Hard Disk Drives Roundup: Winter 2010

This roundup will talk about new hard disk drives models that came out in second half of 2010. We will discuss 15 HDDs from Hitachi, Samsung and Western Digital.

by Aleksey Meyev
12/28/2010 | 11:18 AM

Hard disk drives have somehow fallen out of our scope recently. No, we have not switched exclusively to solid state drives. There have been just no products for us to review. Having released their 2-terabyte HDDs with a spindle rotation speed of 7200 RPM, the manufacturers took a break in the race of technologies (we mean the visible part of the iceberg because their R&D departments are never asleep) and got engaged in price wars instead. The outcome of the battle is most satisfactory for us end-users. The cost of storing data even on maximum-capacity HDDs, which are always more expensive than others, has declined, making them more appealing to users who need to store large amounts of data. You don’t have to choose between two 1-terabyte (which would be cheaper) and one 2-terabyte drive (which would take less space in your computer) anymore!

 

As an indirect consequence of the price wars, certain models have completely disappeared from retail. They go directly to major computer integrators that buy them in large volumes. So, such HDDs still make it to end-users, but as part of ready-made computers.

It wouldn’t be correct to say that there is nothing new on the market, though. For example, the manufacturers are trying new, higher-density platters and building new HDD models with them. This time around, the platters are 667 gigabytes large, enabling 2-terabyte HDDs with three platters or even 3-terabyte HDDs with five platters if the recording density is somewhat lowered for higher reliability. The recently released 3-terabyte products are highly exciting, of course, but we are going to dedicate a special review to them. Today, we will be talking about HDDs of lower capacities.

The manufacturers are also releasing new versions of HDDs we are already familiar with. Hitachi are busy updating their firmware while Western Digital are regularly turning out products with new indexes in their names. All of these new products are interesting, too. So, let’s get started.

Testing Participants

Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C: HDS721010CLA332 (1 TB)

 

This model hails from the Deskstar 7K1000.C series we know very well from our previous reviews. Hitachi just keeps on improving the firmware, so we can’t help comparing the very first model we tested (firmware version 39C) with the newest one (firmware version 3MA). Anyway, there is still nothing newer among Hitachi products available in stores.

Samsung SpinPoint F4: HD322GJ (320 GB)

 

We usually collect HDDs of similar capacities for a review, but this review is going to cover HDDs of very different storage capacities. We have just introduced a 1-terabyte model and there will be models twice that large below, but now we have an HDD with a capacity of only 320 gigabytes. Why are we interested in it? Because it belongs to Samsung’s new SpinPoint F4 series. As far as we know, the series is based on 640-gigabyte platters, so this particular model has only one platter and one active read/write head. It’s our first encounter with the new recording density and it’s already 7200 RPM! Samsung’s reasoning is quite easy to comprehend, by the way. Such simpler HDDs sell best because they are installed into inexpensive computers which are assembled in large quantities all around the world. The higher recording density helps increase the capacity of such an HDD without making it more expensive. There are no additions to the cache memory. This model has 16 megabytes of it.

Samsung EcoGreen F2: HD154UI (1.5 TB)

 

Next goes the old and well-known EcoGreen F2 with a capacity of 1.5 terabytes. This was the first HDD to feature 500GB platters and also the first “green” product from Samsung. You can still find it in computer shops but we include it into this review mostly for the sake of comparison with newer products.

Samsung EcoGreen F3: HD153WI (1.5 TB)

 

The EcoGreen F3 series was released soon after the previous one. It had the same spindle rotation speed, was not supposed to offer higher recording density, and even had the same 32 megabytes of cache. Why did it have a new series number? Because Samsung had revised the internal design of the HDD. This particular model doesn’t show any noticeable benefits of that...

Samsung EcoGreen F3: HD203WI (2 TB)

 

This EcoGreen F3 series product makes the point of transitioning to the new platform obvious to anyone who is more or less familiar with Samsung HDDs. Samsung’s previous series had only been able to carry three platters, letting the company down in its competition with the opponents who could have offered 4- or even 5-platter products. Now Samsung could produce 4-platter HDDs, too. That is not as simple as it sounds, by the way. The more magnetic platters an HDD has, the more difficult it is to balance the whole block of platters. So that was quite a technical achievement for Samsung.

