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Three Platter Design Beats The Competition

Samsung Spinpoint F1 HDDs: New Winners?
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From left to right: the Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000, Samsung Spinpoint F1, Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 and Western Digital Caviar GP.

5, 4, 3... The first to ship a 3.5" hard drive with a one-terabyte capacity was Hitachi GST. The Deskstar 7K1000 has been shipping since April, and it reaches the total capacity utilizing a five-platter design. This way, it was possible for Hitachi to leverage mature technology (about 200 GB per platter) to create high-capacity drives. The upside of this decision was a quick time to market and decent performance; the downside is the increased number of moving parts, which raises power consumption, noise and heat dissipation.

Samsung and Seagate weren't second to the terabyte market, as announced earlier this year; rather it was Western Digital, with a radically changed product concept. The Caviar GP, which stands for Green Power, only operates at slightly more than 5,400 RPM, but cuts hard drive power consumption in half. Despite the lower speed it performs adequately, and the Caviar GP drives are now available as RAID Edition models that have been validated for 24/7 operation. Unlike Hitachi's five-platter Deskstar 7K1000, which is also available as a 24/7 Ultrastar A7K1000, the WD drives are based on only four platters. This is the foundation for the Caviar GP's higher data transfer rates; despite its lower rotation speed, the WD drive is not far behind its competitors.

The third and to date fastest 3.5" terabyte hard drive is Seagate's Barracuda 7200.11. It came later than expected, but it has also been the fastest 3.5" SATA drive thus far. It is also based on four platters, like the WD Caviar GP, but thanks to the full speed 7,200 RPM spindle, it breaks the 100 MB/s line. Its access time of only 12.7 ms is also the quickest of all four terabyte drives.

Samsung had announced that it wanted to pursue a three-platter design with its terabyte drive. While this was expected to deliver even higher data transfer rates, it would also enable the Korean mega-company to deliver single-platter hard drives at up to 320 GB. As a consequence, Samsung is now in a position to offer such a capacity with minimal material and production costs, while the other hard drive manufacturers cannot offer more than 250 GB on a single platter. These drives are largely uninteresting for enthusiasts, but they are crucial for business PCs, where due to purchase quantities, cost is a major issue.

If you now think that it could be easy for Samsung to put a fourth or maybe even a fifth platter into this design to create 1.2 and 1.5 TB hard drives, I have to disappoint you. While other hard drive families utilize platters that are 50 mil (thousandths of inches) thick, the Spinpoint F1 runs on 68 mil platters. For this reason, it's physically difficult to simply add a fourth platter to the stack. The thicker platters are used to increase resistance against vibration.

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