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Tom’s Winter 2008 Hard Drive Guide

Tom’s Winter 2008 Hard Drive Guide

Despite the availability of huge capacities and incredible price drops in the hard drive segment, finding the perfect hard drive is not as easy as pegging the right size for your precious information. It used to be that choosing a good hard drive meant finding one that delivered great performance at a reasonable cost per gigabyte. Today, you’ll have to choose among performance drives, mainstream models, and low-power drives—and the high-end will gradually be taken over by solid state drives (SSDs) based on flash memory chips instead of rotating magnetic media. Which drive should you buy today?

New Market Segments = More Choices

A few years ago, you could differentiate hard drives simply by their market segments: there were desktop, laptop, and professional hard drives for servers and workstations. Desktop and server drives typically were based on the 3.5” form factor, while laptop drives were smaller (2.5”). Professional drives utilized SCSI, while all other drives were connected with some sort of ATA interface. That was all you needed to know to find an appropriate hard drive.

Today, the traditional market segments are divided into additional sections, typically by the intended application. Desktop hard drives are now divided into performance drives, high capacity and mainstream models, or high efficiency drives. The professional segment is split into high capacity, high efficiency, and high performance server/workstation drives. The mobile PC market has performance drives, mainstream, and high-capacity drives for notebooks and laptops.

As a consequence, classifying a drive by its interface, the storage technology it uses or its form factor doesn’t work anymore. For example, 2.5” drives have entered the server/workstation market as well as the desktop. Cheap Serial ATA interfaces are utilized for entry-level professional drives, while 10,000 RPM drives are available for desktops and flash-based SSDs are gradually attacking the hard drive market from the high-end and the very low-end.

Flash To Take Over?

Properly-designed flash-based solid state drives are not only faster than conventional drives, they can also require considerably less power—combine these and you get stellar performance per watt results. Flash SSDs are robust and deliver data without significant access time delay, and the latest product generation delivers 200 MB/s of throughput—and this is just the beginning. Specialized flash SSD makers, such as Mtron and Memoright, design products aimed at the server market, where a maximum number of I/O operations per second is essential. In fact, a few professional flash SSDs are easily capable of beating any array of conventional drives today. At the same time, the desktop market is being attacked by multiple storage vendors, including heavyweights such as Samsung and even Intel, with its X25-M flash SSD.

However, flash is not (yet) the holy grail. It is still many times more expensive than traditional hard drives at mainstream capacities and it cannot yet answer high capacity demands. Even if flash memory were cheaper and ready for mainstream capacities (250-750 GB) there still wouldn’t be sufficient supply of chips. A high end flash SSD is indeed the best choice if you’re looking for a fast system drive, but capacities are still limited to 128 or 160 GB, and the substantial investment required will depreciate horribly quickly. If you’re willing to spend as much money on a flash SSDs as most people spend on an entire PC, or should the performance advantage provide your company with a competitive advantage, then we recommend reading our last flash SSD roundup.

HDDs Remain Unrivaled In The Mainstream

Given the current limitations of flash-based drives, conventional hard drives will remain the dominant storage media for PC systems for at least another few years. In this light, it appears important to make the right choice, as a drive with a capacity of one terabyte (1,000 GB) will certainly last you for a few years, even if you have to buy a second or third disk in that span. We looked at high capacity hard drives from Hitachi, Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital, and compared them with some 24/7 drives and a few low power models. We added in WD’s Velociraptor drive, which is still the fastest desktop hard drive on the market.

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  • 0 Hide
    slomo4sho , November 24, 2008 7:19 AM
    Thanks for the write-up.
  • 0 Hide
    Tindytim , November 24, 2008 8:05 AM
    I would be interested in seeing how SSDs have effected Raptor sales.
  • 0 Hide
    radnor , November 24, 2008 9:02 AM
    I honestly think SSDs wont touch Velociraptor sales. The price tag is just too different. Even 300Gb is kinda short. Not to mention 64Gb.

    SSDs for now are only rich lappy owners. For the rest, there is SAS.
  • 0 Hide
    arkadi , November 24, 2008 10:45 AM
    with the new x58 out, it will be nice 2 see how sas drives will do
  • -1 Hide
    slomo4sho , November 24, 2008 11:10 AM
    There are 30gb OCZ SSDs on newegg for $80 each. Anyone wanting a faster drive for the OS would definitely consider the SSD over a Raptor.
  • 3 Hide
    DFGum , November 24, 2008 11:12 AM
    Slomo4shOThere are 30gb OCZ SSDs on newegg for $80 each. Anyone wanting a faster drive for the OS would definitely consider the SSD over a Raptor.

