by Andrey Kuznetcov
09/30/2004 | 09:33 AM
Having taken over IBM’s storage media business, the Japan-headquartered Hitachi Ltd. is running and developing it most successfully.
Miniature hard disk drives of the Microdrive series the company continues to produce are quite competitive against flash memory cards. Of course, the small-size hard disk drives are slower and less reliable and consume more power, but they also have a smaller price, the capacity being equal. Price is the guiding shopping factor for many users, after all.
We now have an opportunity to check out the real operational characteristics of two Microdrive devices from the retail net, plugging them into the best card-reader that has ever entered our test lab.
Let me remind you that the miniature hard disk drive series from Hitachi consists of two models, of 2 and 4GB capacities. Their spindle rotation speed is 3600rpm; the size of the cache buffer is 128KB. The average typical read seek time is 12msec. The manufacturer claims a burst data-transfer rate of 4.3-7.2MB/s. The drives support the CF+ interface (compatible with ATA and PCMCIA). The devices can stand an operational shock of 200G for 2ms and a non-operational shock of 2000G (for 1ms). The dimensions of the Microdrives are 5x42.8x36.4mm; the weight is 16g.
The average retail price of the 2GB model is $210; of the 4GB model - $355.
Two test programs were used:
The testbed was configured as follows:
I tested the drives using an ImageMate USB 2.0 card-reader from SanDisk. The 2GB model was formatted in FAT16, the 4GB model – in FAT32; the cluster size was left default.
I used two patterns in FC Test: one included 900 files, 1MB each, while the other consisted of a single 900MB file. I compared the results with those I got in my earlier tests of portable storage media (see our Slimmo Disk4U 2.2GB and GS Magicstor 2.2GB PLUS CF-II reviews, among others), which were formatted in FAT16 with the default cluster size, too. I also include the results of 2GB CompactFlash cards from Transcend and PQI as well as of IBM Microdrive (1GB), Slimmo Disk4U and GS Magicstor (2.2GB each) hard disk drives, for the comparison’s sake.
The first diagram displays the results of creating (i.e. writing) 900 files, 1MB each. The hard disk drives all show similar performance, although the two devices from Hitachi can be called winners in their category, the junior model being slightly faster. Viewing the whole picture, however, we should agree that the CompactFlash cards are unrivalled leaders in speed. They are much faster than their competitors, although the two particular CompactFlash card models I use in the test are no record-setters in their own class.
The next diagram shows the speed of reading the 900x1MB pattern. Although the two CompactFlash cards are still faster than the other media, you can notice a difference: the two drives from Hitachi have broken away from the other three HDDs and nearly reached the speed of the PQI card.
The third diagram contains the results of creating (writing) one 900MB file. The CompactFlash cards are ahead, while the two Hitachi devices find themselves behind the Slimmo Disk4U.
The last diagram is about reading one 900MB file. The Microdrives from Hitachi have both accelerated suddenly. They are faster than the CompactFlash card from PQI, and almost catch up with the Transcend card. The Microdrives stop very short of the specified read speed of 7.2MB/s. The rest of the hard disk drives are lagging far behind Hitachi’s products.
I constructed linear read and write speed graphs and measured the average access time with the help of AIDA32.
Average Access Time
Linear Read Speed
Linear Write Speed
Average Access Time
Linear Read Speed
Linear Write Speed
The screenshots show the similarly between the characteristics of the two Microdrive models. The measured average access time is over 20ms. The maximum read speed nearly hits 7MB/s; the average write speed is slightly higher than 2.2MB/s. The results are very close to what we have seen in FC Test.
The two Microdrives of 2GB and 4GB capacities proved to be faster than three other miniature HDDs in my tests, especially at read operations. Reading a long file, the Microdrives even reached the performance of CompactFlash media. This result is likely to be due to the efficient card-reader from SanDisk which doesn’t limit the transfer rate and allows the Hitachi drives to fully realize their potential (the other drives had been tested earlier in a different card-reader). The speed boost is present in write operations, too, but its value is smaller, not allowing to break far away from the other HDDs.
I compared the Hitachi drives to CompactFlash media, which are themselves not the etalon of speed today, and the outcome was not very reassuring. The Microdrives are less appealing and would be downright poor if I were to compare them with the new generation of memory cards that provide data transfers in 80x or even 100x mode. There wouldn’t be any competition at all in this case.
Anyway, Microdrive family devices still maintain a certain price advantage in comparison to CompactFlash cards of the same capacity, and I may venture a supposition than newer Microdrive models will have better speed characteristics. On the other hand, Hitachi is unlikely to achieve real competitiveness of its products without a serious price reduction in the near future, since CompactFlash media have been developing very fast in terms of both speed and capacity recently.