First Look: Western Digital VelociRaptor Hard Disk Drive

Everything about the new hard disk drive from Western Digital is extraordinary: speed, price, design. Let’s find out why it is so from our new article.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
07/22/2008 | 03:52 PM

We do not have the whole ton of hard disk drive reviews on our site these days. It could be because computer enthusiasts do not express as much interest in hard disk drives these days, since contemporary platforms performance only indirectly depends on the speed of the storage subsystem. Nevertheless, if you already own a high-performance system with an overclocked processor, fast memory, powerful graphics subsystem built of several top graphics accelerators working at higher frequencies, then maybe you should consider speeding up the data loading from your hard drives? And although it will not affect the fps rate in games, the positive effect will not remain unnoticed. For example, you will see that operating system and new game levels load faster and the system responds more promptly in resource-hungry applications.

 

We all know the main ways of speeding up the disk subsystem: the primary solution would be building a RAID 0 array. Actually, I am sure that many of you have been working with disk arrays like that for a while now. However, today we would like to discuss another option for those who want to speed up their disk subsystem: using Raptor hard disk drives from Western Digital. This company has given up SCSI drives long time ago and redirected the freed engineering resources to developing Serial ATA HDDs that could boast performance comparable to that f expensive HDDs for database servers. This is exactly what determined the arrival of WD Raptor hard disk drive family. Computer enthusiasts building ultimate performance home systems have always wanted to have a member of this successful lineup in their possession.

The first WD Raptor appeared about 5 years ago. It was a hard drive with 36GB storage capacity that may seem ridiculously small today. But even then it could boast high spindle rotation speed of 10,000RPM. This parameter became Raptor’s calling card: even today there are no SATA hard disk drives in the market that could compete with Raptor in terms of spindle rotation speed. Over the past years they significantly enriched the lineup of record-breaking SATA drives. The 36GB Raptor was closely followed by 74GB and then 150GB models. Western Digital also started offering their new Raptor X solution that became very popular among modding fans for its transparent window made of polycarbonate.

High performance allowed Raptor drives to take over some part of the storage solutions market. However, Western Digital didn’t rest on their laurels for long. Although none of their competitors managed to roll out a 10,000RPM SATA HDD, some contemporary hard drives with 7,200RPM spindle rotation speed managed to outperform Raptor in certain cases. For example, Samsung Spinpoint F1 can compete against WD Raptor pretty successfully in a number of applications. Unlike Raptor, it boasts some other advantages: fully-fledged support of Serial ATA II protocol and much more practical storage capacity.

In other words, after a year and a half of silence, Western Digital had to refresh their Raptor lineup in order to keep the fans on their side. And they did it in an extremely elegant manner: they replaced Raptor with a hardly similar VelociRaptor, which, however, has very strong family ties to the predecessor. Just like the carnivorous velociraptor dinosaur that gave name to the new WD hard drive, VelociRaptor boasts higher speed and considerably smaller physical dimensions than the previous generation drives.

Trying to conquer new heights, Western Digital engineers built their new solution with smaller-diameter platters, so that on the one hand, the drive form-factor got down to 2.5-inch, while on the other, its pre-platter data density increased. However, we are going to talk about the technical specifications later in this article. As a tease, we will mention that the new drives retained their 10,000RPM spindle rotation speed and became considerably more capacious: up to 300GB.

Technical Specifications

Let’s see what else the new Western Digital VelociRaptor can boast and compare it side by side with the old Raptor WD1500ADFD:

 

VelociRaptor
WD3000GLFS

Raptor
WD1500ADFD

Capacity

300 GB

150 GB

Interface

SATA 3Gbps

SATA 1.5Gbps

NCQ Support

Yes

Yes

Rotational Speed

10000 RPM

10000 RPM

Buffer Size

16 MB

16 MB

Read access time

4.2 ms

4.6 ms

Write access time

4.7 ms

5.2 ms

Transfer Rate (Buffer To Disk)

120 MB/s

84 MB/s

Heads/Platters

4/2

4/2

Idle Noise

29 dBA

29 dBA

Seek Noise

36 dBA

36 dBA

Sleep Power

0.4 W

2.5 W

Idle Power

4.5 W

9.2 W

Read/Write Power

6.1 W

10.0 W

Disk Case Size

100x69x15 mm

142x102x26 mm

Although VelociRaptor is designed in 2.5-inch form-factor, it uses the same number of platters and heads as the predecessor. That is why the new hard drive provides shorter access time at the same spindle rotation speed: the heads travel along physically shorter trajectories on the platters. Of course, geometrical changes are not the only changes in the new drive: its electronics has also been updated. High-performance Western Digital solutions have finally began to support the most advanced SATA protocol with 3Gbps bandwidth. As a result, we know for a fact even before testing that the new WD VelociRaptor will outperform any other conventional hard disk drive. And as for a 16MB buffer, it is not a critical drawback, even though a lot of contemporary HDDs already offer 32MB buffer. From our experience, this parameter has very little effect on the performance.