Samsung EcoGreen F4: HD204UI (2 TB)

 

After a while, Samsung acquired 667-gigabyte platters and began using them just everywhere. It is reasonable to use such platters not only in 7200RPM HDDs but also in energy-efficient ones where the higher recording density helps reduce the number of platters to three. A 4-platter design is good, but three platters produce less heat and are easier to balance, not to mention their lower cost. That’s why Samsung has rolled out its new series. We will test the 2TB model from it today.

Funnily enough, Samsung is somewhat inconsistent in its product nomenclature. They call their low-speed HDDs “Green”, but this model is included into the SpinPoint series, even though the letters EG take us back to EcoGreen. We’ve decided to stick to the older nomenclature and you can unambiguously identify this HDD by its part number: HD204WI.

Most intriguingly, a small notice at the company’s website says that this HDD has 4KB physical sectors with emulation of 512-byte logical sectors. Thus, we’ve got the same technology here as Western Digital’s Advanced Format but Samsung does not promote this feature and doesn’t say anything about the need to align the disk when you use it in old OSes. People at Samsung must be convinced that everyone has already transitioned to Windows 7. If you haven’t done that for some reason, we can remind you that HDDs with such sector emulation must be aligned after formatting in Windows XP. Otherwise, the HDD’s writing performance is going to be too low. Western Digital’s WD Align utility won’t work with other brands’ products, but there are third-party utilities available for that purpose.

By the way, the above-described fast 320GB drive has very similar platters but is not declared to have 4KB sectors. We will check this out easily in our random write test.

WD AV-GP: WD10EURS-630AB1 (1 TB)

 

Now we’ve reached traditionally numerous products from Western Digital. First goes the rather rare AV-GP model with a capacity of 1 terabyte. It is a special series of HDDs optimized for home audio/video appliances. We guess it should be no different from ordinary energy-efficient HDDs save for firmware. You will see that in our tests.

WD Caviar Blue: WD10EALS-00Z8A0 (1 TB)

 

We haven’t reviewed Blue drives from Western Digital for a while. According to the company’s policy, this series includes somewhat outdated products that do not compare well with newer HDDs but can still be produced for some time. This 1TB model has a cache buffer of 32 megabytes. We wonder how much it is different from its high-speed Black counterparts and how many platters it has.

WD Caviar Black: WD1001FALS-00E3A0, WD1001FALS-00Y6A0 (1 TB)

 

We can’t omit the Black series, of course. About half a year ago we compared different versions of the 1TB Black model and found that it had inconspicuously transitioned from 333 to 500GB platters. And now we’ve got another change in the letters: the familiar E3 subseries is complemented with an Y6 one.

WD Caviar Black: WD1501FASS-00W2B0 (1.5 TB)

 

We have taken the 1.5TB Black model for this review, too. We have not tested it yet and are very interested in learning how it performs because its 2TB cousin delivered excellent performance in our earlier tests.

WD RE4: WD1503FYYS-01T8B0 (1.5 TB)

 

It has become a tradition for top-end HDDs from Western Digital to come to us in pairs: a desktop model is accompanied with its server-oriented counterpart. This time around, we’ve got a 1.5TB model from the RE4 series.

WD Caviar Green: WD20EARS-00S8B1, WD20EARS-00MVWB0 (2 TB)

 

Last go 2TB models from the Caviar Green series. These feature Advanced Format, i.e. 4KB physical sectors. We hope you have already got acquainted with that technology from our previous reviews, so the more interesting thing is the change of the index from S8 into MVW. As far as we know, this change should denote a transition from 500 to 667GB platters and from 4 to 3 platters per HDD.

You can find the firmware versions of the tested HDDs 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:

HDDs are tested with the generic OS drivers. We format them in NTFS as one partition with the default cluster size (for FC-Test we create 32GB partitions), connect them to a mainboard port and enable AHCI. We have transitioned to new hard disk drives testing methodology.

As this is the first time we see a 4KB-sector drive from Samsung, we will test the EcoGreen F4 in two modes: aligned and not aligned. For the latter mode we will format the partition created on this HDD in Windows XP even though our methodology implies the use of Windows 7. We will also use IOMeter loads which are not aligned with the 4KB sectors.

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.

This test becomes more and more inadequate, so we think about abandoning it altogether. Everything depends on whether the particular HDD is lucky to have a fast head/surface pair in the first sectors. As a result, the comparison in terms of bottom and top speeds doesn’t produce correct results anymore. As a matter of fact, there is no big difference between the HDDs with 500GB platters whereas the SpinPoint F4 is somewhat faster than them. And the new WD Caviar Green is actually no slower than its energy-efficient opponents. We can see all this clearly in the graphs but the summary diagram gives us no clue about that. On the other hand, comparing over a dozen of graphs with each other is quite a daunting task and rather useless too as we will be able to see the HDDs’ top speeds in IOMeter’s sequential read test.

