Western Digital’s Scorpio Black 750GB notebook hard drive

Manufacturer Western Digital
Model Scorpio Black 750GB
Price (street) $120
Availability Now

You can have the solid-state drive in my budget ultraportable notebook when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. Swapping in an SSD made the system noticeably snappier, and I much appreciate being able to throw the thing onto the couch or into a bag while it’s mid-shutdown without worrying about disturbing a mechanical hard drive that’s spinning my precious data at thousands of revolutions per minute.

The thing is, I can get away with a relatively affordable SSD in my notebook because it’s really just a sidekick to the desktop that serves as my primary computer. I only need enough storage capacity for Windows, a handful of applications, a few gigabytes worth of work-related files, and enough casual games and BitTorrent downloads DVD rips to keep me entertained on a long flight. Accommodating all that on a 128GB drive is easy, and I could probably squeeze into 80 or 64GB without too much belt-tightening.

If your laptop is your primary computer, chances are you’re using quite a bit more storage capacity. Big-name games take up an increasing amount of space these days, and the footprint of video archives is ballooning as high-definition clips become the norm. Don’t forget years worth of digital pictures, a healthy helping of digital audio files, and the junk that accumulates in your “downloads” folder. Add it all up, and the solid-state route starts to look prohibitively expensive. 256GB SSDs cost more than most budget notebooks, and you’ll pay well over a grand to get 400GB or more.

To put things into perspective, consider that Western Digital’s Scorpio Black 500GB notebook drive costs a scant $70. A TR Editor’s Choice award winner, the Scorpio is no slouch. It easily outperformed the competition in our recent round-up of 7,200-RPM notebook drives while offering longer warranty coverage and a lower price than its rivals. The only thing missing was a higher capacity point to match the additional storage offered by 640 and 750GB notebook drives currently on the market.

As it turns out, that deficit has been short-lived. At the Consumer Electronics Show just a couple of weeks ago, WD handed us a new Scorpio Black with 750GB of storage capacity—and said it was even faster than the 500GB model. Naturally, we were eager to put the drive through its paces in the Benchmarking Sweatshop. And so we have. Let’s see if Western Digital has another Editor’s Choice winner on its hands.

The first thing you should know about the Scorpio Black 750GB is that it uses the same 2.5″, 9.5-mm form factor as the 500GB model. That’s the standard size for notebook hard drive bays and slightly thinner than 12.5-mm variants of the 2.5″ form factor designed for external enclosures. 12.5-mm drives are thicker to accommodate a third platter, but WD needs only two in the new Scorpio.

If you haven’t already done the math in your head, each of the Scorpio’s platters offers 375GB of storage capacity. That’s a notable upgrade from the 250GB platters in the 500GB model. Each of those 250GB discs packs 400 gigabits into every square inch of surface area. The Scorpio’s new platters have an areal density of 520 Gb/in², which is slightly lower than the 541 Gb/in² offered by the 375GB platters inside Seagate’s Momentus 750GB.

Areal density is an important characteristic of mechanical hard drives because it affects performance on two fronts. The higher the bit density of the platters, the more data passes under the drive head with each revolution, increasing sequential throughput. At the same time, packing smaller bits more tightly makes each one harder to target when the drive head is darting across the platter accessing data that isn’t laid out neatly on a single track. Perhaps that’s why hard drive makers have largely stopped publishing random access time specifications for new models.

Western Digital is eager to boast about the Scorpio’s improved sequential throughput, though. The 750GB drive has a maximum sustained data rate of 180MB/s, which is quite a bit faster than the 154MB/s quoted for the 500GB model. With a top speed that’s still well within the capabilities of the 3Gbps Serial ATA spec, the drive has no need for a next-gen 6Gbps SATA link.

