WD's '5400 RPM-Class' Drives Don't Necessarily Spin at That Speed

Stock image of a hard drive breaking into small pieces.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Western Digital was recently under fire for not disclosing that certain drives use slower SMR tech, and now there's another issue uncovered by the community. As it turns out, the company's 5400 RPM drives may not necessarily spin at 5400 RPM, as discovered by Amoroko on Reddit.

The Redditor ran tests with various WD drives, and found that 5400 RPM drives often spin much faster, at 7200 RPM, based on acoustic testing. The drives affected include a range of WD Red drives and WD elements drives, though the test sample wasn't exactly wide.

As it turns out, WD isn't labeling the drives as 5400 RPM either, but rather "5400 RPM Performance Class." But what does that really mean?

In short, it means that the drives labelled as 5400 RPM Performance Class drives perform acoustically, thermally, and with regards to power consumption like 5400 RPM drives, even if they spin at 7200 RPM -- at least according to WD. 

The following is the statement we received from WD:

"For select products, Western Digital has published RPM speed within a “class” or “performance class” for numerous years rather than publishing specific spindle speeds. We also fine-tune select hard drive platforms and the related HDD characteristics to create several different variations of such platforms to meet different market or application needs. By doing so, we are able to leverage our economies of scale and pass along those savings to our customers. As with every Western Digital product, our product details, which include power, acoustics and performance (data transfer rate), are tested to meet the specifications provided on the product’s data sheet and marketing collateral.”

Arstechnica studied the datasheets of WD's "5400 RPM Performance Class" drives and compared them to actual 5400 RPM drives. They found stark differences in power consumption and noise levels, which naturally also leads to more heat output. This begs the question, from which era is WD defining the power consumption and noise levels of "5400 RPM Performance Class?"

Whether this practice is to pump up the performance figures and specs or cut costs in production (or both) is unclear. We also reached out to Seagate and Toshiba for comment on the matter.

Niels Broekhuijsen

Niels Broekhuijsen is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He reviews cases, water cooling and pc builds.

  • derekullo
    5400 rpm = 7200 rpm
    7200 rpm = 10,000 rpm

    Very strange way to re-release the Raptor drives.

    It's the only theory that makes any sense lol.
  • Newtonius
    Next WD scandal:

    Hard drives don't come with any platters at all. It's just hardware that sends your data to WD servers.
  • derekullo
    Newtonius said:
    Next WD scandal:

    Hard drives don't come with any platters at all. It's just hardware that sends your data to WD servers.
    5400 RPM Cloud-Class hard drives
  • Co BIY
    3.5" well armored DRAM-less SSD with a motor inside for "realistic action" noises.