Still, the graphs deserve a closer look. For example, they make it clear than the 1.5-terabyte drives are not cut-down versions of the 2-terabyte models. In both cases we are dealing with full-featured 3-platter products.

Now, what about the speed of working with the cache buffer?

Everything is simple here: the Hitachi drives are ahead in terms of top read speed and the Samsung team wins at writing. Samsung’s HDDs produce ideal-looking graphs. As opposed to them the Hitachi drives show their typical dependence of burst speed on the size of the data block. Their graphs have peaks and slumps, the new firmware changing nothing in this respect. As for the drives from WD, they are good as always in this test. The 1-terabyte models and the new Caviar Green have even got rid of the performance hit on large data blocks which could be observed with the older drives from WD.

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.

That’s much more illustrative than what we’ve seen in IOMark. The newer HDDs benefit from the increased recording density: the Samsung SpinPoint F4 is far ahead of its opponents, stopping very short of the 150MBps mark. Its energy-efficient 2TB cousin enjoys some speed benefits, too. Unfortunately and unexpectedly, we don’t see the same with the new Caviar Green. The Hitachi HDDs are slower than their opponents when processing small data blocks. The Samsung EcoGreen F2 is sluggish, too. It’s clear that the change of the platform has been beneficial for Samsung’s newer products.

The sequential write results are overall similar to the sequential read ones. We can easily identify HDDs with 4KB sectors here: their performance when writing 2KB and smaller data blocks is lower compared to old-style HDDs.

Disk Response Time

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.

It is very hard to improve the read access time of HDDs due to their very operating principle. As usual, the WD Caviar Black series (and their server cousins) have no rivals in this test as they have the fastest read/write heads today. Of course, they produce more noise when moving their heads around, yet that noise is very far from the awful ramble we used to put up with a few years ago. As for their response time, it is as good as can be possibly achieved from 7200RPM hard disk drives. Interestingly, the 1.5-terabyte models are faster than their smaller-capacity cousins. The WD Caviar Blue is somewhat slower, yet even this drive is better than the Hitachi team which, in their turn, are faster than the 7200RPM Samsung.

When it comes to HDDs with lower spindle rotation speed, the 1.5-terabyte Samsung EcoGreen F3 is better than the others. The old WD Caviar Green and the Samsung EcoGreen F2 are the only low-speed drives that have downright poor results.

The two 1.5-terabyte models from Western Digital are unrivalled at writing. They make the most from their advantage in the way of 64 megabytes of cache memory.

It’s interesting to compare the HDDs with 4KB sectors: Samsung seem to have developed a better algorithm of writing 512-byte data blocks because their HDD is much more responsive than the Western Digital products with Advanced Format.

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.

Everything goes as it should when the HDDs are reading random-address data blocks. Their speeds are determined by their response time.

Take note that it’s only with 64KB and larger data blocks that we can observe a notable decline in the amount of operations per second. As you can guess, it is when the time spent to read the data block becomes an important factor. With smaller data blocks, the performance depends on the time spent to find the requested block while the read operation itself takes but very little time.

It’s different at random writing. First, the HDDs with 64 megabytes of cache enjoy a huge advantage. A large buffer improves deferred writing, which has a positive effect on random-address write operations. Second, we can see the HDDs with 4KB sectors having a hard time when they have to write small data blocks. They have to do extra read operations and change whole 4KB sectors, so their performance lowers by half. It’s also interesting to check out the performance of such HDDs under unaligned load, which is equivalent to writing to an unaligned disk: the HDD suffers a penalty even with large data blocks because it has to write some part of the data in the small-data-block mode, i.e. by reading the data block first.

But what do we have with the WD Caviar Green S8? That model didn’t behave like that in our earlier tests. Our Caviar Green S8 seems to have some problems with deferred writing. Well, it is going to be interesting to see how the lack of that technology will affect the drive’s performance.

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.

This test is usually boring at a request queue of 1, but this time we’ve got a lot of interesting facts to note.

The Caviar Green S8 indeed betrays a total lack of deferred writing, its performance being just terrible compared to the others.

The Samsung F4EG looks most depressing under unaligned load, too. Its performance is limited by its read speed, so its results are low at high percentages of writes.

