VelociRaptor Redux: Now with final firmware

Manufacturer Western Digital
Model VelociRaptor VR150
Price (Street)
Availability Now

Western Digital hatched its latest Raptor back in April, revealing a unique departure from more traditional designs. This leaner, meaner VelociRaptor VR150 is actually a 2.5″ drive sitting inside a heatsink that slides nicely into standard 3.5″ bays. But don’t think you can take this most recent Raptor lightly just because it’s gone on a diet. Despite a smaller form factor, the VelociRaptor still offers 300GB of capacity—twice that of its 3.5″ forebear. The VR150 is also the first Raptor with a 300MB/s Serial ATA interface, and its trademark 10K-RPM spindle speed hasn’t skipped a beat.

Like its predecessors in their prime, the VelociRaptor proved to be the all-around fastest SATA hard drive on the market—and a surprisingly quiet and power-efficient one, at that. However, the drive we used in our initial look at the VR150 was an engineering sample with pre-production firmware. Final, production drives have now made their way onto the market, and we’ve managed to score a retail sample that should be representative of the drives you can buy today.

Naturally, we’ve run this tuned-up VelociRaptor through the wringer to see if it can live up to the Editor’s Choice distinction we awarded the VR150 after our first encounter. Read on to see whether finished firmware reels in the VelociRaptor’s propensity to outrun the competition or if Western Digital has managed to wring even more performance from its radical Raptor redesign.

Test notes
We’ll be comparing the performance of the VelociRaptor with that of a slew of competitors, including some of the latest and greatest Serial ATA drives from Hitachi, Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital. These drives differ when it comes to external transfer rates, spindle speeds, cache sizes, platter densities, 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 7200.11
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 250GB 1TB 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 (640GB)
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 320GB 640GB Yes

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


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


Raptor WD1500ADFD
150MB/s

10,000-RPM 16MB 75GB 150GB Yes

RE2-GP
300MB/s 5,400-7,200-RPM 16MB 250GB 1TB Yes

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

VelociRaptor VR150
300MB/s 10,000-RPM 16MB 150GB 300GB Yes

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 we’ve color-coded our bar graphs based on each drive’s manufacturer. We’ve also used some fancy fade effects to make the VelociRaptor stand out a little from the rest of the pack. You’ll find color-coding in our line graphs, too, but pay close attention, because the colors don’t match our bar charts.

Naturally, we’ve included VelociRaptor engineering sample results from our initial review of the drive. Pay special attention to how these VelociRaptor ES scores compare with those of our final VR150.

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 Western Digital Raptor X 150GB SATA
Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD 150GB SATA
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 1TB SATA

Western Digital RE2-GP 1TB
SATA
Western Digital Caviar GP 1TB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB SATA
Seagate Barracuda ES.2 1TB SATA
Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB SATA
Western Digital Caviar SE16 640GB SATA


Western Digital VelociRaptor VR150 300GB
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.

The VR150 gets off to a somewhat disappointing start in WorldBench, where it scores lower than our engineering sample. One point isn’t much, though.

Multimedia editing and encoding

MusicMatch Jukebox

Windows Media Encoder

Adobe Premiere

VideoWave Movie Creator

Final firmware hasn’t changed the VelociRaptor’s performance much across WorldBench’s multimedia editing and encoding tests. The VR150 gains a few seconds here and loses a couple there, but scores are pretty tight overall.

Image processing

Adobe Photoshop

ACDSee PowerPack

WorldBench’s image processing tasks prove more problematic for the VelociRaptor’s production firmware. The VR150 may only be a few seconds off the pace in ACDSee, but it gets booted from first to last in Photoshop. Even then, the final drive is only 4% slower than the engineering sample.

Multitasking and office applications

Microsoft Office

Mozilla

Mozilla and Windows Media Encoder

The VelociRaptor loses a little more ground in WorldBench’s office and multitasking tests. Scores are still very close across the board, though.

Other applications

WinZip

Nero

Nero and WinZip are the most disk-intensive tests in the WorldBench suite. The early and production VelociRaptors are evenly matched in the former, but the final VR150 manages to extend a bit of a lead in the latter.

