.12 is competing with them now while the 7200.11 falls behind. The Seagate LP looks good, outpacing both the Hitachi 7K1000.C and the Samsung F3. The latter two are downright poor in this test. The Samsung F2 is not any good, either. Its firmware is not meant for server loads.

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

Hitachi’s new firmware is a mess. A good and steady HDD should not show such an unpredictable behavior that betrays low efficiency of request reordering and problems with mixed loads at the shortest queue depth.

Samsung HDDs have been improving: the firmware of the third generation shows some deferred writing and NCQ which we did not see in the older generations. But it is sad that those algorithms are far from aggressive and are also accompanied with obvious errors, indicated by the performance hits under certain loads.

Seagate’s products show some progress as well, if we compare the 7200.11 and 7200.12 series. If the 7200.12 had faster heads, it wouldn’t even be inferior to its predecessor at short queue depths. And it is obviously better at long queue depths.

The Seagate LP shows completely different algorithms. We don’t know the reasons, but it can reorder requests very well at pure random reading but loses this ability as soon as there are write requests in the queue. We would prefer the firmware of the 7200RPM models as more stable.

The WD 7200RPM drives split up into pairs, one of which includes two models from different series: the Caviar Black and the Caviar Blue A7. And these two deliver so similar results that we might suspect them to be one and the same HDD marked differently. The other Blue drives, M9 and V1, behave in their own way which does not really match the single difference of this pair from the first one: one rather than two platters. This Blue pair have somewhat better deferred writing algorithms but are far less effective at request reordering. This can hardly be explained by their worse response time, but perhaps they are equipped with a weaker processor and thus have different algorithms.

Things are even more complicated with the Caviar Green series: the model with 32MB cache, which is supposed to be theoretically faster, is inferior to its cousin with 16MB cache and two rather than one platter. Has the transition to higher-density platters been so difficult even at the reduced rotation speed?

Web-Server, File-Server 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.

This reads-only load does not show us anything special. The HDDs all produce smooth graphs and their performance growth matches what we have seen in IOMeter: Database at pure reading. A pair of WD drives win this test, the Caviar Black being the leader. Next go two drives from Seagate. The next group have very similar results, pushing the Hitachi 7K1000.C, WD Green with 32MB cache and Samsung F2 down to the bottom of the results table.

The picture changes as soon as there appear write requests in the load. The graphs are now shaped differently from each other. The Seagate LP suffers the most: it loses NCQ at short queue depths (we have mentioned this peculiarity of its behavior above) and does not show any performance growth. Its performance rating is low as the result.

Three HDDs – the Seagate 7200.11, the Samsung F3 and the WD Green with 16MB cache – have a peculiar shape of the graphs. They have an excellent performance growth at the beginning but then their graphs become horizontal. These HDDs feel better at short queue depths.

Overall, we have the same leaders but the Samsung F3 and Seagate LP fall behind in this test.

WD’s products and Seagate’s 7200RPM drives pass this workstation-typical load without betraying serious flaws in their firmware but the other HDDs do show problems.

We’ve got similar standings when the test zone is limited to 32 gigabytes. Take note of the top place of the Seagate 7200.12. The lack of firmware flaws and the high recording density help it beat the lower-density WD Black because the narrow test zone negates the latter’s advantage in the way of quick read/write heads.

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:

There is only one drive that survives the addition of a second read thread without slowing down too much. This is the WD Blue A7. Interestingly, the WD Black series drive, which has been similar to the A7 throughout the previous tests, performs differently here, its performance plummeting more than twofold. There are HDDs, namely Seagate 7200.12, Seagate LP and WD Blue V1, that find it even harder, though. The Samsung F2 is especially poor. Showing the typical behavior of that generation of Samsung drives, it is as slow as 5 MBps.

When we add more read threads, we don’t see any big changes. There are but a few drives that deliver acceptable multithreaded read performance. These are the WD Blue A7 and M9, the WD Green with 16MB cache, and the Seagate 7200.11 (interestingly, these are mostly two-platter models, with only one exception).

Take note of the performance hit the Samsung F3 suffers at four threads. This new series does better at multithreaded reading than the previous one, but is still far from perfect under such load.

