2.5" HDD Galore: Samsung, Seagate, Toshiba

Samsung Spinpoint M6, HM320HI (320 GB - 5400 RPM)

The new Samsung drive is not yet available in all markets worldwide and we did not find product information on the Samsung website either. But it was the first 320 GB notebook hard drive that arrived at our storage test lab, and we found it marked available in several online stores in Europe and in the United States.

The HM320HI is the first member of the new Spinpoint M6 drive family, which is based on second generation perpendicular magnetic recording. Samsung utilizes a SerialATA/150 interface, which provides more than enough bandwidth for today's drives, while not consuming more power than necessary. As we found in prior reviews, SATA/300 increases the power requirements without delivering more performance in everyday use. Hence, SATA/150 will still be the ideal choice for notebook drives, where low power requirements are imperative to achieve long battery run times.

There are two more 320 GB drives available today: one from Toshiba (MK3252GSX) and one from Western Digital (WD3200BEVS). We'll look at both of them once we get them. All three 320 GB drives are specified at 12 ms average seek time, all utilize SATA/150 and all have an 8 MB cache memory.

We found that the Toshiba drive seems to be the cheapest in Europe (130 Euros), while Samsung's Spinpoint M6 currently is the most expensive (170 Euros). The reason for the confident pricing could be this drive's excellent performance: although the average read access time of 18.3 ms is rather disappointing, this is the first notebook hard drive to deliver more than 70 MB/s on our storage reference platform. Even the average and minimum transfer rates are excellent, and even exceed the performance level shown by the drives running at 7,200 RPM! Application performance underlined what we saw in the low-level benchmark results: this drive is furiously fast for a notebook model.

Unfortunately, it isn't equally efficient: 1.0 W idle power and 3.2 W maximum power are an average result, and only slightly better than what we've seen from modern 7,200 RPM drives. Clearly, the new Samsung drive is a high-flyer, but it's not the right choice for high-efficiency notebooks, where you want to run on battery as long as possible.

The three-year factory warranty can be considered standard today. Seagate is the only hard drive maker to offer a five year warranty on almost all retail products.