Scorpio Black 750GB Scorpio Black 500GB
Interface 3Gbps 3Gbps
Spindle speed 7,200 RPM 7,200 RPM
Cache size 16MB 16MB
Platter capacity 375GB 250GB
Areal density 520 Gb/in² 400 Gb/in²
Max sustained transfer rate 180MB/s 154MB/s
Idle acoustics 28 dBA 28 dBA
Seek acoustics 28 dBA 28 dBA
Idle power 0.8W 0.8W
Read/write power 1.75W 1.75W
Warranty length Five years Five years

The Scorpio Black does adopt one new standard: Advanced Format. Mechanical hard drives have traditionally organized data in 512-byte sectors. That was all well and good back when megabytes were a big deal. However, 512-byte sectoring wasn’t really designed for a world in which terabyte hard drives are commonplace. For this data-rich reality, the storage industry has settled on a new Advanced Format scheme that segments drives into 4KB sectors.

By far the biggest problem with 512-byte sectors is that each one is sandwiched between blocks that contain data associated with data addressing and error correction. These blocks consume precious storage capacity and are still present with Advanced Format—they just appear every 4KB rather than every 512 bytes. The ECC block is actually a little larger with Advanced Format, but because it pops up less frequently, Western Digital says 4KB sectors can boost a drive’s useful storage capacity by 7-11%.

Advanced Format can create problems for Windows XP, which was designed with 512-byte sectors in mind. Fortunately, WD supplies a free utility that will align partitions for optimal performance with the old OS. Windows 7, Vista, and recent versions of the Mac OS are already primed for Advanced Format.

All the fresh goodness baked into the 750GB iteration of the Scorpio Black really comes down to the platters—how much data they can store and with what sort of sector formatting. Otherwise, the new Black is pretty much identical to its forebear, right down to Western Digital’s power consumption and acoustic specifications.

Frankly, we’re a little surprised WD hasn’t opted for a 32MB cache on this latest Scorpio. The company has long downplayed the benefits of larger caches, but that hasn’t stopped it from slapping 64MB into its high-performance Caviar Blacks and low-power Caviar Greens. The fact that WD’s competitors have yet to push beyond 16MB with their mobile products means no one has to keep up with the Joneses, I suppose.

Speaking of keeping up—or, rather, not—hard drive makers have been reluctant to match the five years of warranty coverage that Western Digital applies to its premium Black line. Seagate’s Momentus XT mechanical/SSD hybrid is the only other notebook model we’ve seen with a five-year warranty. The rest are saddled with just three years of coverage.

Our testing methods

Before burying you under a deluge of benchmark graphs, let’s take a quick look at the mix of rivals we’ve put together to face the Scorpio Black 750GB, and the methods we use to test storage devices here at TR. We include these details to help you better understand and replicate our results, but if you’re already familiar with our approach to storage testing, feel free to skip ahead to the benchmarks. We won’t be offended.

The Scorpio Black’s most direct competition comes from other 7,200-RPM notebook drives. We’ve tested the latest ones from Hitachi, Samsung, and Seagate, plus a few entries from Western Digital’s own stable. Seagate’s Momentus XT mechanical/SSD hybrid is included in the mix, as is a stack of solid-state drives that share the same 2.5″ form factor as the Scorpio. For comparative reference, we’ve also included results from a collection of 3.5″ mechanical drives. Below is a chart outlining several key characteristics that can affect the performance of the contenders we’ve lined up.

