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Test notes
We'll be comparing the performance of the Caviar SE16 640GB with that of a slew of competitors, including some of the latest and greatest Serial ATA drives from Hitachi, Maxtor, Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital. These drives differ when it comes to external transfer rates, spindle speeds, cache sizes, platter densities, NCQ support, and capacity, all of which can have an impact on performance. Keep in mind the following differences as we move through our benchmarks:

Max external transfer rate Spindle speed Cache size Platter size Capacity Native Command Queuing?
Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ 150MB/s 7,200-RPM 8MB 80GB 160GB Yes
Barracuda 7200.8 150MB/s 7,200-RPM 8MB 133GB 400GB Yes
Barracuda 7200.9 (160GB) 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 8MB 160GB 160GB Yes
Barracuda 7200.9 (500GB) 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 125GB 500GB Yes
Barracuda 7200.10 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 188GB 750GB Yes
Barracuda 7200.11 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 250GB 1TB Yes
Barracuda ES 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 188GB 750GB Yes
Barracuda ES.2 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 250GB 1TB Yes
Caviar GP 300MB/s 5,400-7,200-RPM 16MB 250GB 1TB Yes
Caviar SE16 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 83GB 250GB No
Caviar SE16 (500GB) 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 125GB 500GB Yes
Caviar SE16 (640GB) 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 320GB 640GB Yes
Caviar SE16 (750GB) 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 188GB 750GB Yes
Caviar RE2 150MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 100GB 400GB Yes
Caviar RE2 (500GB) 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 125GB 500GB Yes
Deskstar 7K500 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 100GB 500GB Yes
Deskstar 7K1000 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 200GB 1TB Yes
DiamondMax 10 150MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 100GB 300GB Yes
DiamondMax 11 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 125GB 500GB Yes
Raptor WD740GD 150MB/s 10,000RPM 8MB 37GB 74GB No*
Raptor X 150MB/s 10,000RPM 16MB 75GB 150GB Yes
Raptor WD1500ADFD 150MB/s 10,000RPM 16MB 75GB 150GB Yes
RE2 (750GB) 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 188GB 750GB Yes
Spinpoint F1 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 334GB 1TB Yes
Spinpoint T 300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 133GB 400GB Yes

Note that the 250GB Caviar SE16 and the Raptor WD740GD lack support for Native Command Queuing. The WD740GD does support a form of command queuing known as Tagged Command Queuing (TCQ), but host controller and chipset support for TCQ is pretty thin. Our Intel 955X-based test platform doesn't support TCQ.

We have test results from several versions of Western Digital's Caviar SE16 and RE2. To avoid confusion, we'll be listing their capacities in parentheses in each of our graphs.

Since Seagate makes versions of the 7200.7 both with and without NCQ support, the 7200.7 in our tests appears as the "Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ" to clarify that it's the NCQ version of the drive. The other drives aren't explicitly labeled as NCQ drives because they're not available without NCQ support.

Finally, we should note that our WD1500ADFD has a slightly newer firmware revision than the Raptor X sample we've had since February 2006. The drives still share identical internals, but firmware optimizations could give our newer Raptor an edge over the X in some tests.

Performance data from such a daunting collection of drives can make our graphs a little hard to read, so we've highlighted the Caviar SE16 640GB in bright yellow. To frame the drive against its most recent competition, we've also highlighted the Barracuda 7200.11 and ES.2, the Deskstar 7K1000, the SpinPoint F1, the Caviar GP and RE2-GP, and the Caviar SE16 and RE2 750GB in pale yellow. We have two sets of IOMeter graphs, as well: one with all the drives, and another with just the Caviar and its direct rivals. Most of our analysis will be limited to how the new SE16 compares with its direct rivals, so it should be easy to follow along.

Our testing methods
All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged, using the following test system.

Thanks to the folks at Newegg for hooking us up with the DiamondMax 11 we used for testing. Also, thanks to NCIX for getting us the Deskstar 7K1000 and Spinpoint F1.

Our test system was powered by OCZ PowerStream power supply units. The PowerStream was one of our Editor's Choice winners in our last PSU round-up.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems' Windows desktop was set at 1280x1024 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.