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Our test methods
The Twins have been testing a collection of drives furiously for the last couple of weeks in preparation for this review. Unfortunately, I had to start all over again a week ago after discovering an issue with Intel's latest storage controller drivers for the P55 chipset. Our test systems are now running the Microsoft AHCI driver built into Windows 7, although as you'll see, it presents another set of challenges.

I had hoped to have a broader range of comparative results in this review, but even with dual test systems, there was only time to test a few competitors. Here's a look at some key specifications of the rivals we've selected to go up against the new VelociRaptor.

Interface speed Spindle speed Cache size Platter capacity Total capacity
Caviar Black 2TB 3Gbps 7,200 RPM 64MB 500GB 2TB
Nova V128 3Gbps NA 64MB NA 128GB
VelociRaptor VR150M 3Gbps 10,000 RPM 16MB 150GB 300GB
VelociRaptor VR200M 6Gbps 10,000 RPM 32MB 200GB 600GB
X25-M G2 3Gbps NA 32MB NA 160GB

As you can see, the VR200M is the only drive of the bunch with a 6Gbps SATA interface. We've tested the drive connected to the P55's 3Gbps SATA controller and to the 6Gbps Marvell chip running its latest 1.0.0.1027 drivers. All the other drives were tested on the P55's SATA controller.

Naturally, we had to pit the VR200M against its VR150M predecessor. With other hard drive makers shying away from 10k-RPM SATA drives, the old VelociRaptor is actually the new drive's most comparable rival. We've also thrown Western Digital's Caviar Black 2TB into the mix to represent the 7,200-RPM crowd. The Black offers the best overall performance of any 7,200-RPM drive, and the high areal density of its 500GB platters should give the VelociRaptor a good challenge with sequential transfers.

Since the VelociRaptor faces a storage market flooded with solid-state drives, we've added a couple of SSDs to the mix. Intel's X25-M G2 160GB has been a favorite of ours since its release, and we've tested the drive with its latest 02HD firmware. Also included is Corsair's Nova V128. The Nova is a new spin on Indilinx's popular Barefoot controller, and we'll be taking a closer look at it in an upcoming SSD round-up. As far as performance is concerned, we expect the Nova to be roughly representative of other Indilinx-based drives.

I know what you're thinking: but what about newer SSDs like Crucial's RealSSD C300 and all that new SandForce-based hotness that was on display at CES? The only SandForce-based model you can actually buy at the moment is OCZ's limited-edition Vertex LE, which the company tells me is nearly sold out already. We'll be taking a closer look at SandForce-based drives when mass-market models arrive. We'll also be testing the RealSSD C300 but are currently waiting on Crucial to finish a firmware update that's supposed to address some performance issues with the drive. Expect these and other SSDs, including fresh entries from Intel, Kingston, Plextor, and Western Digital, to appear in an upcoming article.

The block-rewrite penalty inherent to SSDs and the TRIM command designed to offset it both complicate our testing somewhat, so I should explain our methods with respect to the Nova and X25-M in greater detail. Before testing the drives, each was returned to a factory-fresh state with a secure erase. Next, we fired up HD Tune and ran full-disk read and write speed tests. The TRIM command requires that drives have a file system in place, but since HD Tune requires an unpartitioned drive, TRIM won't be a factor in those tests.

After HD Tune, we partitioned the drives and kicked off our usual IOMeter scripts, which are now aligned to 4KB sectors. When running on a partitioned drive, IOMeter first fills it with a single file, firmly putting SSDs into a used state in which all of their flash pages have been occupied. We deleted that file before moving onto our file copy tests, after which we restored an image to each drive for some application testing. Incidentally, creating and deleting IOMeter's full-disk file and the associated partition didn't affect HD Tune transfer rates or access times.

According to Microsoft, the TRIM command is invoked whenever files are deleted. Flash pages housing data that have been deleted are marked as available, but it's up to the SSD to decide when to actually erase those pages. A solid-state drive may clear pages at its leisure and is likely to do so in conjunction with subsequent writes and its own garbage-collection and wear-leveling algorithms. Our methods should ensure that each SSD is tested on an even, used-state playing field. However, differences in how eagerly an SSD elects to erase trimmed flash pages could affect performance in our tests and in the real world.

With few exceptions, all tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of the scores produced. We used the following system configuration for testing:

Processor Intel Core i5-750 2.66GHz
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD7
Bios revision F4
Chipset Intel P55 Express
Chipset drivers Chipset 9.1.1.1015
Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type OCZ Platinum DDR3-1333 at 1333MHz
Memory timings 7-7-7-20-1T
Audio Realtek ALC889A with 2.42 drivers
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon HD 4850 1GB with Catalyst 10.2 drivers
Hard drives Western Digital VelociRaptor VR200M
Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB
Western Digital VelociRaptor VR150M
Corsair Nova V128 128GB with 1.0 firmware
Intel X25-M G2 160GB with 02HD firmware
Power supply OCZ Z-Series 550W
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems' Windows desktop was set at 1280x1024 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

Most of 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.