Smaller platter diameter ensures a few other very useful advantages. For example, lower power consumption because of lower workload on the electrical motors used in the HDDs. The HDD acoustics should also improve, although the official specifications do not state that.

We have to point out that Western Digital engineers tried to fit the new drive into a small case not because they wanted to make it notebook-compatible. Moreover, even though VelociRaptor case is of the same width and depth as the 2.5-inch mobile hard drives, it is mechanically incompatible with them. the problem is the height: the HDD slots in mobile systems are designed to accommodate 9mm HDDs, while VelociRaptor is almost twice the height.

So this hard drive is designed exclusively for desktops. And in order to avoid any possible difficulties during its installation into standard 3.5-inch bays, the developers suggested their special in-house IcePack casing. It solves two problems at a time: makes the 2.5-inch hard drive fit for the standard 3.5-inch bays and improves HDD cooling. In fact, IcePack is a massive solid aluminum heatsink with thirteen thick ribs. However, you don’t have to se IcePack and can remove it if you like, although it uses not the most widely spread screws with a hexahedral slot.

Speaking of VelociRaptor’s key features we can’t forget one more thing: its price. Western Digital went all the way with setting the price for their new VelociRaptor hard drive: it sells for almost four times the price of the regular HDDs with the same storage capacity. However, VelociRaptor has no analogues in the market today, so it will undoubtedly find its way into wealthy enthusiasts’ systems, just like its predecessors from the Raptor family did. Especially, since $300 for 300GB is at least 10 times cheaper than contemporary SSDs, which are the only ones that can compete with the new WD VelociRaptor in terms of performance.

Testbed and Methods

We decided to test our Western Digital VelociRaptor hard drive in an overclocked platform built around an Intel X38 Express based mainboard with ICH9R South Bridge. This system was equipped with Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 processor working at 4275MHz set as 9.5 x 450MHz and DDR3 SDRAM clocked at 1800MHz. We are going to compare the performance of our VelociRaptor hard drive against a high-speed previous generation solution - WD Raptor X, today’s favorite – Samsung Spinpoint F1, and a pretty popular drive – Seagate Barracuda 7200.11.

After the first few tests it was clear that VelociRaptor is so fast that can easily compete with RAID 0 arrays, too. So, we have also included the results taken from two RAID 0 arrays built from Seagate barracuda 7200.11 and Western Digital Raptor X. We also tested the performance of a RAID 0 array built of two new WD VelociRaptor drives.

As a result, our testbed configuration looked as follows:

The tests were performed in Windows Vista x86. The HDDs were connected to the controller embedded into ICH9R that worked in AHCI/RAID mode. We used Intel driver version 8.2.0.1001. The Strip Size for RAID 0 arrays was set at 32KB.

Performance

HD Tune Pro

First of all let’s check out the results obtained in HD Tune Pro 3.00 benchmark that draws very neat linear read and access time graphs.

WD VelociRaptor:

Here they are, the phenomenal results! The average read speed is 103.9MB/s, which is 40% faster than the previous generation Raptor did. However, from a global standpoint, it is no record: there are SATA drives out there that can boast very similar liner read speed. However, when it comes to access time, VelociRaptor is beyond any competition – 7ms! No other SATA hard drive can get even close to the newcomer. Even the old Raptor drive could only boast 8.5ms access time in this test. In other words, VelociRaptor is a remarkable evolutionary leap forward in the high-performance HDD family from Western Digital.

2 x WD VelociRaptor HDDs in RAID 0:

I don’t think you need my comments here. RAID 0 built of two today’s fastest SATA hard drives amazes us with its performance demonstrating around 200MB/s data transfer rate at minimal access time.

HAB

HAB utility allows to test the HDD performance when working with data blocks of different size.

WD VelociRaptor:

The linear read speed in the beginning of the hard drive, with 32KB blocks already, equals 124MB/s. Maximum data transfer rate with the buffer is almost twice as high. These results show that the most optimal Strip size for a RAID 0 array of two WD VelociRaptor drives will be 16 or 32KB: the performance is practically the same in both cases. For our further tests we decided to set Strip at 32KB.

2 x WD VelociRaptor HDDs in RAID 0:

We see the performance dropping when the data block becomes smaller than 32KB, which is a very decent result. Especially if you look at the absolute res speed values that seem simply fantastic for a Serial ATA RAID 0 array built with a chipset controller.

EVEREST Disk Benchmark

Now we should compare WD VelociRaptor with the other testing participants. EVEREST Disk Benchmark will help us here:

There is nothing unexpected in this table/ VelociRaptor is an absolute leader and outperforms its competitors in read speed as well as access time. Moreover, VelociRaptor is considerably faster than the top previous generation Western Digital hard drive – Raptor X. It is actually pretty good timings for WD, because Raptor X loses to the latest Samsung and Seagate solutions in read speed tests.

