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Storage Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB

Tom's Hardware's 2009 Gift Guide: Part 1, For System Builders
By: William Van Winkle

Do we even need to discuss the need for more capacity anymore? If you grab your spiffy new AVCHD camcorder on Christmas morning and capture just three hours of 30p footage at 24 Mb/s, you’re going to need over 30GB of storage—just for one event! Figure 20+ gigabytes for a high-def movie. And so on. How long does it take to fill a terabyte these days? Not long enough.

Of course, capacity is only half of the problem. As our files get ever larger, it takes ever longer to transfer them between components. As vendors have started to hit the 2TB mark, drives have all been “energy efficient” models. Said energy savings come largely from dropping the spindle speed to 5,400 or 5,900 RPM. We need more capacity, yes, but often we need it faster.

Enter Western Digital’s Caviar Black, the first hard drive to hit 2TB with a 7,200 RPM spin rate. With two terabytes, you can store up to 45 hours of 1080i, DVCPRO HD-encoded video or, by WD’s reckoning, 240 hours of 720p video recorded at 8.3 GB/hour. That’s what you get when you have well over 300 gigabits per square inch of aerial density spread over four platters. At first, I was disappointed that WD hadn’t held out for the SATA 6 Gb/s interface, as Seagate did with its Barracuda XT. However, the reality is that between a 7,200 RPM spin rate and a 64MB cache, you’ve got sustained writes topping 110 MB/s. That’s less than half the interface speed of 3 Gb/s SATA, never mind a 6 Gb/s connection. If you want to maximize the SATA 6 Gb/s  on your Gigabyte P55A-UD6 board next year, buy a 6 Gb/s SSD when they begin emerging. Short of that, hard drives have a long way to go before these SATA improvements reveal themselves.

Now, one drive can’t please everybody. Idle power draw is 8.2W, which, compared against an SSD, is the equivalent of an Escalade next to a 10-speed Huffy. A non-operating shock of 300 Gs (30 Gs operational) reflects this complex drive’s relative fragility. And, of course, you’re paying a per-gigabyte premium to get today’s top capacity.

Such issues aside, relish this drive’s balance of capacity and performance. The sustained throughput is hot, but the access times look even better thanks to the high aerial density and WD’s double-actuator design: 7.6 ms for random reads and 5.0 ms for random writes. The only faster consumer hard drive is WD’s own VelociRaptor.

According to WD, that little sleeve is how these drives are sold in Asia.According to WD, that little sleeve is how these drives are sold in Asia.

There’s nothing not to love here (maybe that's why Patrick gave this drive a Recommended Buy award). If you’re a gamer hell-bent on maximizing performance, short stroking the 2TB Caviar Black will still leave you a lot more gigabytes than ever before. Frankly, the thought of two of them in a striped RAID is terrifying. Western Digital’s 2TB Black remains a rare treat sure to single out any recipient from the masses of high-storage wannabes. If someone you care about (and leech from) needs a mountain of media storage, this will be the gift that keeps on giving.

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