Round-Up: Comparison Testing of 22 Hard Disk Drives

Let The Games Begin!

The jockeying for position among hard drive makers never seems to end, particularly in the areas of drive capacity and speed. As a result, hard disks have nearly doubled their capabilities over the last few years, in contrast to the performance of CPUs and systems as a whole. But that's no mere anomaly; we expect further improvements and enhancements in the immediate future.

This market is dominated by a handful of vendors that together offer the majority of 3.5" drives for desktop computers: Hitachi, Maxtor, Samsung, Seagate and Western Digital. Vendors such as ExcelStor also play a supporting role in this market, but their products are based on technology that originates with Hitachi.

Maxtor, Seagate and WD also offer external disk drives, ready to hook up to PCs using USB or Firewire ports. This is a logical strategy; the market for conventional 3.5" drives isn't growing as vigorously as it once did, which makes cultivation of additional market niches essential. These offerings not only provide external storage options for backup and flexible data repositories, but also come in smaller form factors too, from 2.5" down to 1". This review does not cover these more petite offerings, however.

When it comes to buying a hard disk, users tend to weigh three factors most heavily: the tradeoff between cost and capacity; performance capability and built-in features and functions; and the vendor's reputation. Other important factors include noise output and heat dissipation, both of which have been the subject of serious improvements in recent years. In general, all drives are pretty quiet these days; other than a quiet hum or whirr from the spindle, only drive head movements contribute to noise output.

Hard disk tests are nothing new for THG, but what's been missing until now has been a general round-up of the models available in today's market. That's why in this test we looked at not only a sizable number of actual drives, we also made sure we covered a good representative selection of makes and models. This will help make a performance comparison across this rather considerable board of candidates as meaningful as possible. All drives had to survive our new test battery, which consists of multiple types of benchmarks and tests.