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Samsung's Spinpoint F1 hard drive

Three platters make a terabyte

Manufacturer Samsung
Model Spinpoint F1 (1TB)
Price (Street)
Availability Now

If asked to name a hard drive manufacturer, most folks are likely to point to Seagate or Western Digital. Some might even mention Hitachi or Maxtor, but Samsung? Probably not. Samsung's hard drives have seemingly been lost in the flurry of flat-screen televisions, cell phones, MP3 players, printers, and other products in the consumer electronics giant's portfolio. That's really a shame, because Samsung's latest Spinpoint F1 hard drive is quite an achievement.

The F1 is Samsung's first stab at the terabyte mark, and it comes to the party a little late. Hitachi's Deskstar 7K1000 first broke the terabyte seal last year, and it was followed by Western Digital's Caviar GP and Seagate's Barracuda 7200.11. However, what makes the F1 special isn't its terabyte capacity, but how Samsung has packed that much storage capacity into the drive. Hitachi achieves a terabyte using five 200GB platters. Seagate and Western Digital use four 250GB platters. Samsung needs only three platters, each of which packs a whopping 334GB.

By squeezing 33% more capacity per platter than its closest competitor, Samsung has bestowed upon the Spinpoint F1 a huge potential performance advantage over its rivals. The lower platter count should also help to lower the drive's power consumption and noise levels and even improve its reliability. This all sounds like a recipe for success, but how does it pan out in the real world? The folks at NCIX hooked us up with a Spinpoint F1 and we've tested it against two dozen other drives to find out, with enlightening results.

The drive
Samsung's 334GB platters are arguably the most important element of the Spinpoint F1 not only because they represent a technical milestone that is a marked improvement over what the competition has been able to accomplish to date, but because areal density plays a large role in defining a hard drive's performance. Areal density is a measure of bits per unit area; the more gigabytes one can squeeze onto a hard drive platter, the higher its areal density. This factor influences performance perspective because higher areal densities allow the drive head to access more data over shorter physical distances, which can lead to higher sequential transfer rates.

Maximum external transfer rate 300MB/s
Maximum internal transfer rate 175MB/s
Average rotational latency 4.17ms
Average read seek time 8.9ms
Spindle speed 7,200RPM
Available capacities 320, 500, 750GB, 1TB
Cache size 8MB (320, 500GB)
16MB (320, 500, 750GB, 1TB)
32MB (750GB, 1TB)
Platter size 334GB
Idle acoustics 2.45-2.7 bels
Seek acoustics 2.75-2.9 bels
Idle power consumption 5.4-8.2W
Seek power consumption 9.5-13.4W
Read/write power consumption 8.0-9.5W
Warranty length Three years
Component design life Five years

Given its use of 334GB platters, you would think Samsung would offer two additional F1 variants to accompany the terabyte model: a 334GB model using a single platter and a two-platter model with 668GB of capacity. And you would be wrong. Instead, Samsung is sticking to the industry-standard capacities embraced by its competitors, extending the F1 down to 750, 500, and 320GB. It's hard to see the rationale behind such a move. Those lower capacities leave a respective 250, 168, and 14GB of unused platter capacity on the table, which strikes us as unnecessarily wasteful.

In addition to the various capacities, Samsung offers the F1 with between 8 and 32MB of cache. 32MB is reserved for high-end models with 750GB and 1TB of capacity, but every drive in the range is available with 16MB. They all spin at 7,200RPM, as well—a feat not yet matched by Western Digital's terabyte offerings.

We've already discussed how the F1's areal density can improve transfer rates and allow for terabyte capacities with fewer platters, but there are further benefits to be reaped in the area of power consumption. With only three platters, the Spinpoint's drive motor has less weight to spin, which takes less energy and thus consumes less power. We've also found that drives with fewer platters tend to generate less noise than those with more, likely because drive motors tend to run louder the harder they're working.

There's even a potential reliability benefit to a drive with fewer platters. Head crashes are the most catastrophic of common hard drive failures. With fewer platters presenting themselves as potential candidates for warping or targets for a wandering drive head, the F1 has a statistically lower chance of failure than drives with four or five platters. That assumes, of course, that all other elements within the drive are equal, which they're not.

Even so, that's a good segue into Samsung's warranty coverage for the F1, which lasts for three years—the de facto industry standard for desktop hard drives. Interestingly, the F1's component design life specifications suggest the drive should last an additional two years before it begins to degrade.