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Western Digital's Caviar SE16 hard drive


Beluga?
— 12:00 AM on June 30, 2005

ManufacturerWestern Digital
ModelCaviar SE16
Price (250GB)
AvailabilityNow

300MB PER SECOND Serial ATA transfer rates are all the rage these days. Cutting-edge core logic like Intel's ICH7 south bridge chips and NVIDIA's nForce4 family support the faster I/O interface, and hard drives are beginning to follow suit—not that a faster interface is really needed. Even 15K-RPM SCSI drives struggle to sustain transfer rates that would saturate a 150MB/s Serial ATA pipe.

Western Digital's Caviar SE16 is the latest hard drive to jump on the 300MB/s bandwagon, and fortunately, this Caviar is sporting more than just support for a faster Serial ATA interface. The drive also features a beefy 16MB cache and a stealthy all-black aesthetic that's unlike any other hard drive on the market. Curiously, though, Western Digital has elected not to support Native Command Queuing (NCQ) on its latest high-performance desktop drive. Will that decision hurt the new Caviar's chances against the latest NCQ-equipped Serial ATA drives from Hitachi, Maxtor, and Seagate? Let's find out.


Read the label carefully, only the WD2500KS is a Caviar SE16

Drive specs
Although we'll be focusing our attention on the Caviar SE16, Western Digital has actually updated its entire Serial ATA Caviar SE line to support 300MB/s transfer rates. As far as their spec sheets go, the Caviar SE and SE16 are largely similar. However, a couple of important distinctions differentiate the SE16 from the rest of the Caviar SE family.

  Caviar SE16 Caviar SE
Maximum external transfer rate300MB/s
Internal transfer rate93.5MB/s
Average read seek time8.9ms
Average rotational latency4.20ms
Spindle speed7,200RPM
Cache size16MB 8MB
Platter size83GB
Available capacities250GB80, 120, 160, 250GB
Idle acoustics28dBA26dBA
Seek acoustics33dBA31dBA
Idle power consumption8.75W
Seek power consumption9.5W
Native Command Queuing?No
Warranty lengthOne year (Retail)
Three years (OEM)

Most notably, the Caviar SE16 has 16MB of on-board cache, double that of the rest of the Caviar SE line. The SE16 is also only available in 250GB capacities, which saves cheapskates like me from choosing a drive capacity based on the most favorable cost/gigabyte ratio.

Apart from cache size and capacity, the Caviar SE16's vitals are virtually identical to those of Western Digital's 300MB/s Caviar SEs. Make sure you get the right drive, though, as the model numbers can be confusing. The Caviar SE16's model number is the WD2500KS, while the Caviar SE is tagged as the WD2500JS. What a difference a letter makes.

It's really no surprise that the Caviar SE and SE16 share similar model numbers considering the fact that they both spin 80GB platters at 7,200RPM. The relatively low-density platters are a bit of a surprise, especially considering that Western Digital's competitors have pushed areal densities up to 133GB per platter. Higher areal densities can translate to faster performance by allowing drive heads to access a greater amount of data over shorter physical distances. According to Western Digital, the SE16 is simply an 80GB platter drive with a new logic board.

In addition to snubbing higher density platters, the Caviar SE16 also lacks support for Native Command Queuing (NCQ). Command queuing can improve drive efficiency and potentially performance by intelligently reordering I/O requests to reduce rotational latency, but Western Digital claims that adding NCQ to the SE16 would hurt sequential read and write performance. The fact that Intel's vanilla ICH7 south bridge doesn't support NCQ is also cited as a justification for the SE16's lack of command queuing support, although it's odd that Western Digital would use a mainstream south bridge spec to determine features for its "highest performance" desktop drive.

Moving to warranties, the Caviar SE16 is covered by a three-year pact, but only when bought as a bare drive. Retail drive kits, which are usually more expensive, are inexplicably only covered by a one-year warranty.

Normally, I'd preface our snapshots of the Caviar SE16 with a snooty comment about how it looks like every other hard drive, but surprisingly, it doesn't. The Caviar SE16's look isn't wildly different, but a little goes a long way in a sea of look-alike hard drives.


Western Digital has gone with an all-black motif for the Caviar SE16, which really only involves coloring a normally bare metal plate on the drive. We're hardly slaves to fashion, but the stealthy look is a nice change of pace, and something that modders with case windows will no doubt appreciate.


Flipping the Caviar reveals a little bit of color, although Western Digital hasn't gone so far as to equip the drive with a black logic board. Interestingly, the drive's circuit board faces inward rather than outward, hiding surface-mounted chips from prying eyes.