Western Digital’s Caviar Black hard drive

Manufacturer Western Digital
Model Caviar Black 1TB
Price (Street)
Availability Now

While Seagate grabs headlines as the market share leader in the hard drive world, lately we’ve been more impressed with Western Digital’s portfolio. The company’s Black and Blue Scorpios fared very well in our latest mobile storage round-up, outpacing rival Momentus drives from Seagate. Then there’s the radically redesigned VelociRaptor, which recently raised the bar for Serial ATA hard drive performance while riding a bold new form factor. For enthusiasts, the Caviar SE16 640GB offers the best blend of performance, capacity, noise levels, and overall value of any 7,200-RPM desktop drive. And let’s not forget the power-efficient and nearly silent “GreenPower” Caviar GP drives with terabyte capacities.

The GreenPower line’s prodigiously low power consumption is achieved by dialing back spindle speeds, but that sacrifices performance, and it ultimately cost WD the title of fastest terabyte on the block. Somewhat surprisingly, Western Digital was apparently in no hurry spinning a terabyte up to full speed. Indeed, the new Caviar Black 1TB is the last 7,200-RPM drive to reach the terabyte mark, arriving a year after Hitachi broke the seal and well behind entries from Seagate and even Samsung.

So was the Caviar Black 1TB worth the wait? Can WD extend its hot streak and add the terabyte performance crown to its already impressive palmarès? Read on to find out.

Back in Black

Western Digital recently juggled its hard drive naming scheme in an attempt to simplify things for consumers. On the desktop, GreenPower Caviar GP drives have become the Caviar Green Line. Caviar Blue drives fill out the middle of the range as mainstream products, while Caviar Black variants take over the high end. The Caviar Black, then, is Western Digital’s flagship desktop offering at 7,200RPM—the best of the breed, or so one would hope.

Of course, WD’s recent string of successes leaves plenty of room for optimism. After all, the Caviar Black is based on the same platter technology as the seriously quick Caviar SE16 640GB. That drive squeezes 320GB onto each of its two platters, but the Black does a little better, boosting platter capacity to 334GB. Increasing the Black’s areal density allows the drive to reach the terabyte mark with only three platters, which reduces the load on the drive motor and can lead to quieter operation and better reliability. Higher areal densities can also improve performance by allowing the drive head to access more data over shorter physical distances.

Maximum external
transfer rate

Sustained data rate
Average read seek

Spindle speed
7,200 RPM

750GB, 1TB

Cache size

Platter size

Idle power consumption
Read/write power

Idle acoustics
24 dBA

Seek acoustics
29-33 dBA

Warranty length
Five years

According to Western Digital, the Black’s platters are simply an evolved version of what’s available in the 640GB Caviar SE16. Upgrades have been applied elsewhere on the drive, too, including a bump in onboard cache to 32MB. Western Digital has long maintained that its performance profiling shows little benefit to jumping from 16 to 32MB of cache—a belief so strong that even the new VelociRaptor has a 16MB cache. However, with terabyte drives from Hitachi, Samsung, and Seagate all featuring 32MB caches, I suspect the Caviar Black’s cache size was increased just to keep up with the Joneses. At the very least, workloads that would easily saturate a 16MB cache won’t be a problem for the Black, however rare and unusual those workloads might be.

Speaking of the VelociRaptor, the Caviar Black inherits one new trick from Western Digital’s 10K-RPM mini-monster. The Black features not one, but two processors, effectively doubling the horsepower it has available to calculate how to move, collect, and cache data on the drive.

As usual, WD has fiddled with the firmware for this latest Caviar. Most drive manufacturers seem to optimize drives for higher sustained throughput, but Western Digital points out that going too far can compromise performance with more random workloads. Rather than being tuned for a one-way drag race, the Black’s firmware has been groomed to handle a mix of read and write requests that should better represent real-world workloads.

Another new feature of the Caviar Black is NoTouch drive head technology. NoTouch encompasses the IntelliSeek just-in-time head delivery scheme WD has been using for a while now. It also denotes the fact that the drive head moves completely off the disk at idle, never resting on it. Keeping the drive head away from the platters lowers the chance of a catastrophic head crash, and according to Western Digital, it also improves the drive’s overall longevity.

As a member of the executive Black club, the latest terabyte Caviar inherits WD’s swanky StableTrac motor tech. StableTrac secures the drive shaft at both ends of the disk, reducing vibrations and any noise they might have generated.

