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A storage performance retrospective

A look back at more than four years of test data

Our hard drive test platform has served admirably for more than four and a half years now. We first started using the system in early 2005, a time that seems oh-so long ago. Back then, bundles of garbage sub-prime mortgages were sought-after AAA securities, my inbox was flooded with spam pimping herbal Viagra rather than Acai Berry, and I'd never heard of Heidi Montag or Spencer Pratt. Those were the days.

Among PC enthusiasts, a gigabyte was still considered to be quite a lot of system memory. Windows was arguably in a better place with XP, albeit at only 32 bits. We at least had 64-bit CPUs, but only solitary cores—Athlon 64s and, shudder, Prescott Pentium 4s. The GPUs of the day were DirectX 9 parts with discrete pixel and vertex shaders, and not very many of either.

We've come a long way in four and a half years. During that time, our venerable test rig has seen no fewer than 70 different storage solutions run its gauntlet. It's punished everything from 10k-RPM Raptors to exotic solid-state drives to 2.5" mobile hard drives at three different spindle speeds. And, of course, it's chewed through a cornucopia of 3.5" desktop drives.

As Windows 7 approaches and a new SATA 6Gbps standard looms on the horizon, the time has come to put our trusty storage test platform out to pasture. However, before I tear the system down and retire its components to the dusty stacks of old hardware boxes from whence they came, it's only fitting that we look back on nearly five years of storage performance data.

Much has happened in the hard drive world since 2005. Old-school "parallel" ATA has all but been wiped from our collective consciousness by Serial ATA, banishing bulky ribbon cables from our systems. Mechanical hard drives have switched from longitudinal to perpendicular recording, enabling substantial increases in areal density and overall drive capacity. Hard drives have become smarter, too, adopting command queuing schemes previously reserved for high-end SCSI gear. Oh, and we've witnessed the birth of an entirely new class of solid-state storage solutions that represent perhaps the first real paradigm shift in the industry.

To explore how these factors have shaped hard drive performance, we've squeezed several years worth of test data into some seriously frightening graphs. Join us as we take a trip down memory lane to see just how far PC storage has come.