Samsung’s F2 and, surprisingly, F4 are rather slow, too.

And finally, we can see the WD drives behave in very different ways. The server-oriented version is better under mixed loads than its 1.5-terabyte desktop cousin. The new Caviar Black Y6 falls behind its predecessor at mixed loads.

When the request queue gets longer, the 1.5-terabyte drives from WD go ahead. They are just perfect for server applications. The difference between them (and between the Caviar Black Y6 and E3 for that matter) is negligible.

The Hitachi drives are somewhat better than the Samsung ones, but the new firmware doesn’t bring any special benefits for them.

The SpinPoint F4 is the best in the Samsung camp but its advantage over the low-speed models is very small.

Once again we can note two drives with very poor performance: the Caviar Green S8 with no deferred writing and the Samsung F4EG under unaligned load.

We’ve got the same standings here as at the smaller queue depth.

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

It looks like we can’t expect any serious performance benefits from Hitachi’s new firmware. These graphs are usually highly sensitive to any changes in firmware algorithms but the two sets of lines are almost identical here. The good news is that there are no such problems as we saw with Hitachi’s earlier firmware. Everything is more or less normal, although requests reordering might be more effective.

This test is illustrative of Samsung’s change of platform. It is impossible not to tell the graphs from each other. The EcoGreen F2 is dramatically different. However, we can’t say that the newer products behave in the way we like. They are not confident at high loads, suffering a performance hit at very long request queue depths. Alas, Samsung has not been able to develop server-optimized firmware. It is also sad that the HDDs do some request reordering only at very long queue depths.

Interestingly, the SpinPoint F4 is somewhat different from its Green series mates. That’s no advantage because it is just worse under mixed loads.

We don’t see anything new in the Western Digital camp. This maker’s HDDs all behave in the same way. Their graphs scale up according to how fast the read/write heads are in the specific model and how much cache memory they have. The first thing affects the height of the graphs and the second thing, how curvy they are, i.e. how effective the HDD’s deferred writing and, to a lesser degree, request reordering algorithms are. Overall, the Western Digital HDDs all perform in the same way and show the characteristic small performance hit at 90% writes and long request queue depths. People at Western Digital must be thinking that they have already reached the perfection and don’t want to change anything.

Our words do not refer to the HDD with missing deferred writing, of course. It is very poor in comparison with the others.

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.

The results of this read-only pattern are rather boring. Besides the fact that WD’s 1.5-terabyte products meet no competition, we can note that the new firmware improves the performance of the Hitachi drive a little, that the Caviar Black Y6 is somewhat slower than its predecessor, and that the new Caviar Green is ahead of the older model from the same series (that’s not a surprise considering their results in the read response time test).

The results get more interesting as this pattern includes a share of write operations. Samsung’s drives based on the new platform betray some flaws in their firmware as they all slow down when the request queue gets longer. Hitachi’s new firmware provides a small but noticeable performance increase at long queue depths. The WD Caviar Blue is not as good as its Black cousins. And finally, we have to note once again that the WD Caviar Green S8 performs awfully as it lacks deferred writing.

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 simultaneously running applications. You can also click the following links for the full results:

According to our new testing method, the distance between the data threads has become longer, so the HDD has to move its heads more to switch from one thread to another. What’s the outcome? Most of the Western Digital drives and the Samsung EcoGreen F2 slump down as soon as there appears a second thread to read. Two HDDs maintain an acceptable speed, though. These are the new Caviar Green MVW and the audio/video-optimized AV-GP. We could expect the latter to have advanced look-ahead reading algorithms, but it is unclear why the new 2-terabyte Green drive is so fast here. We even looked at the detailed results and made sure that it was indeed reading both data threads at about the same speed irrespective of the request queue depth.

Excepting the EcoGreen F2, the Samsung drives all slow down by half. The Hitachi drives do the same, the new firmware being somewhat worse than the older one.

We’ve got interesting results when the number of data threads is increased further. The Hitachi drives join the leaders, delivering a combined read speed of 100 MBps. This time, the new firmware looks better than the old one. Samsung’s HDDs split up into two groups: the F4 series are more than two times as fast as their F3 series mates.

Except for the above-mentioned two models, the Western Digital drives do not recognize the load and deliver low performance. Their heads are just reading all the threads one by one without using any look-ahead reading algorithms, and this turns to be a very slow strategy.

