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Western Digital recently sent us its latest-generation VelociRaptor, a 1 TB update to what was already the fastest 3.5" disk drive available. Once again, it stymies the mechanical competition with significantly higher performance.
Western Digital wrote a chapter in storage history back in 2003 when it introduced the first Raptor. A 3.5” hard disk, it looked a lot like any competitor's disk, except for a small, performance-enhancing difference: the 37 GB WD360GD was the first consumer hard drive to spin at 10 000 RPM, a speed previously only available on expensive enterprise-class hard disks designed for the SCSI interface. But instead of SCSI (or even the then-ubiquitous IDE interface) Western Digital's Raptor employed a SATA interface, another of the company's bold moves.
The Raptor's innards were unconventional as well. Once you got under its hood, you found an IDE interface. SATA was achieved through a Marvell-based IDE-to-SATA bridge. Fortunately, the bridge chip did not noticeably limit the disk’s SCSI-like performance. Western Digital's WD360GD was put to use in applications where I/O performance mattered, like video editing. Its price, while steep, was still significantly lower than comparable enterprise SCSI-based drives. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 2008, the VelociRaptor succeeded three generations of Raptors. It maintained its 10 000 RPM spindle speed, but traded 3.5” platters for 2.5” ones, while keeping a external 3.5” form factor serving as passive cooling. The IDE-to-SATA bridge chip had been dropped back in the Raptor's second generation, so naturally the VelociRaptor employed a native SATA interface.
As SCSI became obsolete, the cool-running and power-friendly (relatively, of course) VelociRaptor model found more ideal environments, from performance-oriented desktop PCs up to business-class workstations and small business servers.
Then, 2010, Western Digital doubled the VelociRaptor's capacity to 600 GB and its interface bandwidth to 6 Gb/s. But would the company continue the family in the face of mounting competition from notably faster SSDs?
Yes, it turns out. Western Digital recently launched an updated generation of VelociRaptors, which we started testing as soon as they landed in our German lab. The highest-end model sports a capacity of 1000 GB, and the manufacturer claims a performance improvement of 25% over its already-speedy predecessor. Older VelociRaptors had no problem outclassing other SATA-based disks, earning the family a reputation as the fastest on the desktop. Needless to say, our expectations for the WD1000DHTZ are quite high.