Despite the fact that Samsung’s hard drive brand hasn’t garnered much attention, the SpinPoint line has developed a small but surprisingly vocal collection of fans in the enthusiast community. Forum threads regularly extol the SpinPoint’s affordable price tag, whisper-quiet acoustics, and snappy performance. We even get email asking, practically begging, for us to take Samsung’s latest SpinPoints for a, er, spin.
And now we have. The folks at NCIX hooked us up with Samsung’s latest desktop Serial ATA offering, the SpinPoint T, and we’ve run it through our brutal suite of performance, noise, and power consumption tests. Read on to see how the SpinPoint fares against the best Hitachi, Maxtor, Seagate, and Western Digital have to offer.
Over the past couple of years, hard drive manufacturers have slowly reduced the number of performance specifications published for their drives. However, Samsung apparently has no problem revealing the more intimate specifications of its latest SpinPoint for all to see.
|Maximum external transfer rate||300MB/s|
|Maximum media to buffer transfer rate||50MB/s|
|Maximum buffer to media transfer rate||125MB/s|
|Average seek time||8.9ms|
|Average rotational latency||4.17ms|
|Available capacities||300, 320, 400GB|
|Cache size||8MB (320GB)
8/16MB (300, 400GB)
|Idle acoustics||2.7 bels|
|Random read/write acoustics||2.9 bels|
|Idle power consumption||8.4W|
|Seek power consumption||10.5W|
|Read/write power consumption||10.0W|
|Native Command Queuing||Yes|
|Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF)||600,000 hours|
|Warranty length||Three years|
Perhaps the most interesting details are the speeds at which the SpinPoint T can pass data between its 16MB cache and 133GB platters. The drive may have access to a 300MB/s Serial ATA interface, but it doesn’t move bits around with nearly that speed internally. This is true for all desktop hard drives, of course, but most manufacturers are considerably more reluctant to talk about it.
The SpinPoint’s average seek time and rotational latency are in line with what we’d expect from a drive spinning at 7,200RPM, but Samsung is a little behind the curve on the capacity front. 500GB drives are available from all of Samsung’s competitors, and Seagate has even pushed perpendicular recording technology into a 750GB drive, but the SpinPoint T is only available in capacities up to 400GB. However, Samsung is able to hit 400GB with only three platters, so there’s less chance of a catastrophic head crash than with a four- or five-platter design.
Reliability is always a concern for hard drives that hold precious data, so we’re a little surprised to see Samsung estimate the SpinPoint’s Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) at only 600,000 hours. MTBF specs are rarely quoted for desktop drives, making it impossible to compare the SpinPoint to its most direct competitors here. However, it’s worth noting that enterprise-class Serial ATA drives like Western Digital’s Raptor and Caviar RE2 are rated for a MTBF of 1.2 million hours—double that of the SpinPoint T.
To put things into perspective, 600,000 hours translates to well over 60 years. That leaves little cause for concern, especially when the SpinPoint’s service life is only estimated to be five years. That’s in line with other desktop Serial ATA drives, as is Samsung’s three-year hard drive warranty.
Hard drives aren’t usually much to look at, and the SpinPoint T is no exception. However, we couldn’t help but notice the fact that the drive’s cache is a memory chip from ESMT, or Elite Semiconductor Memory Technology. Samsung has a huge semiconductor business and makes scores of memory chips, so it’s curious to see the SpinPoint tap an external source for this chip.
We’ll be comparing the performance of the SpinPoint T with that of a slew of competitors, including some of the latest and greatest Serial ATA drives from Hitachi, Maxtor, Seagate, and Western Digital. These drives differ when it comes to external transfer rates, spindle speeds, cache sizes, platter densities, NCQ support, and capacity, all of which can have an impact on performance. Keep in mind the following differences as we move through our benchmarks:
|Max external transfer rate||Spindle speed||Cache size||Platter size||Capacity||Native Command Queuing?|
|Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ||150MB/s||7,200RPM||8MB||80GB||160GB||Yes|
|Barracuda 7200.9 (160GB)||300MB/s||7,200RPM||8MB||160GB||160GB||Yes|
|Barracuda 7200.9 (500GB)||300MB/s||7,200RPM||16MB||125GB||500GB||Yes|
|Caviar SE16 (500GB)||300MB/s||7,200RPM||16MB||125GB||500GB||Yes|
|Caviar RE2 (500GB)||300MB/s||7,200RPM||16MB||125GB||500GB||Yes|
Note that the 250GB Caviar SE16 and the Raptor WD740GD lack support for Native Command Queuing. The WD740GD does support a form of command queuing known as Tagged Command Queuing (TCQ), but host controller and chipset support for TCQ is pretty thin. Our Intel 955X-based test platform doesn’t support TCQ.
