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Test notes
Benchmarking purists will no doubt cringe at the array of competitors we've lined up today. First, we'll be comparing both 7,200 and 10,000-RPM drives. They're all Serial ATA, of course, but the Western Digital Raptor WD360GD and WD740GD have a spindle speed advantage right out of the gate. However, what the Raptors have in spindle speed they lack in capacity. The WD360GD and WD740GD weigh in at only 37 and 74GB, respectively. That's tiny compared to our 400GB Barracuda 7200.8, 300GB Maxtor DiamondMax 10, and even our 160GB Barracuda 7200.7. Spindle speed obviously has an impact on performance, but in some tests, total drive size may, as well.

Finally, there's the issue of command queuing. Our Maxtor and Seagate 7,200-RPM drives all support Native Command Queuing (NCQ), but the 10K-RPM Raptors do not. The Raptor WD740GD does support a command queuing variant called Tagged Command Queuing (TCQ), but host controllers that support TCQ are few and far between. NVIDIA's nForce4 is currently the only core logic chipset to support TCQ, but NVIDIA's storage controllers have had single-drive performance problems in the past. Host controllers with both NCQ and TCQ support have shown inconsistent performance as well, so we've elected to use a test platform based on Intel's reliable ICH6R south bridge. On the ICH6R, the Raptor WD740GD will have to make do without TCQ.

Seagate makes versions of the 7200.7 with and without NCQ support. Since we used the NCQ version of the drive in our tests, it will appear as "Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ" on the benchmark graphs. The DiamondMax 10 and 7200.8 aren't explicitly labeled as NCQ drives because they're not available without NCQ support.

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

Processor Pentium 4 3.4GHz Extreme Edition
System bus800MHz (200MHz quad-pumped)
Motherboard DFI LANParty 925X-T2
Bios revision925LD920
North bridgeIntel 925X MCH
South bridgeIntel ICH6R
Chipset driversIntel 6.3.0.1007
Memory size1GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory typeMicron DDR2 SDRAM at 533MHz
CAS latency (CL)3
RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)3
RAS precharge (tRP)3
Cycle time (tRAS)8
Audio codecALC880
Graphics Radeon X700 Pro 256MB with CATALYST 5.2 drivers
Hard drives Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 400GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ 160GB SATA
Maxtor DiamondMax 10 300GB SATA
Western Digital Raptor WD360GD 37GB SATA
Western Digital Raptor WD740GD 74GB SATA
Maxtor DiamondMax Plus D740X 40GB ATA/133
OS Windows XP Professional
OS updatesService Pack 2, DirectX 9.0C

All of our test systems were powered by OCZ PowerStream power supply units. The PowerStream was one of our Editor's Choice winners in our latest 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 of the 3D gaming tests used the high detail image quality settings.

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.