Samsung’s Spinpoint F1 hard drive

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.

Test notes
We’ll be comparing the performance of the Spinpoint F1 with that of a slew of competitors, including some of the latest and greatest Serial ATA drives from Hitachi, Maxtor, Samsung, 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 7,200-RPM 8MB 80GB 160GB Yes

Barracuda 7200.8
150MB/s 7,200-RPM 8MB 133GB 400GB Yes

Barracuda 7200.9
(160GB)
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 8MB 160GB 160GB Yes

Barracuda 7200.9
(500GB)
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 125GB 500GB Yes

Barracuda 7200.10
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 188GB 750GB Yes

Barracuda 7200.11
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 250GB 1TB Yes

Barracuda ES
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 188GB 750GB Yes

Barracuda ES.2
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 250GB 1TB Yes

Caviar GP
300MB/s 5,400-7,200-RPM 16MB 250GB 1TB Yes

Caviar SE16
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 83GB 250GB No


Caviar SE16 (500GB)
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 125GB 500GB Yes


Caviar SE16 (750GB)
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 188GB 750GB Yes

Caviar RE2
150MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 100GB 400GB Yes

Caviar RE2 (500GB)
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 125GB 500GB Yes

Deskstar 7K500
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 100GB 500GB Yes

Deskstar 7K1000
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 200GB 1TB Yes

DiamondMax 10
150MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 100GB 300GB Yes

DiamondMax 11
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 125GB 500GB Yes

Raptor WD740GD
150MB/s 10,000RPM 8MB 37GB 74GB No*


Raptor X
150MB/s 10,000RPM 16MB 75GB 150GB Yes


Raptor WD1500ADFD
150MB/s 10,000RPM 16MB 75GB 150GB Yes

RE2

(750GB)

300MB/s

7,200-RPM

16MB

188GB

750GB

Yes

Spinpoint F1
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 334GB 1TB Yes

Spinpoint T
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 133GB 400GB 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 several versions of Western Digital’s Caviar SE16 and RE2. To avoid confusion, we’ll be listing their capacities in parentheses in each of our graphs.

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 other drives 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 2006. The drives still share identical internals, but firmware optimizations could give our newer Raptor an edge over the X in some tests.

Performance data from such a daunting collection of drives can make our graphs a little hard to read, so I’ve highlighted the Spinpoint F1 in bright yellow and its high-capacity competitors—the Barracuda 7200.11 and ES.2, the Deskstar 7K1000, the Caviar GP and RE2-GP, and the Caviar SE16 and RE2 750GB—in pale yellow to set them apart from the others. We also have two sets of IOMeter graphs: one with all the drives, and another with just the Spinpoint F1 and its direct rivals. Most of our analysis will be limited to how the F1 compares with its direct rivals, so it should be easy to follow along.

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

Processor Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz
System bus 800MHz (200MHz quad-pumped)
Motherboard Asus P5WD2 Premium
Bios revision 0422
North bridge Intel 955X MCH
South bridge Intel ICH7R
Chipset drivers Chipset 7.2.1.1003
AHCI/RAID 5.1.0.1022
Memory size 1GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Micron DDR2 SDRAM at 533MHz
CAS latency (CL) 3
RAS to CAS delay (tRCD) 3
RAS precharge (tRP) 3
Cycle time (tRAS) 8
Audio codec ALC882D
Graphics Radeon X700 Pro 256MB with CATALYST 5.7 drivers
Hard drives Hitachi 7K500 500GB SATA
Western Digital Caviar SE16 750GB SATA
Maxtor DiamondMax 10 300GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ 160GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 400GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 160GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 500GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 750GB SATA
Western Digital Caviar SE16 250GB SATA
Western Digital Caviar RE2 400GB SATA
Western Digital Raptor WD740GD 74GB SATA
Western Digital Raptor X 150GB SATA
Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD 150GB SATA
Western Digital Caviar RE2 500GB SATA
Western Digital Caviar SE16 500GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda ES 750GB SATA
Samsung SpinPoint T 400GB SATA
Maxtor DiamondMax 11 500GB SATA
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 1TB SATA
Western Digital RE2 750GB SATA
Western Digital Caviar GP 1TB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB SATA
Seagate Barracuda ES.2 1TB SATA
Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB SATA
OS Windows XP Professional
OS updates Service Pack 2

Thanks to the folks at Newegg for hooking us up with the DiamondMax 11 we used for testing. Also, thanks to NCIX for getting us the Deskstar 7K1000 and Spinpoint F1.