Multithreaded writing is simpler and we don’t see the HDDs differ as much as at multithreaded reading. We’ve got a group of leaders including the Samsung EcoGreen F4EG and WD’s 1.5-terabyte Caviar Black and RE4. We also have a group of losers including the Hitachi drives, the Samsung EcoGreen F2 and the WD AV-GP. A large cache and a lot of big and dense platters are the crucial factors for this test.

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.

The Samsung SpinPoint F4 with new platters goes ahead when creating files. Its high-density platters have improved its speed. Its slower but higher-capacity cousin EcoGreen F4EG with the same platters performs well, too. The latter is ahead of its predecessors in the ISO pattern but, like the WD drives with Advanced Format, is only good with large files and slows down with small files like those of the Programs pattern. Hitachi’s new firmware is somewhat better than the older one. As for the fast drives from Western Digital, the 1.5-terabyte models are still better than their smaller-capacity cousins.

There are no surprises in this test. When reading files, the recording density and rotation speed of the platters are crucial. The only exception is the Samsung EcoGreen F4EG which is far ahead of its competitors.

Western Digital’s drives take the leading positions when reading small files because they have good sequential read speeds and excellent read response time compared to their opponents.

Western Digital wins the test of copying, the 1.5-terabyte models being the best of all. We can also note that the WD Caviar Green MVW is faster than its predecessor and that the Hitachi drives go ahead when copying large files irrespective of their firmware.

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 runs 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 high-capacity HDDs from Western Digital are unrivalled as disks for home computers. High-density platters, fast read/write heads and a large amount of cache together with clever algorithms of using it are the factors that make them preferable to their opponents. Interestingly, we see the WD Caviar Blue in the top three. It is a little bit better than the same-capacity Black series models (among which the older model enjoys an advantage over the new ones, by the way). So, Western Digital seems to have some problems with positioning its midrange products. We have a feeling that the Blue disk differs from the Black ones in the color of the label only!

Among WD’s other products, the updated Green model is surprisingly slower than its predecessor. Hitachi’s new firmware is better than the older version. The Samsung drives show the negative effect of 4KB sectors on performance: the Samsung EcoGreen F4EG is but slightly ahead of its predecessor although we might have expected better results from its high-density platters. Its nonaligned version is even slower, of course, yet not as slow as the WD AV-GP. We had not expected any wonders from that HDD which is optimized for audio/video equipment. Its purpose is to work quietly and cope with multithreaded load well, and the WD AV-GP does exactly that. Still, its low performance is quite illustrative of what you can expect from an HDD with low-speed platters, slow read/write heads and 4KB sectors.

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. 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.

We could have hardly predicted such standings except for the leaders. Like in many other tests, these are the 1.5-terabyte Caviar Black and RE4 series drives from Western Digital. But right behind them we see the two drives from Hitachi and the Samsung SpinPoint F4. This is an excellent result for the latter drive which has only one platter: the test zone is wider for it, so it has to move the read/write head by a larger angle. However, the high recording density and some firmware algorithms make up for such unfavorable conditions.

The biggest surprise is that the low-speed Samsung EcoGreen drives, except for the model with 4KB sectors and unaligned partition, are somewhat better than the 1-terabyte WD Caviar Black. These HDDs must have benefited from the reduced test zone due to the large number of platters. The 2-terabyte Samsung with 667GB platters is somewhat better than the analogous drive from WD. Take note that the latter is three times as fast as its predecessor: this is the effect of deferred writing, perhaps combined with some other firmware optimizations.

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.

There are some inexplicable results here. The first place of the WD RE4 and the last place of the unaligned Samsung EcoGreen F4EG are easy to understand, but we don’t know why the 1.5-terabyte Caviar Black and the 1-terabyte Caviar Blue are in the middle of the list, behind the HDDs with lower spindle speed.

It’s all clear when it comes to unzipping the archive. Get more high-density platters and run them at a high speed, and you will win here. But you will find yourself at the bottom of the list if you have got 4KB sectors. We should acknowledge WD’s effort, though. They have improved the firmware of their Advanced Format products, so the new model looks better than the older one. Of course, we compare the new Caviar Green with the AV-GP because the Caviar Green S8 has no deferred writing and struggles hopelessly in this test.

Samsung have optimized their products with 4KB sectors even better, though. The EcoGreen F4EG is ahead of the Caviar Green MVW.