As the results of this test suggest, you should not create a multithreaded load on your hard disk drive because most HDDs don’t like that.

Multithreaded writing is easier for modern HDDs thanks to large amounts of cache memory installed in them. An HDD might have run out of cache when the typical cache size used to be 2 megabytes, but now there is almost no difference between 16 and 32 megabytes of cache. Still, we can note that Seagate’s new 7200.12 and LP series drives are the slowest ones in this test.

Performance in FC-Test

For this test two 32GB partitions are created on the drive and formatted in NTFS and then in FAT32. 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 NTFS in the Install, ISO and Programs file-sets. You can use the link below to view full results:

Interestingly, the single-platter drives do not show any advantage in speed when creating files. The Samsung F3 is in the lead, but the rest of the 7200RPM models go neck and neck, excepting the Seagate 7200.11 and 7200.12 that seem to have problems creating files. The same problems plague the Seagate LP that is inferior to its power-efficient opponents which, in their turn, are not much slower than the 7200RPM models. The Hitachi 7K1000.C is all right with large files but slows down when processing small ones.

It is at reading that the single-platter models show their best. The only exception is the Seagate 7200.12 which joins the mixed group of dual-platter 7200RPM drives and single-platter power-efficient products. There are only two losers here: the WD Green with 16MB cache and the Seagate 7200.11. And while the two platters and low spindle rotation speed explain the results of the former, the latter’s problems are inexplicable.

When it comes to copying, the leaders depend on the distance (copying from one partition to another or within the same partition) and the file-set. The general trends are simple: the single-platter 7200RPM drives are in the lead, but don’t have a large advantage over their dual-platter cousins. We can also note the losers which are slower than other same-class products. These are the three drives from Seagate, the Samsung F2 and the Hitachi 7K1000.C.

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 discuss 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 results can be learned from the table. The PCMark 2005 tests are:

The final result is the average of ten runs of each test. You can check the detailed results table for PCMark 2004 here.

The test of copying from PCMark 2004 names the same losers as FC-Test. We also see three leaders: the Black and Blue V1 from Western Digital together with the Samsung F3.

The four 7200RPM drives from WD and the Seagate 7200.12 are contending for top places in these tests. The Hitachi 7K1000.C is no good at all as it can only compete with the power-efficient products.

Scanning for viruses puts Seagate’s new models on top, but their predecessor takes last place.

The Samsung F3 is incredibly fast in this test. We know it is good at writing files, but it just can’t be faster than the sequential read speed! Otherwise, the picture is trivial: the single-platter 7200RPM drives are ahead of the previous-generation models which, in their turn, are challenged by the new power-efficient products.

The Samsung 7200.12, WD Black and Samsung F3 occupy the podium. The Seagate LP is surprisingly fast while the Hitachi 7K1000.C is, on the contrary, poor.

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.

We won’t discuss each individual test because the overall scores are quite illustrative. In fact, PCMark Vantage does not have anything new to tell us. Top place is shared by the WD Black and Seagate 7200.12 again. The Samsung F3 has sunk to the middle of the results table, giving way to the Caviar Blue series. The Hitachi 7K1000.C and the Seagate 7200.11 are as disappointing as before, being much inferior to their opponents.

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 console version of the Perfect Disk 8.0 defragmenter and marks the time of the beginning and end of the defragmentation process. We run this test with AHCI enabled. For more information about it, you can refer to this article.

We’ve got interesting results here. First place goes to the Samsung F3 which is followed closely by the single-platter WD Blue V1. Next go the other 7200RPM drives from WD. Three HDDs should be criticized: the Seagate LP and Seagate 7200.11 spend too much time for this task while the Hitachi 7K1000.C is downright sluggish.

Performance in WinRAR

Now we are going to show 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. These operations are done on the tested drive. This test depends heavily on CPU performance, but the storage device affects its speed, too.

There are three groups of HDDs at archiving. The Blue M9 and A7 from Western Digital, the Seagate LP and the Hitachi 7K1000.C are, rather surprisingly, in the lead. The Samsung F2 and Seagate 7200.11 are the slowest drives here, rather expectedly.

The HDDs differ a lot in this test. The worst drive needs 50% more time to complete the task than the winner. One loser is predictable: it is the Hitachi 7K1000.C with faulty firmware. The other loser is the WD Green with 32MB cache. The Samsung F3 and the WD Blue M9 deserve our applause for their performance in this test.