Our test system was powered by OCZ PowerStream power supply units. The PowerStream was one of our Editor’s Choice winners in our last PSU round-up.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

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.

Samsung gets off to a good start with the F1 taking top honors in WorldBench. Of course, it’s not alone at the top, sharing the limelight with a trio of Western Digital drives. Note that the Spinpoint does score better than four other terabyte offerings, though.

Multimedia editing and encoding

MusicMatch Jukebox

Windows Media Encoder

Adobe Premiere

VideoWave Movie Creator

Scores are generally tight through WorldBench’s multimedia editing and encoding tests, with Premiere the only real exception. There, the Spinpoint reigns supreme with a seven-second advantage over its closest competitor and up to 22 seconds over the slowest terabyte drive in the bunch.

Image processing

Adobe Photoshop

ACDSee PowerPack

ACDSee spreads the field a little, and again, the Spinpoint comes out on top. This time it ties a couple of 750GB Western Digital drives, but still maintains a lead over the entire terabyte pack.

Multitasking and office applications

Microsoft Office

Mozilla

Mozilla and Windows Media Encoder

WorldBench’s office and multitasking tests don’t usually tease out performance differences between drives, but the multitasking test sees the Spinpoint stretch its legs a little. The 12-second advantage the F1 has over its closest competitor in that test only works out to about 2%. However, even a small performance gap is notable in a test that produces so few.

Other applications

WinZip

Nero

WinZip and Nero both stress the storage subsystem, and in the former, the Spinpoint climbs to the top of the podium once more. Nero pushes the F1 to third place behind a couple of 750GB drives, but that still puts the Spinpoint ahead of the terabyte field.

Boot and load times
To test system boot and game level load times, we busted out our trusty stopwatch.

For whatever reason, our test system takes its sweet time booting into Windows with terabyte hard drives. The F1 is no exception, although among the terabyte drives we’ve tested, it’s marginally the fastest.

Level load times are mixed for the F1. In Doom 3, the Spinpoint beats its closest rivals and falls short of only a couple of 10K-RPM Raptors. Far Cry sees the Spinpoint in the middle of the field, a couple of seconds off the pace set by the fastest terabyte offering, which in this case is the Deskstar 7K1000.

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.

To make things easier to read, we’ve busted out our FC-Test results into individual graphs for each test pattern. We’ll tackle file creation performance first.

Wins in three of five test patterns get the Spinpoint off to a good start in FC-Test’s file creation tests. Even if the F1 doesn’t manage to top the field with the Install and Windows test patterns, it still manages higher transfer rates than the rest of the terabyte drives.

Apparently unwilling to concede victory in any test pattern in our read tests, the Spinpoint sweeps the field. It does so in style, too, breaking 100MB/s with the ISO test pattern and enjoying a sizable lead over the next fastest drive with each test pattern.

FC-Test – continued
Next, File Copy Test combines read and write tasks with some, er, copy tests.

The Spinpoint’s FC-Test domination continues as we move to file copy tests, where the F1 again runs the table. Seagate’s Barracuda 7200.11 makes it interesting with the ISO test pattern, which includes just a few very large files, but the F1’s margin of victory is otherwise significant.

FC-Test’s second wave of copy tests involves copying files from one partition to another on the same drive.

Copying from partition to partition produces similar results for the F1, which again sweeps the field in dramatic fashion.

iPEAK multitasking
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.

Our initial wave of iPEAK multitasking workloads produces mixed results with the F1. The drive starts off well in the dual file copy test and heads to the front of the class with workloads that involve file copy operations. However, the drive’s performance with workloads that swap our file copy operation for a VirtualDub import is considerably less spectacular. With those workloads, the F1 actually slips behind all of its direct rivals.

iPEAK multitasking – con’t

Through our second wave of iPEAK workloads, the F1 continues to fare much better when we use a file copy operation as our secondary task. When that secondary operation switches to a VirtualDub import, the Spinpoint falls way back, turning in response times slower than all of its closest competitors.

IOMeter – Transaction rate
IOMeter presents a good test case for command queuing. To keep things easy to read, we’ve busted out two sets of graphs here. The first includes the Spinpoint and its closest competitors, while the second has results for all the drives we’ve tested. With over two dozen drives, those latter graphs are a little difficult to read, so we’ll focus our attention on the first set and the F1’s direct rivals.