Power Consumption

You can refer to our 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 new Samsung EcoGreen F4EG is the only drive to differ from the others in terms of 5V consumption when starting up and the AV-GP is the most economical model in terms of 12V consumption (the 12V line powers up the motor and the heads actuator). The latter HDD is in no haste to do anything because it is not supposed to boot a computer’s OS as quickly as possible. All of the Samsung drives are economical, too. The Hitachi HDDs need somewhat more while the WD drives need the most power in this mode as they try to get ready to work as soon as possible. We can note that the 1.5-terabyte Caviar Black is more economical than its lower-capacity cousins as well as the RE4. The WD Caviar Blue is very similar to the Black series.

It is the HDDs with low spindle rotation speed that are the best of all when idle, yet their advantage is not very large. The single-platter high-speed Samsung SpinPoint F4 and the Hitachi (especially with the newer firmware) are almost as economical as the leaders. Interestingly, the electronics of the AV-GP, Caviar Black E3 and Caviar Green S8 did not switch into power-saving mode, spoiling their results.

Being the performance leaders throughout this review, the 1.5-terabyte HDDs from WD are the least economical in this test. They seem to be always keeping their read/write heads above the last requested track, ready to work.

The electronics of a hard disk drive doesn’t do anything at random reading but its mechanics has a lot of work to do, loading the 12V line. As a result, the single-platter Samsung SpinPoint F4 is the most economical. It saves on its electronics the most and works with only one platter and read/write head. The energy-efficient products go next. The three 1-terabyte drives from WD are somewhat better than the same-capacity Hitachi drives. That’s not good news for the latter as they have slower heads. What did they consume so much power for, then? The high-performance 1.5-terabyte drives from WD need the most power of all, up to 12 watts.

The 12V line is loaded less at random writing. We don’t see any significant changes in the ranks except that the Hitachi with newer firmware looks better, joining the 1-terabyte products from WD. The Samsung SpinPoint F4 has lost its top place, yet is still among the most economical drives.

The Hitachi with new firmware looks very good at sequential reading. Samsung’s HDDs have progressed in an odd way: the EcoGreen F2 needs more power from the 5V line but less from the 12V line. The 1.5-terabyte HDDs from WD are still voracious: their heads actuator is always working at full power.

The Hitachi drives lose their ground somewhat at sequential writing, even though remain at the same level with the energy-efficient products. Excepting the two high-performance and very voracious drives from WD, every HDD needs less than 7 watts, except for the WD Caviar Green S8. The newer MVW is more than 1 watt better, which cannot be explained by the difference of one platter and a couple of heads. We don’t know if this is the result of some optimizations in the newer HDD, or the lack of deferred writing affects the performance of the S8 in such a bad way.

Conclusion

We want to say a few words about the Samsung SpinPoint F4 first. The company decided to introduce new platters into small-capacity products and this solution seems to be right. The SpinPoint F4 is fast, inexpensive (at least, inexpensive to make) and highly appealing in terms of performance/power consumption. It is going to be an excellent choice as a system disk for computers that don’t require a lot of storage space.

The EcoGreen F4EG series from Samsung is quite good, too. The new 2-terabyte model has become faster at linear operations due to its transition to three higher-density platters. The tradeoff for the highest-density platters is its 4KB sectors. And we must note that, as opposed to Samsung, Western Digital transitioned to 4KBs sectors in a user-friendly way. They announced the introduction of that technology and spent some effort to explain its implications. Samsung’s new HDDs, on the contrary, may be an unpleasant surprise for users of old OSes who will have to look for special utilities to align disk partitions with.

The new Western Digital Caviar Green with 667GB platters is expectedly better than its predecessor. The developer has improved the firmware and reduced the performance hit from the 4KB sectors when working with small files. On the other hand, the Samsung drive with 4KB sectors is even faster. And one more thing we have seen in this test session: the WD Caviar Green without deferred writing has proved how important that technology is for today’s HDDs. The lack of deferred writing made that HDD absolutely uncompetitive.

As for the high-speed models from WD, the 1.5-terabyte Caviar Black and RE4 series products deliver excellent performance under most types of loads. The only downside is that they need a lot of power. The new 1-terabyte Caviar Black with the Y6 index doesn’t bring anything new and is similar to its predecessor. The Caviar Blue is similar to them in all parameters, too.

And finally, the Deskstar 7K1000.C drive from Hitachi. Our impressions from this HDD with its original firmware were rather gloomy, but now we can recommend it as an HDD that offers a good balance between performance and power consumption.