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Test notes
Today we'll be testing the Caviar SE16 against a wide range of Serial ATA hard drives. Not all drives are created equal, though. Differences in external transfer rates, spindle speeds, cache sizes, NCQ support, and capacity can have an impact on performance in certain tests. Keep in mind the following differences as we move through our benchmarks:

  Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ Barracuda 7200.8 Caviar SE16 Deskstar T7K250 DiamondMax 10 Raptor WD740GD
Max external transfer rate150MB/s150MB/s300MB/s300MB/s150MB/s150MB/s
Spindle speed7,200RPM7,200RPM7,200RPM7,200RPM7,200RPM10,000RPM
Cache size8MB8MB16MB8MB16MB8MB
Capacity160GB400GB250GB250GB300GB74GB
Native Command Queuing?YesYesNoYesYesNo*

The Raptor's 10,000RPM spindle speed gives it a big advantage over the Caviar SE16 and the other 7,200-RPM drives. Technically, the Raptor is an enterprise-class drive, but as enthusiasts, we've never shied away from using enterprise gear in our personal systems.

We've noted that Western Digital decided not to support Native Command Queuing on the Caviar SE16, but we should note that the Raptor also lacks NCQ support. The drive does support a form of command queuing known as Tagged Command Queuing (TCQ), but host controller and chipset support for TCQ is still pretty thin. Our Intel 955X-based test platform doesn't support TCQ, either.

Since Seagate makes versions of the 7200.7 with and without NCQ support, our 7200.7 appears as the "Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ" to clarify that it's the NCQ version of the drive. The Deskstar T7K250, DiamondMax 10, 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 Asus P5WD2 Premium
Bios revision0205
North bridgeIntel 955X MCH
South bridgeIntel ICH7R
Chipset driversIntel 7.0.0.1019
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 codecALC882D
Graphics Radeon X700 Pro 256MB with CATALYST 5.4 drivers
Hard drives Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 400GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ 160GB SATA
Maxtor DiamondMax 10 300GB SATA
Western Digital Caviar SE16 250GB SATA
Western Digital Raptor WD740GD 74GB SATA
HGST T7K250 250GB 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.