Samsung doesn’t intend for the Spinpoint F1 to be used in disk-intensive multi-user environments, and looking at the drive’s IOMeter results, it’s easy to see why. Only the Deskstar 7K1000 is slower than the Spinpoint here, and the Hitachi at least makes an effort to ramp transaction rates as we hit the highest loads. The F1’s performance profile is much shallower by comparison, and well off the pace set by the bulk of the pack.

Good luck with these, folks.

IOMeter – Response time

As one might expect, the F1’s IOMeter response times are the lowest of its direct rivals. Things look particularly dire for the Spinpoint under the most demanding loads, which assault the drive with up to 256 concurrent I/O requests.

IOMeter – CPU utilization

Despite low transaction rates and slow response times, the Spinpoint at least manages competitive CPU utilization in IOMeter. However, given how tightly-packed all our drives are, that’s not saying a whole lot.

HD Tach
We tested HD Tach with the benchmark’s full variable zone size setting.

With by far the highest areal density of the lot, it’s no surprise to see the Spinpoint smoke the field in sustained sequential transfer rates. The F1’s closest competition here is Seagate’s Barracuda 7200.11, whose 250GB platters fall 84GB short of those in the F1.

Burst speeds are all about cache performance, and the F1 looks pretty snappy here, as well. Sure, it doesn’t quite match the prowess displayed by the Seagate drives, but the Spinpoint is quicker than the terabyte Deskstar and everything in Western Digital’s stable.

The F1’s 13.7-millisecond HD Tach random access time puts the drive just about exactly in the middle of its closest competitors. This isn’t a bad place to be, although it’s worth noting that both the Caviar GP and RE2-GP spin at significantly less than 7,200RPM.

HD Tach’s CPU utilization results are well within the app’s +/- 2% margin of error in this test.

Noise levels
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.

For all intents and purposes, the Spinpoint F1 is every bit as quiet at idle as Western Digital’s GreenPower drives. That’s an impressive feat considering that the GPs have the luxury of spindle speeds that are much closer to 5,400RPM than 7,200RPM. Noise levels rise as the drive is seeking, and although the Spinpoint is audibly louder than the GreenPower drives here, it’s still quieter than terabyte drives that share its 7,200RPM spindle speed.

Power consumption
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.

Having fewer platters pays off for the Spinpoint in our power consumption tests, where the drive sips less juice than any of our 7,200RPM terabyte contenders. The F1 isn’t quite as power-efficient as Western Digital’s GPs, of course, but that’s to be expected given their lower spindle speed.

Conclusions

The fact that Samsung, a relatively small player in the hard drive market, is the first to offer a three-platter terabyte drive is an impressive feat in itself. But this is more than just a symbolic milestone. The Spinpoint F1 employs its three 334GB platters to provide incredible performance with low power consumption and noise levels.

The transfer rates this drive can sustain are staggering, and as we saw in our FC-Test results, it makes little difference whether you’re throwing the drive a heaping helping of smaller files or just a few extremely large ones. Other terabyte drives—or even Raptors—are simply no match for the F1 if you’re pushing files around. WorldBench performance is good, too, and the Spinpoint fared pretty well in our disk-intensive multitasking tests.

Perhaps more impressive than the F1’s performance are its acoustics, which are surprisingly low. The drive is easily the quietest 7,200-RPM terabyte drive we’ve ever tested, and at idle, its noise levels are all but identical to those of Western Digital’s near-silent GreenPower drives. Having only three platters to propel also helps the F1 achieve the lowest power consumption we’ve seen from a terabyte drive spinning at 7,200RPM.

Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB
February 2008

If the Spinpoint has a weakness, it’s the drive’s performance under multi-user workloads simulated by our IOMeter testing. The F1 just doesn’t scale well as the number of simultaneous I/O requests increases, ruling it out as a candidate for demanding server-class environments. However, this weakness does little to harm the drive’s competency in desktop applications, its true mission in life.

The Spinpoint F1 1TB can currently be had for as little as $270 online, which is a fantastic price given the drive’s blend of blistering performance with blissfully low noise levels. In fact, this drive is such a good value that we’ve given it our coveted Editor’s Choice award. Samsung may not be the first name you associate with hard drives, but if you’re shopping for a high-capacity storage upgrade, the Spinpoint F1 should be at the top of your list.

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JeffC
JeffC
13 years ago

I want to put one of these in a new QNAP TS119 single Drive NAS but I am a bit concerned about the iometer test results that tend to show that this drive does not scale in a multi-user env. I might have one of my daughters streaming MP3’s while someone else streaming video from this source.
I wonder whether the Ecogreen would be better choice? or would suffer the same in this respect?

Jeff

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