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

Western Digital has managed to shave a little more than half a second off the VelociRaptor’s boot time. Its 3.5″ ancestors are still the fastest of the lot, though.

DOOM 3 load times remain unchanged, but the engineering sample proves a little quicker with Far Cry. Even so, the production VelociRaptor still has a two-second lead over its closest rival.

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 separated our FC-Test results into individual graphs for each test pattern. We’ll tackle file creation performance first.

VelociRaptor file creation speeds are lower with the production firmware across all five test patterns. The VR150 remains an absolute beast, though.

What the VelociRaptor lost in our file creation tests it gains back when it comes time to read those files. Not only is the VR150 faster than the engineering sample across the board, it’s faster than any other drive we’ve tested.

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

The production and engineering sample VelociRaptors are mighty close with FC-Test’s file copy workloads. The final firmware takes four out of five test patterns here, and the VR150 remains the fastest drive in the bunch.

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

VelociRaptor domination continues when we look at the partition copy results, where finished firmware is just enough to push the VR150 over the top against Samsung’s Spinpoint F1 with the MP3 test pattern.

iPEAK multitasking
We’ve developed a series of disk-intensive multitasking tests to highlight the impact of seek times and 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.

Although it isn’t the fastest drive with every workload, the production VelociRaptor is consistently quicker than the engineering sample. Again, firmware tweaks allow the VR150 to steal another win from the Spinpoint.

iPEAK multitasking – continued

The VR150 continues to reap the benefits of its final firmware through our second wave of iPEAK workloads. If the VelociRaptors have a preference, it appears to be for multitasking workloads that involve file copy operations.

IOMeter – Transaction rate
IOMeter presents a good test case for both seek times and command queuing.

The VelociRaptor was already a monster in IOMeter, outpacing its predecessor by huge margins under heavy workloads. Final firmware has only made the VR150 more impressive here, particularly under heavier loads.

IOMeter – Response time

The effects of Western Digital’s firmware tuning can be seen when we look at IOMeter response times, which favor the VR150 over our engineering sample. Note that the web server test pattern, which is made up entirely of read operations, remains largely unfazed by the new firmware.

IOMeter – CPU utilization

This one’s a wash, folks.

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

While the VR150’s burst speed is essentially unchanged, WD has managed to squeeze a few more MB/s from the VelociRaptor in HD Tach’s sustained read and write speed drag races.

Random access times have suffered a little, though. Fortunately, the difference is less than half a millisecond.

CPU utilization results are within HD Tach’s +/- 2% margin of error for 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.

Firmware tweaks don’t make the VelociRaptor any quieter at idle, where it’s practically silent. Western Digital’s fiddling has lowered the VR150’s noise levels by more than a decibel and a half under a seek load, though. Well done.

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.

The VelociRaptor’s power consumption is marginally lower with its production firmware. That the VR150 manages such dominant performance while drawing so few watts is nothing short of astounding.

Conclusions

Although the production firmware doesn’t improve the VelociRaptor’s performance in each and every test, the final product is faster overall than the engineering sample drive we looked at a couple of months ago. Western Digital has another monster on its hands, and as we’ve seen, a little firmware tweaking can have a big impact. For most users, the VR150’s improved seek noise levels will likely pay the biggest dividends. However, the drive’s substantial performance gains in IOMeter are even more encouraging.

You see, the Raptor started out as an enterprise-class hard drive targeted at servers and workstations before it was embraced by enthusiasts. Western Digital has managed to keep the Raptor attractive to both audiences, and we expect to see a sled-less version of the VelociRaptor designed for enterprise environments before long. The additional performance WD has been able to wring from the VelociRaptor in IOMeter bodes particularly well for the multi-user workloads common in the enterprise world.

In its final form, then, the VelociRaptor VR150 is more than deserving of its Editor’s Choice award. Raptors have never been the best value on the market, and with a $300 street price, the VR150 is no exception. However, like Raptors that have come before, the VelociRaptor is the fastest all-around Serial ATA hard drive you can buy.

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