When we compared RAID 0 arrays, the picture remained the same:

The average read speed of a RAID 0 array built of two VelociRaptor drives is about 40% higher than the speed of the same array built of two Raptor X drives. Other HDDs with 7,200RPM spindle rotation speed are far behind in access time tests. The same is true for the RAID 0 arrays results.

PCMark Vantage

Popular PCMark Vantage benchmarking suite uses real scenarios to measure disk subsystem performance. These scenarios involve widely spread Windows Vista applications. So, we decided to use this test, because it demonstrated the system performance in everyday tasks disregarding the slowing effect from other system components.

The new hard drive is outstanding under any type of workload. It is so far ahead of the other testing participants that even a single VelociRaptor appears faster than a RAID 0 array made of other hard drives.

As for the VelociRaptor performance within a RAID array, it scales perfectly well and the increase is much higher than in an array of previous-generation Raptor X drives. SO, we have every right to conclude that WD VelociRaptor drive is a perfect choice for RAID configurations.

Of course, the PCMark vantage total score proves this point once again:

The results displayed on this diagram show very clearly that the new WD VelociRaptor is totally worth the money they ask for it. However, you have to understand that in real life this hard drive will not double your system’s speed even though the today’s test results say so. You should bear in mind that the results we are discussing today have been “refined” and do not take into account the effect of other system components, such as CPU and memory. However, the faster all your system components, the higher will be the performance gain from the fast hard disk drive.

General Impressions

We decided not to go crazy with benchmarks in this first look article on purpose. It is evident that the new Western Digital VelociRaptor drive with high linear read speed and extremely low access time will outperform any of its competitors in all sorts of benchmarks. And only the type of workload in a given tests will determine how far ahead the leader will be.

We found it much more interesting to dwell on some other parameters that may attract potential VelociRaptor users. Such as acoustic and thermal characteristics of the new HDD. However, do not get concerned here: VelociRaptor’s superior performance doesn’t require any sacrifices from you :)

Subjectively, the HDD produces very little noise. The hydrodynamic bearings make the HDD spindle rotate with barely audible whistling sound, which you can notice only if you hold your ear next to the hard drive case. You can hear the heads moving a little better, but the slight rattling sound they make is not annoying at all: the irritating chunking of the previous-generation Raptor drives is gone for good. I believe you will not hear WD VelociRaptor working at all if it is inside a quality system case, because the noise from other system coolers will absorb all HDD noises. Overall, the new VelociRaptor provides as much acoustic comfort as the known leaders in this field, such as Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 and Samsung Spinpoint F1.

The same is true for the thermal characteristics. VelociRaptor remains slightly warm even under maximum workload. It feels cooler than any of the widely spread 3.5-inch drives. IcePack heatsink is definitely helping out here, however, the hard drive temperature remains on a comfortable level even without it.

During the tests in an open testbed the temperature of our VelociRaptor hard drives didn’t surpass 37ºC according to the readings from a built-in thermal diode.

So, regardless of the price, WD VelociRaptor seems to have no actual drawbacks, like a traditional Serial ATA HDD. Even the only existing issue with non-traditional location of Serial ATA connectors should be resolved in the near future. New IcePack case modifications will have these connectors located in the same spots as by 3.5-inch HDDs. This way VelociRaptor will be fit even for common server chassis with hot swap support.

Conclusion

I doubt anyone will argue that Western Digital VelociRaptor is a unique Serial ATA hard drive for enthusiasts. It is extremely fast, but quiet and not hot at all, i.e. combines all the best features of a hard drive. The developers managed to put together this brilliant combination of features by using 2.5-inch form-factor and increasing the HDD spindle rotation speed to 10,000RPM.

However, there is another side to this approach: not very high storage capacity of this hard drive that is limited to 300GB with two platters. However, it will hardly stop real enthusiasts, just like the high price of the new drive, because the new WD VelociRaptor doesn’t have any competitors among contemporary Serial ATA hard drives.

True, the new Western Digital solution isn’t like any other SATA hard drive. VelociRaptor definitely stands out among other hard drives like an alien from a different world. And it is actually not surprising at all, because this is what things are. The thing is that Raptor (and VelociRaptor) ideology implies that Serial ATA hard disk drives similar to expensive SCSI models will be promoted into the market of high-performance computer systems. That is why we can see a lot of hard drives with features similar to VelociRaptor’s (and even better) among contemporary 2.5-inch SAS-solutions for the server environment: Seagate Savvio 10K.2, Fujitsu MBB2 RC or Hitachi Ultrastar C10K147. So, VelociRaptor is a sort of a compromise for those who need a high-performance disk system but do not want to mess with SAS HDDs and spend extra cash on a SAS controller.

In our next VelociRaptor article we are going to test it side by side with SAS drives that seem to be capable of competing against it from the price-to-performance standpoint.