Flash controller Interface speed Spindle speed Cache size Platter capacity Total capacity
Corsair Force F100 SandForce SF-1200 3Gbps NA NA NA 100GB
Corsair Force F120 SandForce SF-1200 3Gbps NA NA NA 120GB
Corsair Nova V128 Indilinx Barefoot ECO 3Gbps NA 64MB NA 128GB
Crucial RealSSD C300 Marvell 88SS9174 6Gbps NA 256MB NA 256GB
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C NA 3Gbps 7,200 RPM 32MB 500GB 1TB
Hitachi Travelstar 7K500 NA 3Gbps 7,200 RPM 16MB 250GB 500GB
Intel X25-M G2 Intel PC29AS21BA0 3Gbps NA 32MB NA 160GB
Intel X25-V Intel PC29AS21BA0 3Gbps NA 32MB NA 40GB
Kingston SSDNow V+ Toshiba T6UG1XBG 3Gbps NA 128MB NA 128GB
OCZ Agility 2 SandForce SF-1200 3Gbps NA NA NA 100GB
OCZ Vertex 2 SandForce SF-1200 3Gbps NA NA NA 100GB
Plextor PX-128M1S Marvell 88SSE8014 3Gbps NA 128MB NA 128GB
Samsung 470 Series Samsung S3C29MAX01 3Gbps NA 256MB NA 256GB
Samsung Spinpoint F3 NA 3Gbps 7,200 RPM 32MB 500GB 1TB
Samsung Spinpoint MP4 NA 3Gbps 7,200 RPM 16MB 320GB 640GB
Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 NA 3Gbps 7,200 RPM 32MB 500GB 1TB
Seagate Barracuda LP NA 3Gbps 5,900 RPM 32MB 500GB 2TB
Seagate Barracuda XT NA 6Gbps 7,200 RPM 64MB 500GB 2TB
Seagate Momentus 7200.4 NA 3Gbps 7,200 RPM 16MB 250GB 500GB
Seagate Momentus 750GB NA 3Gbps 7,200 RPM 16MB 375GB 750GB
Seagate Momentus XT NA 3Gbps 7,200 RPM 32MB 250GB 500GB
WD Caviar Black 1TB NA 6Gbps 7,200 RPM 64MB 500GB 1TB
WD Caviar Black 2TB NA 3Gbps 7,200 RPM 64MB 500GB 2TB
WD Caviar Green 2TB NA 3Gbps 5,400 RPM 32MB 500GB 2TB
WD Caviar Green 3TB NA 3Gbps 5,400 RPM 64MB 750GB 3TB
WD Scorpio Black 320GB NA 3Gbps NA 16MB 160GB 320GB
WD Scorpio Black 500GB NA 3Gbps 7,200 RPM 16MB 250GB 500GB
WD Scorpio Black 750GB NA 3Gbps 7,200 RPM 16MB 375GB 750GB
WD Scorpio Blue NA 3Gbps 5,400 RPM 8MB 375GB 750GB
WD SiliconEdge Blue JMicron JMF612 3Gbps NA 64MB NA 256GB
WD VelociRaptor VR150M NA 3Gbps 10,000 RPM 16MB 150GB 300GB
WD VelociRaptor VR200M NA 3Gbps 10,000 RPM 32MB 200GB 600GB

Although it might not seem like a fair fight, we’ve thrown in results for a striped RAID 0 array built using a pair of Intel’s X25-V SSDs. The X25-V costs less than $100 online, making multi-drive RAID arrays affordable enough to be tempting for desktop users. Our X25-V array was configured using Intel’s P55 storage controller, the default 128KB stripe size, and the company’s latest Rapid Storage Technology drivers.

The block-rewrite penalty inherent to SSDs and the TRIM command designed to offset it both complicate our testing somewhat, so I should explain our methods in greater detail. Before testing SSDs, each is returned to a factory-fresh state with a secure erase, which empties all the flash pages on the drive. Next, we fire up HD Tune and run full-disk read and write speed tests. The TRIM command requires that drives have a file system in place, but since HD Tune runs on an unpartitioned drive, TRIM won’t be a factor in those tests.

After HD Tune, we partition the drives and kick off our usual IOMeter scripts, which are now aligned to 4KB sectors. When running on a partitioned drive, IOMeter first fills it with a single file, firmly putting SSDs into a used state in which all of their flash pages have been occupied. We delete that file before moving onto our file copy tests, after which we restore an image to each drive for some application testing. Incidentally, creating and deleting IOMeter’s full-disk file and the associated partition doesn’t affect HD Tune transfer rates or access times.

Our methods should ensure that each SSD is tested on an even, used-state playing field. However, differences in how eagerly an SSD elects to erase trimmed flash pages could affect performance in our tests and in the real world.

To make our massive collection of results a little easier to interpret, we’ve marked the SSDs and 3.5″ mechanical drives in different shades of grey. The 2.5″ notebook drives are color-coded by manufacturer, at least in the bar charts, and there’s a multi-colored rainbow to cover the line graphs. You should be able to spot the Scorpio Black easily; it’s colored in black throughout the graphs.