We have test results from older and newer versions of Western Digital’s Caviar SE16 and RE2. To avoid confusion, we’ll be referring to the newer drives as the Caviar RE2 (500GB) and Caviar SE16 (500GB), while the old drives will appear as the Caviar RE2 and Caviar SE16.
Since Seagate makes versions of the 7200.7 both with and without NCQ support, the 7200.7 in our tests appears as the “Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ” to clarify that it’s the NCQ version of the drive. The Caviar RE2, Deskstar T7K250, DiamondMax 10, 7200.8, 7200.9, 7200.10, ES, Raptor X, and Raptor WD1500ADFD aren’t explicitly labeled as NCQ drives because they’re not available without NCQ support.
Finally, we should note that our WD1500ADFD has a slightly newer firmware revision than the Raptor X sample we’ve had since February. The drives still share identical internals, but firmware optimizations could give our newer Raptor an edge over the X in some tests.
Our testing methods
All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged, using the following test system.
Thanks to the folks at NCIX for hooking us up with the SpinPoint T we used for testing. NCIX is currently one of only a handful of vendors actually selling versions of the drive with a 400GB capacity and 16MB of cache.
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- WorldBench 5.0
- Intel IOMeter v2004.07.30
- Xbit Labs File Copy Test v1.0 beta 13
- TCD Labs HD Tach v3.01
- Far Cry v1.3
- DOOM 3
- Intel iPEAK Storage Performance Toolkit 3.0
The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 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.
WorldBench overall performance
WorldBench uses scripting to step through a series of tasks in common Windows applications. It then produces an overall score. WorldBench also spits out individual results for its component application tests, allowing us to compare performance in each. We’ll look at the overall score, and then we’ll show individual application results alongside the results from some of our own application tests.
The SpinPoint T gets off to a good start, matching the Barracuda 7200.10 at the top of the 7,200-RPM field in WorldBench. Western Digital’s latest 10k-RPM Raptors are faster, of course, but only by one point.
Multimedia editing and encoding
Windows Media Encoder
VideoWave Movie Creator
Adobe Premiere is the only multimedia editing and encoding test to stress our drives, and the SpinPoint slots in just behind the Raptors at the head of the class.
The SpinPoint scores a win in Photoshop, but times are nearly identical for all the drives. They’re not in ACDSee, where the SpinPoint stumbles a little to the middle of the pack.
Multitasking and office applications
Mozilla and Windows Media Encoder
Performance barely varies through WorldBench’s office and multitasking tests.
However, the SpinPoint finds itself near the front of a widely dispersed field in Nero, trailing only Western Digital’s latest Raptors. The field is also spread in WinZip, but in that test the SpinPoint only manages to crawl to the middle of the bunch.
Boot and load times
To test system boot and game level load times, we busted out our trusty stopwatch.
Despite a strong showing in WorldBench, the SpinPoint’s system boot and level load times aren’t particularly inspiring.
File Copy Test
File Copy Test is a pseudo-real-world benchmark that times how long it takes to create, read, and copy files in various test patterns. File copying is tested twice: once with the source and target on the same partition, and once with the target on a separate partition. Scores are presented in MB/s.
The SpinPoint T turns in a very strong performance in FC-Test’s file creation tests. Samsung has the fastest drive of the lot with the windows and programs test patterns, which include a larger number of smaller files. Even with the other test patterns, which tend to favor a smaller number of larger files, the SpinPoint performs exceptionally well.
FC-Test continues to be fertile ground for the SpinPoint, which often finds itself at or near the front of the field in the file read tests. Only the 10K-RPM Raptors and perpendicular-powered Barracuda ES and 7200.10 are able to consistently challenge the SpinPoint across all five test patterns.
Samsung continues its strong showing in FC-Test with solid performances in the copy and partition copy tests.
