SATA Hard Drives Run Riot: Maxtor, Hitachi, Western Digital 250 GB

Summary: Maxtor And WD Share 2nd Place

The odds of it happening were good, though it was no foregone conclusion: even with a Serial ATA interface, the 7K250 from Hitachi is currently still the best ATA drive. In just about every test, this hard drive finishes a nose ahead of the competition from Maxtor and Western Digital.

It must be mentioned, however, that both of these models have been in service a good deal longer than the Hitachi. Whereas the 7K250 was first available this fall, the 250 GB monsters from Maxtor and WD have been on the market a full six months longer - and these come in attractive external variations to boot.

Hitachi's claim to be in the lead as far as seek time is concerned (Hitachi datasheet) is no exaggeration. While the 7K250 is still a long way from the 10,000 rpm of the Western Digital Raptor, it nonetheless slams all of its major competitors. Hitachi scores well whenever the task is to run databases on the order of several hundred gigabytes at high speed, since so far WD has no market-ready model with more than 36 GB.

Hitachi also demonstrates what can be done in terms of maximum transfer speed, also called interface performance, using conventional technology and a Serial ATA bridge from Marvel: we clocked 112.7 MB/s - a new best value for ATA drives. This lets Hitachi put paid to the popular notion that a solution of this type would entail performance losses.

But enough praise - neither co-competitor was a loser in our comparison test, either. Both Maxtor and Western Digital boast faster minimum transfer rates, for example, which represent the really critical figure for professional audio and video applications: this is namely the data rate that must be achieved for a digital video or multi-track hard disk recording if the entire hard drive is to be used (including the slower, inner clusters). Maxtor and WD share the lead here, as neither the DiamondMax Plus 9 nor the WD2500JD comes in under 31 MB/s.

Other professional apps include fileservers and web servers. In this area Hitachi is tops once again, thanks to the UltraStar drive series that has given it plenty of experience and know-how. The WD2500JD is the second fastest in this category - only Maxtor has not optimized the drive in this discipline. That makes sense, too, since it has the MaXLine Plus II in its portfolio for such purposes.

Under typical conditions in Windows Office programs, the WD2500JB comes out ahead of the others, followed by Maxtor. The Hitachi takes last place here with a nonetheless fine performance. The tables are turned with the Highend Winstone benchmark, but the differences are minimal.

The comparison is like a race between Audi, BMW and Mercedes: the performance level is so high that it's the details that pave the way to victory. Yet unlike with cars, the test results presented here can also be extrapolated to a certain extent to models with smaller capacities.