WD's New Raptor Drive Is a Bird of Prey!

One Drive, Multiple Applications

Although the VelociRaptor is a 2.5" hard drive, it does not fit into notebooks due to its greater height. Notebook hard drives typically stick to a 9.5 mm height; some high-capacity models (the current 500 GB notebook drives) utilize three platters and hence occupy a 12.5 mm height. The new Raptor, however, fits into the format for 2.5" enterprise hard drives, which allows for a total height of 15 mm.

The 2.5" form factor allows Western Digital to attack the workstation and entry-level server market. The latter is currently moving from 3.5" to 2.5" for all mainstream and high-performance server applications. While this isn’t the first time WD has tried to approach the business segment, the situation looks much better today, as there is little competition for the new Raptors. While the VelociRaptor is incapable of competing against SAS drives when it comes to I/O performance or even to overall performance if we add 15,000 RPM drives, it is certainly a highly attractive alternative for 10,000 RPM 2.5" SAS drives for mainstream enterprise storage that has to deliver a reasonable balance between performance and performance per Watt.

Once the application profile isn’t too I/O-heavy, the VelociRaptor (without the IcePack) does really well, and looking at retail prices of less than $300 for a 300 GB professional hard drive, $250+ for a 146 GB 2.5" SAS hard drive suddenly looks like a rip-off. Any SATA drive can be deployed into existing Unified Serial infrastructure based on SAS or SATA controllers. This applies to both attaching drives to controllers directly and to deploying VelociRaptor drives into rack mount appliances for 2.5" drives. Clearly, the VelociRaptor can improve the performance per Watt ratio in such scenarios. Even if the hard drive makers follow up with 300 GB 2.5" SAS drives they will still be more expensive than the VelociRaptor.

Drawback: Not Suitable for Server Upgrades

The new VelociRaptor is not the perfect performance hard drive - despite all the advantages. While it can easily be installed into 2.5" SAS or SATA environments (without the IcePack frame) and while it represents the best hard drive choice for high-end and enthusiast desktop PCs, it cannot be used for seamless upgrades of existing 3.5" storage infrastructure. Once hot-swap drive bays are used, which typically is the case in each and every professional storage appliance and semi-professional SMB solutions, the position of the SATA and power connectors on the 3.5" structure (VelociRaptor plus IcePack) will not match the standardized connector position for 3.5" hard drives. Hence you won’t be able to install the VelociRaptor in 3.5" hot-swap bays.

Since the IcePack frame is rather simple, the drive’s SATA and power connectors will remain in the center of the "drive" (VelociRaptor plus IcePack), which means that it cannot be installed into 3.5" hot-swap drive bays for server and workstation applications.

Achim Roos