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Test notes
The older nature of our hard drive test system has ruffled feathers recently, but it should more than suffice for our purposes today. While this rig is built around a Pentium 4 processor and 955X chipset running Windows XP, that's been more than enough horsepower to wring impressive performances from Intel's wicked-fast X25-E enterprise-class SSD, Western Digital's latest 10k-RPM VelociRaptor, and the fastest mechanical desktop drives from Hitachi, Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital. Surely, this system can keep up with a handful of 500GB notebook drives.

It's also worth noting that the Serial ATA specification hasn't changed since this test system was put together. Intel's ICH7R south bridge may be a few generations old, but its storage controller is virtually identical to what you'll find inside the latest ICH10R. In fact, notebook-specific chipsets typically use mobile versions of older south bridge chips. For example, Intel's most recent performance-oriented mobile chipset, the GS45 Express, draws its south bridge component from the ICH9 family.

We've observed that some solid-state drives handle Windows XP better than others. XP was designed with mechanical storage in mind, and its default partition offset apparently creates problems with some SSD architectures. That won't be an issue for our mechanical drives, nor is it troublesome for the Intel X25-M SSD we've included in the results as a point of reference. According to Intel, the X25-M is alignment-agnostic, so it doesn't require special tuning under Windows XP. The test results we've included from the X25-M are from the drive in a used rather than factory-fresh state, to best illustrate how it will perform with prolonged use.

That said, we do have a new storage test platform cranking away. Stay tuned.

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

Processor Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz
System bus 800MHz (200MHz quad-pumped)
Motherboard Asus P5WD2 Premium
Bios revision 0422
North bridge Intel 955X MCH
South bridge Intel ICH7R
Chipset drivers Chipset 7.2.1.1003
AHCI/RAID 5.1.0.1022
Memory size 1GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Micron DDR2 SDRAM at 533MHz
CAS latency (CL) 3
RAS to CAS delay (tRCD) 3
RAS precharge (tRP) 3
Cycle time (tRAS) 8
Audio codec ALC882D
Graphics Radeon X700 Pro 256MB with CATALYST 5.7 drivers
Hard drives Intel X25-M 80GB with 8820 firmware
Hitachi Travelstar 7K500.B
Samsung Spinpoint M7
Seagate Momentus 5400.6
Seagate Momentus 7200.4
Western Digital Scorpio Blue
OS Windows XP Professional
OS updates Service Pack 2

Our test system was powered by an OCZ PowerStream power supply unit.

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.