Single page Print

Samsung's SpinPoint T hard drive

— 12:00 AM on September 13, 2006

ModelSpinPoint T
Price (street)$154

OF ALL THE COMPANIES producing desktop Serial ATA hard drives, Samsung is perhaps the least aggressive. Unlike Maxtor, Seagate, and Western Digital, which exclusively produce storage products, Samsung has a much more diversified portfolio. LCD monitors, plasma displays, and even semiconductors can have more sex appeal than hard drives, so it's easy to see why Samsung's storage division doesn't get all that much attention. Samsung really has more in common with Hitachi, which among other things, produces hard drives through its Hitachi Global Storage Technology division. Of course, Hitachi has the famous—or more accurately, infamous—Deskstar brand acquired from IBM. Samsung has SpinPoint, a name that even a seasoned PC enthusiast might have a problem placing.

Despite the fact that Samsung's hard drive brand hasn't garnered much attention, the SpinPoint line has developed a small but surprisingly vocal collection of fans in the enthusiast community. Forum threads regularly extol the SpinPoint's affordable price tag, whisper-quiet acoustics, and snappy performance. We even get email asking, practically begging, for us to take Samsung's latest SpinPoints for a, er, spin.

And now we have. The folks at NCIX hooked us up with Samsung's latest desktop Serial ATA offering, the SpinPoint T, and we've run it through our brutal suite of performance, noise, and power consumption tests. Read on to see how the SpinPoint fares against the best Hitachi, Maxtor, Seagate, and Western Digital have to offer.

The drive
Over the past couple of years, hard drive manufacturers have slowly reduced the number of performance specifications published for their drives. However, Samsung apparently has no problem revealing the more intimate specifications of its latest SpinPoint for all to see.

  SpinPoint T
Maximum external transfer rate300MB/s
Maximum media to buffer transfer rate50MB/s
Maximum buffer to media transfer rate125MB/s
Average seek time8.9ms
Average rotational latency4.17ms
Spindle speed7,200RPM
Available capacities300, 320, 400GB
Cache size8MB (320GB)
8/16MB (300, 400GB)
Platter size133GB
Idle acoustics2.7 bels
Random read/write acoustics2.9 bels
Idle power consumption8.4W
Seek power consumption10.5W
Read/write power consumption10.0W
Native Command QueuingYes
Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF)600,000 hours
Warranty lengthThree years

Perhaps the most interesting details are the speeds at which the SpinPoint T can pass data between its 16MB cache and 133GB platters. The drive may have access to a 300MB/s Serial ATA interface, but it doesn't move bits around with nearly that speed internally. This is true for all desktop hard drives, of course, but most manufacturers are considerably more reluctant to talk about it.

The SpinPoint's average seek time and rotational latency are in line with what we'd expect from a drive spinning at 7,200RPM, but Samsung is a little behind the curve on the capacity front. 500GB drives are available from all of Samsung's competitors, and Seagate has even pushed perpendicular recording technology into a 750GB drive, but the SpinPoint T is only available in capacities up to 400GB. However, Samsung is able to hit 400GB with only three platters, so there's less chance of a catastrophic head crash than with a four- or five-platter design.

Reliability is always a concern for hard drives that hold precious data, so we're a little surprised to see Samsung estimate the SpinPoint's Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) at only 600,000 hours. MTBF specs are rarely quoted for desktop drives, making it impossible to compare the SpinPoint to its most direct competitors here. However, it's worth noting that enterprise-class Serial ATA drives like Western Digital's Raptor and Caviar RE2 are rated for a MTBF of 1.2 million hours—double that of the SpinPoint T.

To put things into perspective, 600,000 hours translates to well over 60 years. That leaves little cause for concern, especially when the SpinPoint's service life is only estimated to be five years. That's in line with other desktop Serial ATA drives, as is Samsung's three-year hard drive warranty.

Hard drives aren't usually much to look at, and the SpinPoint T is no exception. However, we couldn't help but notice the fact that the drive's cache is a memory chip from ESMT, or Elite Semiconductor Memory Technology. Samsung has a huge semiconductor business and makes scores of memory chips, so it's curious to see the SpinPoint tap an external source for this chip.