With few exceptions, all tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of the scores produced. We used the following system configuration for testing:

Processor Intel Core i5-750 2.66GHz
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD7
Bios revision F4
Chipset Intel P55 Express
Chipset drivers INF update
Storage controller drivers Microsoft AHCI 6.1.7600.16385
Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type OCZ Platinum DDR3-1333 at 1333MHz
Memory timings 7-7-7-20-1T
Audio Realtek ALC889A with 2.42 drivers
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon HD 4850 1GB with Catalyst 10.2 drivers
Hard drives Western Digital VelociRaptor VR200M 600GB
Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB
Western Digital VelociRaptor VR150M 300GB
Corsair Nova V128 128GB with 1.0 firmware
Intel X25-M G2 160GB with 02HD firmware
Intel X25-V 40GB with 02HD firmware
Kingston SSDNow V+ 128GB with AGYA0201 firmware
Plextor PX-128M1S 128GB with 1.0 firmware
Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue 256GB with 5.12 firmware
OCZ Agility 2 100GB with 1.0 firmware
OCZ Vertex 2 100GB with 1.0 firmware
Corsair Force F100 100GB with 0.2 firmware
Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB with 0002 firmware
Western Digital Scorpio Black 320GB
Western Digital Scorpio Blue 750GB
Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB
Seagate Momentus XT 500GB
Corsair Force F120 120GB with 30CA13F0 firmware
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C 1TB
WD Caviar Black 1TB
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB
Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 1TB
Seagate Barracuda LP 2TB
Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB
WD Caviar Black 2TB
WD Caviar Green 2TB
WD Caviar Green 3TB
Hitachi Travelstar 7K500 500GB
Samsung Spinpoint MP4 640GB
Seagate Momentus 750GB
WD Scorpio Black 500GB
Samsung 470 Series 256GB with AXM0601Q firmware
Scorpio Black 750GB
Power supply OCZ Z-Series 550W
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64

You can read more about the hardware that makes up our twin storage test systems on this page of our VelociRaptor VR200M review. Thanks to Gigabyte for providing the twins’ motherboards and graphics cards, OCZ for the memory and PSUs, Western Digital for the system drives, and Thermaltake for SpinQ heatsinks that keep the Core i5s cool.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

Some further notes on our methods:

  • Noise levels were measured with a TES-52 Digital Sound Level meter 1″ from the side of the drives at idle and under an HD Tune seek load. Drives were run with their PCBs facing up next to our open-air test bench.
  • 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. 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 drives were tested under a load consisting of 256 outstanding I/O requests using the workstation access pattern. Power consumption was also probed while idling at the Windows desktop one minute after halting our IOMeter load.

Most of 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.

HD Tune — Transfer rates

We’ll begin with HD Tune, which offers a series of targeted tests that will give some insight into each drive’s raw potential. From there, we’ll proceed to more real-world measures of drive performance.

I’ve removed the SSDs and 3.5″ mechanical drives from all of our line graphs to make them a little easier read. Plus, Excel really doesn’t have enough colors. If you’d like to see how the transfer-rate profiles of leading SSDs and larger desktop drives compare, check out this page of our Caviar Green 3TB review.

Although the Scorpio Black 750GB doesn’t hit its supposed 180MB/s peak transfer rate at any time during HD Tune’s read speed test, the drive does manage to outpace the competition. The Spinpoint MP4 is just a few MB/s shy of the Scorpio’s average read speed, while the 500GB Black trails a full 10MB/s behind. Seagate’s Momentus 750GB is the only notebook drive to match the new Scorpio’s storage capacity, and it’s a little slower than the Spinpoint.

So, what about write speeds?

Things look pretty similar. The Scorpio Black 750GB leads the 2.5″ mechanicals and is followed by the Spinpoint and the 750GB Momentus. Once again, the 500GB Black trails the newcomer by 10MB/s.

If you scroll up a little, you’ll notice that the 750GB Scorpio (and its 500GB brother) have smoother transfer-rate profiles than the Momentus 750GB and the Spinpoint. This difference is more apparent in HD Tune’s write speed test than with reads.

