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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 500GB and Western Digital Caviar SE16 400GB Hard Drives review

Processors are incredibly fast, RAM is rocketing its way through our games, and videocards pack more punch than ever. With all these screamingly fast system components available, often the hard drive is neglected. It’s a commonly known fact that despite of several improvements in the past years, hard drives are still the biggest performance bottleneck in desktop systems today. That is why having a fast, large hard drive should be a priority for all computer users.

A large, dense and fast hard drive can become the key difference between a system that is sleek and responsive, and one that is aggravatingly slow. Even the fastest hard drives available cannot saturate the ATA bus, making striping an increasingly popular solution. While the relative physical size of drives has remained the same, storage capacity, spindle speed, interface and buffer size continues to be improved, and therefore the performance of the hard drives continues to go up.

Today we take a look at two of the largest desktop drives on the market from two of the most popular hard drive vendors. From Western Digital, we received the Caviar SE 4000KD which is a 400GB 4-platter SATA-II behemoth, and from Seagate, the Barracuda 7200.9 500GB 4-platter SATA-II drive.

This match is most interesting because of how similar the drives are. Comparatively, a Hitachi 500GB SATA uses a 5-platter design, and other WD drives use a 3-platter design, which can skew performance. In this case, both drives feature 4 platters, with the Seagate drive having a higher density per platter.

The Seagate drive also sports Native Command Queuing, a SCSI/SATA feature that helps the disk access data more efficiently in some cases. The Western Digital drive lacks this, though the level of performance gain NCQ offers to the desktop is arguable, with some even saying it can hinder performance in cases. For straight comparisons, NCQ will be disabled on the Seagate drive, which will give us a better picture of comparative performance.

Although I use Linux as my primary operating system, performance variations between Operating Systems are not commonly encountered; assuming drivers are functioning properly, of course. Unlike videocards, hard drive performance is not as affected as much by differences in drivers, allowing you to get a good grasp of how a drive will behave in any particular system. Since modern hard drives cannot saturate the bandwidth they have available to them in standalone configurations, it is safe to assume that performance will not be impacted based upon the operating system you are using.


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