Western Digital has kicked up the warranty coverage for its Black line, too. The drives are covered by a five-year pact that equals the coverage the company offers with its enterprise-class products (and the five-year warranty available with all of Seagate’s desktop drives).

Test notes
We’ll be comparing the performance of the Caviar Black 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


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

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

Caviar Black
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 334GB 1TB

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

Caviar SE16 (640GB)
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 320GB 640GB

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

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

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

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

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

Performance data from such a daunting collection of drives can make our bar graphs a little hard to read, so we’ve colored the bars by manufacturer, with the Caviar Black appearing in brighter blue than the rest of Western Digital’s drives.

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
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 Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB SATA
Seagate Barracuda ES.2 1TB SATA
Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB SATA
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 1TB SATA

Western Digital RE2- GP 1TB
Western Digital Caviar GP 1TB SATA

Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB
Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD 150GB SATA

Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB
Western Digital Caviar SE16 640GB SATA 
OS Windows XP Professional
OS updates Service Pack 2

Thanks to NCIX for getting us the Deskstar 7K1000 and Spinpoint F1.

Our test system was powered by OCZ PowerStream power supply units.

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 Caviar Black doesn’t score quite as highly as its 640GB forebear in WorldBench. However, the Black does match the VelociRaptor’s performance, and it scores higher than the other terabyte drives we’ve assembled.

Multimedia editing and encoding

MusicMatch Jukebox

Windows Media Encoder

Adobe Premiere

VideoWave Movie Creator

WorldBench’s multimedia editing and encoding tests aren’t particularly bound by storage subsystem performance, giving the Black little opportunity to distance itself from the field. The drive is actually a little sluggish in the Premiere test, but it’s among the fastest in the rest.

Image processing

Adobe Photoshop

ACDSee PowerPack

The Caviar pulls up just short of the lead in both of WorldBench’s image processing tests.

Multitasking and office applications

Microsoft Office


Mozilla and Windows Media Encoder

However, the results of WorldBench’s office and multitasking tests are really too close to call.

Other applications



WinZip and Nero give the drives some room to stretch their legs, and the Caviar Black fares well in both tests, topping the terabyte field.

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

This new batch of boot time results were measured with our test system’s optical drive detached, and they paint an interesting picture. Western Digital dominates here, but it’s the Caviar SE16 640GB that takes top honors, and by a healthy margin. To be fair, the Caviar Black does boot up at least a couple of seconds quicker than its terabyte rivals.

The Raptors rule our game level load tests, but the Caviar Black isn’t far behind. In Doom 3, the Black essentially ties terabyte drives from Hitachi and Samsung. However, it comes out ahead of both in Far Cry, and is quicker than the terabyte Barracuda, too.

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.

With the exception of the ISO test pattern, which includes only a couple of extremely large files, Western Digital drives dominate the file creation component of FC-Test. The Caviar Black only delivers the highest transfer rates with one of five test patters, but it never drops out of the top three.

Little changes when we move to FC-Test’s read component, which sees the Black in contention across all five workloads. The VelociRaptor is clearly the fastest drive in this batch of tests, but behind it, the Caviar Black and SE16 640GB are locked in a close battle for second place.

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

Western Digital’s dominance isn’t nearly as complete when we move to copy workloads. However, the Caviar Black still manages to stay in the top three. It’s not fast enough to take on the VelociRaptor here, but it does stay ahead of the SE16. Samsung’s SpinPoint F1 also fares well in this batch of tests, no doubt a testament to sustained throughput that can be wrung from its 334GB platters.

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

For the first time, the SpinPoint F1 sweeps the Caviar Black in FC-Test. The Black has little trouble staying ahead of the rest of the terabyte field, though.

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.

The Caviar Black handles our first batch of iPEAK workloads relatively well, faring best with those that include a compressed file extraction. Note that while the SpinPoint is a little faster than the Black in a couple of tests, it’s much slower in others.

Our second wave of iPEAK workloads doesn’t change the overall picture much. The Caviar Black is a consistent performer here, often finishing near the front of the pack and never falling lower than the middle. In most of our iPEAK tests, the Black is faster than the 640GB SE16, too.

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

The Caviar Black rips through IOMeter, delivering by far the highest transaction rates we’ve seen from a 7,200-RPM hard drive. Seagate’s Barracuda 7200.11 remains close at lower load levels, but the Black pulls away convincingly as the number of concurrent I/O requests ramps up. That the Black achieves equivalent transaction rates to the 10K-RPM Raptor WD1500ADFD with three of four test patterns is particularly impressive.

