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As always, the introduction of a new drive generation also means that there are new mid-range and low-end models. Deploying higher data densities makes sense across an entire product line, as all the drives will not only be faster than preceding models, it will also be easier for manufacturers to create popular capacity points using fewer platters and moving parts. Manufacturers need high-end, high-capacity models to answer enthusiasts' demands and to stay in the news, but they also need mid-range high volume models. These create revenue, and in this increasingly competitive market, basically make sure that a manufacturer is successful.
You'll certainly have noticed that most mainstream notebooks carry hard drives of a certain capacity. At this point this is still 80 GB, but it's going to shift to 120 GB. That's the amount of data that can currently be stored on a single platter of a 2.5" hard drive - hence this is the so-called "sweet spot" for 2.5" notebook drives. Obviously, a single-platter 120 GB drive will perform as well as the dual-platter 250 GB version, but thanks to the simpler layout, it requires less power and doesn't get as warm.
Power consumption is an issue that requires attention. While the power consumption of notebook drives typically doesn't exceed 5 W, a difference of 1 to 3 W does make a difference in notebooks intended for ultra-mobile use. A few watts' savings may not seem like much, but if you can save that for every key component, you can easily reduce the overall power requirements by a double digit amount of power. Obviously, this will be reflected in a notebook's battery runtime, and having 15 minutes more may be the difference in completing a project or not.
The most energy-efficient drives are those that run at low rotation speeds such as 4,200 RPM - or even 3,600 RPM for 1.8" hard drives. However, enthusiasts will be rather disappointed from their performance, as both access times and transfer rates suffer from the low rotation speed. 5,400 RPM has proven to deliver a good compromise between performance, capacity and power requirements. There have been considerable reductions in power requirements for recent 7,200 RPM notebook drives, but these high-performance units will still require the most power, as you will see in our benchmark section. SATA drives generally require more power than UltraATA models. This might not make a difference for a particular notebook, as you cannot choose the interface anyway, but for external hard drives this factor could be interesting.
Our Mobile HDD Charts include most of the hard drives on the market. Though it won't be possible to always test every drive, the charts provide an excellent resource for you to find your ideal notebook hard disk.