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.

The WD Black and the WD Blue A7 need the largest amount of power to start up, and their results are again suspiciously similar. The WD Green with 32MB cache and the Samsung F3 boast the lowest power consumption here. We can note a couple of general trends: the newer models from every maker are more economical. The other trend is that Western Digital’s products consume more power from the 5V line than the other HDDs.

It is the power-efficient products that feature the lowest power consumption when idle. These are the Seagate LP and the Samsung F2. Third place is shared by the power-efficient WD Green with 32MB cache (note that its dual-platter cousin with 16MB cache needs more power) and the Hitachi 7K1000.C. Finally, we’ve found a good trait in the Hitachi drive.

The single-platter 7200RPM models are more economical than their dual-platter counterparts, the best of them requiring less than 5 watts. The WD Caviar Black is now alone in last place. As opposed to the similar drive from the Caviar Blue series, it probably does not switch into sleep mode.

The heads are moving a lot at random reading but the cache memory is idle. As a result, most of the HDDs consume about the same amount of power from the 5V line, excepting the WD Green with 16MB cache which seems to belong to the first generation of the Green series that has very voracious electronics. The HDDs are also similar in terms of 12V consumption, the power-efficient products intermingling with the 7200RPM ones. The best power-efficient drive, Seagate LP, is a mere half a watt better than the WD Blue V1.

The Seagate 7200.11 and WD Blue A7 are on the losing side. We don’t know why the latter needs 50% more power from the 12V line than the WD Black which delivers similar performance under this load.

The electronics, powered by the 5V line, contributes more to the overall power consumption at random writing. The Seagate LP and Samsung F2 are in the lead, third place going to the Samsung F3 which has moderate consumption on both lines.

The WD Blue A7 is surprisingly the most uneconomical HDD here.

The power-efficient drives from Seagate and Samsung are best at sequential operations, too. The WD Blue A7 is last, again. The Hitachi 7K1000.C is quite amazing at reading: it seems not to use its electronics at all! At writing, the Seagate 7200.12 becomes unexpectedly third.

Overall, we can note that the HDDs all keep at about 7 watts under any load. This number can be considered the typical power consumption of modern 500-gigabyte hard disk drives.

The very small advantage of the power-efficient models is somewhat expected for us. The modern motors seem to consume very little power when rotating a single platter, so there are but small power consumption benefits from reducing the rotation speed.

Conclusion

Now that we’ve come to the end of today’s test session, we should name the fastest 500GB hard disk drive available today. There are actually two winners: the Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 and the Western Digital Caviar Black. The former has somewhat higher sequential read and write speeds as it has only one platter inside. The latter benefits from quicker heads and showed faster processing of files in FC-Test. It is a shame Western Digital does not produce a single-platter Caviar Black (or, perhaps, we have not just seen it yet) as it might show remarkable performance. Although both these drives behaved very well, we would like to award Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 our Recommended Buy title, as it is considerably less expensive, and therefore offers better performance per buck.

If you are not looking for record-breaking products but need just a regular and good HDD, your choice is much broader. There is the splendid Samsung SpinPoint F3 which has got rid of most of the shortcomings of Samsung’s earlier series. There is Western Digital’s Blue series in all its varieties that have different indexes, different number of platters and different behaviors, but all are consistently good-performing products.

It is only the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 and the Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C that are downright poor among the 7200RPM models. The former is obviously optimized for server applications whereas the latter is hamstringed by its firmware. As far as we know, Hitachi is aware of that unpleasant feature of its latest generation of HDDs and is trying to improve it. You can evaluate the company’s progress by comparing the 1-terabyte Deskstar 7K1000.C with different firmware versions that we tested in our previous roundup.

Finally, we want to add a few words about the power-efficient products. Yes, they are inferior to their 7200RPM counterparts in performance but the difference is not too large. It is especially small when we compare HDDs of rather low storage capacities. Funnily enough, the difference in power consumption is small at low capacities as well.

So, if you do want a cold and quiet HDD, choose any of the models with reduced spindle rotation speed. You won’t even notice any difference in performance if you have not upgraded your older HDD for long.