IOMeter – Response time

With the exception of the web server test pattern, which is entirely made up of read operations, the Caviar Black’s IOMeter response times track closely with those of the Raptor WD1500ADFD. The VelociRaptor is still much quicker, of course, but the Black fares extremely well for a drive spinning at only 7,200RPM.

IOMeter – CPU utilization

IOMeter’s CPU utilization results are low across the board.

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

Now that’s interesting. Platter capacity usually dictates performance in HD Tach’s sustained read and write speed tests, but the Caviar Black is slower than the SE16 640GB here, despite packing an additional 14GB per platter. The Black also falls short of the sustained throughput offered by Samsung’s SpinPoint F1, which shares the same 334GB-per-platter capacity.

The Caviar Black’s burst speed isn’t anything to write home about. At least it’s an improvement over the GreenPower Caviar GP and RE2-GP, though.

A lack of emphasis on tuning for sustained throughput may have held the Caviar Black back in HD Tach’s read and write drag races, but the drive shows no sign of weakness when we probe its random access time. In this test, the Black is nearly a full millisecond quicker than its closest competitor, and close to two milliseconds ahead of the SpinPoint. A millisecond may not sound like much, but it’s a very long time within the confines of a modern PC, where bits flip billions of times per second. What’s more, the Black has a lower access time than any other 7,200-RPM hard drive we’ve ever tested.

HD Tach’s margin for error in the CPU utilization test is +/- 2%, and all our results fall within that range. Move along.

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.

If the Caviar Black has a weakness, it’s the drive’s noise levels. The Black ties for the loudest terabyte we’ve tested at idle, where it’s a good three decibels louder than Western Digital’s own GreenPower drives. Under a seek load, the Black is at least quieter than the Deskstar, but it’s still louder than most of the pack.

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 Caviar Black’s power consumption is admirably low, with the drive sipping fewer watts at idle and under load than all of its 7,200-RPM terabyte rivals. Western Digital’s GreenPower terabyte drives consume less power, though, as they should thanks to slower spindle speeds.


Western Digital took its sweet time cranking a terabyte up to 7,200RPM. The company has finally birthed its Caviar Black 1TB, and if it’s performance you crave, the drive was well worth the wait.

Rather than optimizing the Black for a single class of workloads, Western Digital aimed for strong overall performance—and it shows. While drives like Samsung’s SpinPoint F1 offer excellent sustained throughput but falter with more random workloads, the latest Caviar doesn’t skip a beat when presented with a mix of random read and write requests. The Black is the fastest terabyte drive we’ve tested in WorldBench, and it boots quicker than the competition, too. Sure, the SpinPoint scores higher in HD Tach’s synthetic throughput tests, but the Caviar is largely faster in FC-Test, which more accurately simulates real-world performance by running through a series of actual file creation, read, and copy operations.

Even more impressive than the Black’s real-world transfer rates is the drive’s performance with more random workloads. The Caviar showed no signs of weakness with our iPEAK multitasking workloads, and it registered the lowest random access time we’ve seen from a 7,200-RPM drive. More impressively, the Black cleaned up in IOMeter, equaling the peak transaction rate of the 10K-RPM Raptor WD1500ADFD. So, while the Caviar Black may not come out ahead in every test, it’s easily the fastest of its direct competitors, and that’s good enough to win Western Digital the terabyte performance crown.

Of course, performance leadership doesn’t necessarily make the Black flawless. The drive’s power consumption may be low, but its noise levels are not. I suppose there’s a price to be paid for speed, but given the low noise levels of the Caviar SE16 640GB, I had hoped the Black would be quieter.

Price is also an issue for the Caviar Black, which at $183 online, costs $33 more than its closest rival, the SpinPoint F1. Top-of-the-line capacities rarely deliver the best value for dollar, and given the Black’s pack-leading performance and five-year warranty, it’s hard to complain too much about the associated price premium. If it’s value you’re after, the best drive on the market remains the Caviar SE16 640GB, which can be had for less than half of the Caviar Black’s asking price.

The Caviar Black is in a tricky position, then. Sure, it’s the fastest 7,200-RPM drive on the market, but it’s also a little pricey and probably too loud for many enthusiasts’ desktop systems. The Black is better suited to workstation and server environments that will capitalize on the drive’s quick access times and strong performance with workloads that include more randomized I/O request patterns. It’s no surprise, then, that WD recently announced a line of enterprise-class RE3 based on the Caviar Black.

Comments closed

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!