Buying Guides -> Hardware -> Storage
Team CHIP | 21 July 2010
Newer generation hard drives armed with higher speed and greater capacities are here to stay.Find out which one of these 14 hard drives fulfills your needs.
BY ANAND TULIANI AND FRANCIS DSA
The rate at which we download, share and create data has grown phenomenally in the past few years. And the biggest reasons for this are falling prices of Internet bandwidth and proliferation of personal entertainment devices and multimedia phones. On a 256 kbps broadband Internet connection with unlimited download facility, which costs Rs 5,500 for a year, you can easily download 1 GB of data in a day. Then you share and exchange the data with your friends, which adds few more gigabytes of data to your hard drive. Add some more gigabytes for the music and video files you transcode for your phone and portable media player. This way, it won’t take much time to fill up a terabyte hard drive, especially if you’re an entertainment buff. So when it comes to hard drives, size indeed matters!
On a different note, we haven’t seen anything path breaking in terms of performance, because of mechanical limitations of hard drives. However, you can get plenty of storage space for a very sweet price. The difference between the prices of 250 GB, 320 GB and 500 GB hard drives is so less that it makes perfect sense to buy a 500 GB one for an entry-level PC. If that’s too less for all your software, games and media files, pick a 1 TB hard drive. And if you need still more space, a 2 TB drive is the largest you can buy.
In addition to drive capacities for various storage needs, hard drive manufacturers are also offering drives for various applications. There are silent drives for entertainment PCs, high-reliability drives with extra cache memory for enterprise storage and low power consuming drives for home and office PCs. Our comparison of 3.5-inch hard drives features all of these.
The test process was based on five important parameters - features, build quality, ergonomics, performance and warranty. So let’s walk you through each of the set parameters that were laid down as part of the test process.
Features: Here, we noted the technical specifications of the hard drive and the family to which it belonged. Extra points were awarded to the hard drives that were silent, more resilient to shock, and had larger cache memory. If you’re mainly interested in the price per GB ratio, we have calculated it for each hard drive.
Performance: We used synthetic and real world tests to assess the performance of the hard drives. HD Tach and SiSoft Sandra 2010 were used to measure the sequential, random and buffered speeds. The file copy test represents a truer picture of the drive’s performance. For this test, we copied a single 4 GB file between the RAM drive and the test hard drive to find out the sequential read and write speeds. For the random read and write speeds, we used an assortment of files summing up to 4 GB. A stopwatch was used to measure the time taken for each operation.
Our test computer featured the Asus M4A89GTD Pro/USB 3 motherboard because the AMD 890G chipset features native support for SATA 6 Gb/s, which some of these hard drives already use. The CPU used was the Phenom II X4 965 along with 8 GB DDR3 memory, which was sufficient to feed the 4 GB RAM drive.
The VelociRaptor WD6000HLHX 600 GB hard drive actually sports a 2.5-inch form-factor. It is mounted on an ‘IcePack’, Western Digital’s custom frame, to fit 3.5-inch hard drive bays. The IcePack doubles up as a heat sink for the hard drive, keeping this powerful drive cool even at peak performance. Western Digital proclaims this drive to be the fastest drive available yet. It bags the Best Performance title with its enormous data transfer speeds. The reason - its 10,000 rpm spindle speed, coupled with a 32 MB buffer and a SATA 6 GB/s interface. If you take a quick look at the performance scores, you’ll notice that this drive left even the Seagate Barracuda XT way behind by a big margin. The real world performance scores will give you a better idea of how fast the VelociRaptor actually is. It is best suited for high-performance computers such as gaming rigs or low-end servers, where speed is of utmost importance. But if you’d like to opt for a blend of good speed and large storage space, consider the 2 TB Seagate Barracuda XT. The performance differences might be marginally noticeable, but you get almost three times the storage space at an affordable price.
Verdict: Individually or in RAID, this drive offers all you need for a powerful gaming rig or low-end server.
For: Great performance.
Against: Expensive for a 600 GB drive.
The WD3200AAKS 320 GB hard drive from Western Digital grabs the Best Value title due to its lowest price-to-performance ratio when compared with the rest. It belongs to the Western Digital’s Caviar Blue family and offers standard features such as a SATA 3 GB/s interface and a 16 MB cache. The drive has a single platter design and is less noisy. Although you might find 320 GB too less if you have a massive collection of songs and videos, it’s a decent entry-level storage device for basic home or office PCs. If you check out the random access speeds, it turns out to be one of the slowest in the segment, but the real world scores spell out its actual performance, which is ideal for regular usage. With growing needs for huge amounts of data storage for photos, movies and music, most users would rather go for a higher capacity hard drive with good performance at a reasonably lower price. The price per GB ratio of this drive turns out to be around Rs 9, which is one of the highest figures. One should consider this factor before assembling a desktop computer. A 1 TB hard drive would be a more sensible option, as you’ll get three times the capacity for 50 percent more than the price of this drive.
Verdict: An entry-level storage drive for a basic home or office PC.
For: Decent performance, silent.
Against: Slightly expensive, low storage capacity.
Native Command Queuing (NCQ)
Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID)
SATA 6 Gb/s
Solid State Drives are still at a nascent stage and will take a while to reach a point where they’ll compete with hard drives. Hard drives are here to stay for at least the next few years. At present, hard drives offer tremendous bang for your buck, and it will get even better when the prices of 2 TB drives fall. High-capacity drives are expensive because they use more platters. Hence, the price difference between a single-platter 500 GB drive and a double-platter 1 TB drive is significant. The prices will further fall if the areal density increases beyond 500 GB or if the cost of production comes down. If you’re looking to buy a new hard drive, consider a 500 GB drive if your budget isn’t too high, or else pick a 1 TB drive that currently offers the best value for money. I would consider the 1 TB Western Digital Caviar Black.
As I am not a gamer or designer by profession, I don't need much performance from a storage drive. I'm a collector of fine art movies and music, and hence require a large amount of room for all my digital data. Of all the drives in the round-up, I would blindly jump for the one with a larger storage capacity and the lowest price. With the prices of 2 TB hard drives through the roof at almost Rs 12,000, I would consider two 1 TB hard drives instead. Out of the drives we tested, I would recommend the Seagate ST31000528AS 1 TB drive, priced at Rs 4,076, or the Western Digital WD20EVDS 2 TB at Rs 7,900. These drives offer a good balance of storage capacity and performance, while keeping the price per GB at a minimum of Rs 4. If you want sheer performance, the Seagate ST32000641AS Barracuda XT 2 TB or the Western Digital WD6000HLHX VelociRaptor 600 GB should be considered.