    Except there not faster.
  • 2 Hide
    zenmaster , November 24, 2008 11:12 AM
    Have you seen the OCZ horror stories?
  • 1 Hide
    antiacid , November 24, 2008 12:38 PM
    SSD doesn't equate to better performances than raptors. Watch out for that :) 

    thanks for the review, it's nice to see the Hitachi's getting updated to such fast drives.
  • 3 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , November 24, 2008 12:48 PM
    EcoGreen F1 @ -60C operational temperature? That may not be the most ideal enviroment to run a pc ? might want to add a zero in front :) 

    ps. no noise measurements?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 24, 2008 1:05 PM
    yes, no noise measuring? That is a important as anything else for a HTPC?
  • -1 Hide
    malveaux , November 24, 2008 1:17 PM
    SSD's aSSD's, especially the MLC ones, are not effecting gaming machine sales (raptor). They're terrible for PC's right now that run Windows. They're better than their initial release. But they're still not something to overtake the markget for a while.
  • 6 Hide
    chikatana , November 24, 2008 4:27 PM
    The gallery thing is so user unfriendly. I hate it so much since its introduction. It takes much longer to load, and I have to switch between browser windows constantly to see all the images. Please go back to the old design and show all the images in a few pages directly. I don't want to keep switching!!!
  • -1 Hide
    Pei-chen , November 24, 2008 4:42 PM
    I am using two 1.5TB drive in RAID 0 under Vista x64 and it doesn't feel any faster than the two 320GB 7200.10 RAID 0 drives it replaced. The throughput for the 320GB is 70 MB/s or 140 MB/s on RAID 0; the 1.5TB should be noticeably faster but it isn’t.

    BTW, the maxima drive size windows can address is 2TB so my 2*1.5TB shows up as one 2TB + one 700GB drives.
  • -1 Hide
    Eggrenade , November 24, 2008 7:46 PM
    This is one of those articles that reminds me why I like Tom's so much: quantitative comparisons that are useful.
  • 0 Hide
    JonnyDough , November 24, 2008 8:55 PM
    Properly-designed flash-based solid state drives are not only faster than conventional drives, they can also require considerably less power

    LMAO! A couple of months ago Tom's had an article saying that the energy-saving of SSDs was a hoax. The title even had the word "hoax" in it. I called their bluff, and got down-rated in the comments on that article. Now, they're saying the exact opposite! How many times does Tom's say one thing to spark controversy and get website hits, and then say the exact opposite later on? This website is SO FULL OF CRAP.

    1. Post deleted like APPLE owns this site.
  • 1 Hide
    JonnyDough , November 24, 2008 9:03 PM
    SSDs ARE faster than HDDs, IF you have the right SSD. Furthermore, that is not the ONLY advantage to having an SSD. Heat, energy use, ability to handle more shock, and noise all contribute.

    XP and Vista is not correctly optimized for SSDs, but that doesn't mean that a high end SSD won't outperform hard drives on them.
  • 1 Hide
    doomsdaydave11 , November 24, 2008 9:33 PM
    DFGumExcept there not faster.

    Yeah those cheapo OCZ (etc) drives are incredibly slow. My next harddrive will be a 500GB Seagate 7200.11. That should last me at least 2 years, and then I'll go with maybe a 512GB SSD or something. Surely they'll have 512GB SSD's that provide at least 200MB/s read and 150MB/s write at a reasonable price in 2 years.... especially with all these memory prices dropping. Last year you could get 2x2GB of DDR2-800 for ~$200. Now, 2x2GB of DDR2-800 can be had for under $50, and even lower then that after rebates!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 25, 2008 12:09 AM
    The WD Raptor 36GB and above can still be used within a raid-0 array. Heck thats what i'm using now, i was looking for SSD's but too much SSD's that have their issues and wont come down at least for 350€ for a decent Raid-0 set.

  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 25, 2008 2:13 AM
    I checked Newegg and noticed that the following drives aren't readily available, yet Tom's is recommending them. What's up ?

    Hitachi 7K1000.B
    Seagate new 1TB
  • 0 Hide
    Codesmith , November 25, 2008 4:01 AM
    I look at not only the length of the warranty but the quality of the support. When my seagate failed I had to pay a total of $27 for advanced replacement. When my western digital failed advanced replacement was free and I only paid $7 for a optional prepaid return shipping label.

    Also I had to get to page idk 17 or 19 in the RMA process before I saw anything about an advance replacement fee.

    I am not saying I won't ever buy a seagate, just saying I lean heavily toward WD because of the way they handle replacements.

    I wish I new all the manufacturers policies on advance replacement fee's. But one's that charge don't advertise it so I am kinda in the dark.
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