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Not All 500 GB Hard Drives Are Created Equal

Not All 500 GB Hard Drives Are Created Equal

When hard disk manufacturers transition from one product generation to the next, they typically introduce the new drives with higher capacities, better performance, lower power consumption, and improved feature sets. However, it becomes more difficult over time for manufacturers to improve their products, as most of the progress happens inside the drive. It turns out that only users who know about the details are able to tell apart outdated products from the latest ones that normally should be preferred.

We looked at two 500 GB notebook hard drives by Samsung to illustrate the difference between first-generation drives and the latest products. We found that they appear very similar, but perform quite differently.

Data Density Counts

Hard drive makers live or die based on their ability to increase data density; the largest hard drive volumes are sold in the so-called “sweet spot,” which is dominated by drives that are based on a single rotating platter. These are currently 200 and 250 GB 2.5” notebook hard drives and 320-500 GB 3.5” desktop drives. Each of those capacities are the cheapest to manufacturer, and the drive maker who reaches new capacity points first typically has an edge over the competition until others catch up.

High spindle speeds can be considered the trade-off against high capacities, as vibration, heat dissipation, reliability, durability, and power consumption (among other factors) become an issue with faster rotation. Hence, the fastest drives come with much smaller platter diameters to meet all of these demands, and hard drive makers will try to avoid the highest rotation speeds in the mainstream for these reasons, as capacity is easier to sell.

Going from Three to Two Platters

We selected two Samsung drives, because we had to send Samsung’s first-generation 500 GB 2.5” notebook drive into our last notebook hard drive roundup, where it wasn’t capable of competing with the latest products from the other drive makers in many benchmarks. The reason for this was its internal structure: Samsung was quick to market with its 500 GB 2.5” drive, but it was based on three platters, while the newer competition runs on only two platters.

This article compares the three-platter Spinpoint M6 HM500LI with the new Spinpoint M7 HM500JI, which was designed to store the same 500 GB capacity on two platters. Needless to say, this comparison serves a general purpose, as other generational evolutions (such as Hitachi’s Travelstar 5K500 being replaced by the 5K500.B) result in comparable findings. Yet it's worth noting that Samsung was the first hard drive maker to squeeze three platters into the 9.5 mm standard drive height. All other first-generation 500 GB drives (there was Fujitsu’s MHZ2 BT as well) were built at a 12.5 mm height that doesn’t fit into all notebook designs.

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  • 2 Hide
    aspireonelover , July 23, 2009 7:06 AM
    great article, I think we all know when it comes to the newer generation. They're usually better.
    One thing, I hope the next time you write this article, plz throw in more hard drives.
  • 2 Hide
    kelfen , July 23, 2009 7:14 AM
    great read. It's probably alot of work to throw in more hard drives but if ya could do a part two on it; that would be great.
  • 3 Hide
    amnotanoobie , July 23, 2009 8:29 AM
    Benching more hard drives would make this a more worthwhile read.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , July 23, 2009 8:48 AM
    This article wanted to emphasize the difference between older and newer generations, so two hard drives from the same maker but different in generation should do the trick. Maybe if they got another pair from a different maker, then they can do a comparison, too.
  • -4 Hide
    fausto , July 23, 2009 12:50 PM
    they should use real desktop drives. equivalent mainstream models.
  • -1 Hide
    fausto , July 23, 2009 12:52 PM
    i have trouble figuring out which generation i'm buying because they don't put a model number at the retail with video cards. all they give you is brand and capacity and basic spec that you can read on the box.
  • 1 Hide
    xsamitt , July 23, 2009 12:53 PM
    LOl ....Yet another hard drive review.For god's shake and for the sake of your readers maybe you could sneak some new (monitor) reviews in.24 INCH would be nice.You used to before,but these days it's more o the same.
  • -1 Hide
    kubes , July 23, 2009 1:10 PM
    good read. I agree i'd like to see a few other hard drives thrown into the mix. Maybe do all hard drives at a certain price range. Meaning capitity and preformance would change. like a 75-100 dollar roundup and that way you can see the difference between capicity vs preformance as well.