We’ve developed a series of disk-intensive multitasking tests to highlight the impact of command queuing on hard drive performance. You can get the low-down on these iPEAK-based tests here. The mean service time of each drive is reported in milliseconds, with lower values representing better performance.
The SpinPoint T produces a stunning result in our dual file copy test, but soon falls into the same performance pattern that plagues Seagate’s Barracuda line. Performance with iPEAK multitasking loads that involve a file copy operation as the secondary task is very strong, but when that secondary task switches to a VirtualDub import, the SpinPoint is comparatively much slower.
iPEAK multitasking – con’t
Our second round of iPEAK results play out like the first. The SpinPoint is among the fastest drives with file copy operations as a secondary task, but much less impressive with a VirtualDub import.
IOMeter – Transaction rate
IOMeter presents a good test case for command queuing, so the NCQ-less Western Digital Caviar SE16 and Raptor WD740GD should have a slight disadvantage here under higher loads.
Were it not for the Deskstar 7K500, the SpinPoint T would be the slowest drive in IOMeter. However, even the Deskstar has a breakout performance in the read-dominated web server test pattern. The SpinPoint is slow throughout.
IOMeter – Response time
The SpinPoint languishes in last place when we look at IOMeter response times.
IOMeter – CPU utilization
CPU utilization is low across the board in IOMeter, so there’s little room for the SpinPoint to differentiate itself.
We tested HD Tach with the benchmark’s full variable zone size setting.
Hard drives don’t usually change relative position between HD Tach’s sustained read and write speed tests, but the SpinPoint fares a little better in the former. I suspect the drive’s superior buffer from media transfer rate deserves some of the credit for that.
Burst performance on the SpinPoint T is a little lower than that of the other drives. In fact, only Western Digital’s older Caviar SE16 makes less use of its 300MB/s Serial ATA interface.
Samsung turns in the slowest access times of the bunch. Even among its 7,200-RPM competition, the SpinPoint a full two milliseconds behind.
CPU utilization scores are well within HD Tach’s +/- 2% margin for error in this test.
Noise levels were measured with an Extech 407727 Digital Sound Level meter 1″ from the side of the drives at idle and under an HD Tach seek load. Drives were run with the PCB facing up.
Although it’s one of the quietest drives we’ve ever tested, the SpinPoint T can’t match the incredibly low seek noise levels of Western Digital’s latest Caviars. Still, that makes the Samsung drive quieter than most of Seagate’s stable, as well as drives from Maxtor and Hitachi.
For our power consumption tests, we measured the voltage drop across a 0.1-ohm resistor placed in line with the 5V and 12V lines connected to each drive. Through the magic of Ohm’s Law, we were able to calculate the power draw from each voltage rail and add them together for the total power draw of the drive.
The SpinPoint’s power consumption is reasonably low at idle and under a seek load.
Going into this review, I didn’t know quite what to expect from the SpinPoint T. Rabid forum fanboys make a lot of the SpinPoint line’s low noise levels, and for the most part, the SpinPoint T delivers on that front. It’s not the quietest drive we’ve tested, but noise levels are lower than most of its competitors.
More impressive than the SpinPoint T’s noise levels is its performance in WorldBench and FC-Test, which do a pretty good job of simulating typical desktop workloads. The SpinPoint doesn’t have fancy perpendicular recording technology or a blistering 10k-RPM spindle speed, but it easily holds its own against the fastest Serial ATA drives on the market in those tests.
Unfortunately, the SpinPoint’s performance becomes less impressive when we move to more demanding tests. Much like Seagate’s Barracudas, the drive suffers from a split personality in our iPEAK multitasking tests, excelling with some workloads while faltering with others. The SpinPoint is also painfully slow under multi-user IOMeter loads, which makes the drive poorly suited for demanding workstation or server environments.
Performance aside, the SpinPoint T’s biggest problem may ultimately be its limited availability. We were able to find plenty of SpinPoints for sale online, but the HD401LJ model we used for testing (400GB capacity, 16MB cache, 300MB/s interface) appears to be considerably scarcer. You can buy the drive at NCIX for just over $154—a pretty good price considering the SpinPoint’s capacity, features, and performance—but good luck finding the drive elsewhere. Seriously, good luck; the SpinPoint T is worth checking out for those looking for a speedy, quiet drive for desktop and home theater PC applications.