    Monitors are hard to review because their so subjectical. If they wrote an article it'd be more fact gathering from a stat's sheet than anything I would think.
  • -1 Hide
    xsamitt , July 23, 2009 1:57 PM
    Hi Kubes

    I agree that Monitors aren't easy to describe.But they used to do it before.I also feel that just because something is subjective(OR hard) doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.I'm pretty sure most people know Tom's isn't what it used to be be that for better or for worse.They do have some nice people working for them which is a good thing.But again I just feel that they are stuck in a rut,with 1 article per day when it used to be 3 and 4.And seem to be reviewing the same things.Surly I can't be the only one who see's the pattern that's so apparent.This is less a negative complaint than hoping Toms reads this and realizes it just needs a little more V8(In other words more people on the helm to liven up the site.Call it constructive criticism because I do with Toms all the best.
  • -2 Hide
    xsamitt , July 23, 2009 2:37 PM
    Just give it a few days...I'm sure it's coming.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 23, 2009 2:38 PM
    Paragraph 6 - "This article compares the three-platter Spinpoint M6 HM500JI with the new Spinpoint M7 HM500LI..."

    It took me a while to figure out that this was not consistent with the graphs. All of the figures show the M6 as HM500LI and the M7 as HM500JI.
  • -3 Hide
    deputc26 , July 23, 2009 2:40 PM
    and 320-500 GB 3.5” desktop drives.

    For real??? not a chance, the sweet spot in 3.5" is 640gb-1tb, certainly on a gb/$ basis anyway.
  • -1 Hide
    cadder , July 23, 2009 2:49 PM
    Does anybody actually buy Samsung drives?
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 23, 2009 3:37 PM
    Fail. The HM500JI is a two-platter drive from the Spinpoint M7 series. The HM500LI is a three-platter drive from the Spinpoint M6 series. The article says the opposite.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , July 23, 2009 4:05 PM
    It's a pitty that a laptop's drive generally most of the time is idling by!

    As far as I see I'm pretty impressed with the read speeds!
    I thought my toshiba HD's 13-18MB/s readspeeds where fast!

    It's a pitty harddrive manufacturers don't let the customer know about the improvements!
    I'm sure if they did (somehow), that many would spend the extra few bucks on a drive which performs much better.
    Although, for notebooks I estimate battery life won't be impacted that much (seeing that drives spend most time being idle).
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 23, 2009 4:08 PM
    Like a vga chart, it would be nice to have a chart for desktop (performance), and notebook (performance vs power consumption) HD's.
    It'd be nice to have an idea what would happen if we plan on upgrading our current HD.

    Though I do have to say that may be quite hard, seeing the sheer amount of harddrive brands and types out there!
  • -2 Hide
    NoCaDrummer , July 23, 2009 5:11 PM
    Are the "Power Requirement Idle" figures reversed? I thought there was mention that the newer drive "M7" used less power, yet that chart shows that the "M6" uses 10% less power.

    (Trekkies may recall that "M5" went crazy and eventually shut itself off.)
  • 0 Hide
    daeros , July 23, 2009 5:43 PM
    Main playback (1.0 vs. 1.9 W), and at workstation I/O (2.0 W vs. 2.7 W). These power savings correspond 25%, 90% and...

    uhm, since when is 1w 90% less than 1.9w?

    This is why I usually don't get in-depth reviews from Tom's anymore; the factual content is just not reliable.
  • -1 Hide
    pschmid , July 23, 2009 7:21 PM
    The industry's sweet spot is always the highest possible capacity using a single platter. This is where HDD makers can produce the cheapest drive. Who ever is first to a higher per-platter density has a business advantage. Cost per gigabyte in retail may be different, though.

    @ProDigit80: We do have hard drive charts in the charts section as well - check them out here,53.html

    @NoCaDrummer: The numbers aren't reversed, but the benchmark tool rounds them. It seems idle power is just too close together. Look at the power consumption for the three different tasks - the new M7 is much lower on power here.

    Thanks for your feedback!
  • 0 Hide
    techpops , July 23, 2009 7:30 PM
    Man some serious moaning going on here. I'll take what I can get in terms of reviews and news, usually a must read when I see something from toms in my RSS feeds.

    Perhaps people not so happy should spread their curiosity for news and reviews around other sites. No shortage of them and ease off nit picking on resources like this that give out everything for free.
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