Next up: some burst-rate tests that should test the cache speed of each drive. We’ve omitted the X25-V RAID array from the following results because it uses a slice of system memory as a drive cache.

The new Scorpio Black’s DRAM cache appears to be faster than that of its predecessor in both of HD Tune’s burst speed tests. That extra oomph isn’t quite enough to catch the Travelstar and Spinpoint, but it does move the Scorpio into third place among notebook drives.

HD Tune — Random access times

Our HD Tune tests conclude with a look at random access times, which the app separates into 512-byte, 4KB, 64KB, and 1MB transfer sizes. Let’s start with reads.

Remember what I said about smaller data points being more difficult to target? Here’s some evidence: the 750GB Scorpio Black has longer read access times than the 500GB model across the board.

The extremely low access times exhibited by the Momentus XT come thanks to its SSD component, which appears to be handling transfer sizes up to 64KB without hitting the disk. This order-of-magnitude advantage disappears as the transfer size increases to 1MB.

To get a better sense of things, let’s take a closer look at access times with 4KB and 1MB transfer sizes.

It’s a tight race with the 4KB transfer size, as the 500GB Black clocks an access time only a millisecond ahead of the 750GB drive. Bump things up to 1MB, however, and the 750GB drive falls five milliseconds behind. That still puts WD’s latest ahead of offerings from Hitachi and Samsung, but all three of Seagate’s Momentus models are faster.

Switching to random writes changes the performance picture a little. Because the Momentus XT’s SSD component serves only as a read cache, it has no impact on write performance. Meanwhile, the Scorpio Black 750GB trails its 500GB counterpart by a much larger margin than we saw in the random read tests.

Spreading things out in a couple of bar graphs highlights the new Scorpio’s relatively sluggish random write performance. It’s the slowest of the 7,200-RPM notebook drives at the 4KB transfer size and doesn’t look that much better at the 1MB transfer size. The Scorpio may tie the Spinpoint and beat a couple of contenders from Hitachi and Seagate in 1MB transfers, but the 500GB Black is a whopping 42% faster in that particular test. In 4KB random writes, the 500GB Scorpio’s random access time is just under half that of the 750GB model’s.

File Copy Test

After testing sequential transfer rates with some targeted tests, it’s time to see how things pan out with actual files. File Copy Test is a pseudo-real-world benchmark that times how long it takes to copy files in various test patterns. Because it doesn’t take advantage of command queuing, FC-Test isn’t a perfect representation of real-world file transfers.

We’ve converted FC-Test’s completion times to MB/s and taken an overall average across three file sets to make the data easier to present. You can read more about the file sets used by FC-Test and the issues some SSDs seem to have with this test on this page of our Force F120 review.

The 500 and 750GB flavors of the Scorpio Black are evenly matched here. The two finish just off the podium and are only a couple of MB/s behind the second-place Momentus XT hybrid. Its fully mechanical cousin, the Momentus 750GB, leads all notebook drives by a healthy margin.

File copy speed

We can better simulate real-world file transfers with an actual copy test in Windows 7. This hand-timed test copies 7GB worth of documents, digital pictures, MP3s, movies, and program files from the drive to itself.

The 750GB Scorpio Black is a little bit slower than the 500GB model here. While the gap between the two only amounts to 2MB/s, it puts the Scorpio 5MB/s behind the pack-leading Spinpoint and Momentus drives. What appears to be a relatively small margin actually works out to a difference of close to 15%.

Application performance

WorldBench is a good way to explore system performance across a broad range of desktop applications, but precious few of its tests benefit from faster storage subsystems. We’ve included results from a couple of tests that have shown preference for faster drives in the past, and we’ve also thrown in a Firefox compile for those who requested that we examine compiling performance.

Among our application performance tests, only Photoshop and Nero really tax the storage subsystem. The Scorpio Black 750GB tops its notebook rivals in the former and just gets nipped at the line by the Momentus 750GB in the latter.

Boot and load times

Our boot time test starts when the power button is pressed and ends when the mouse cursor turns into a pointer on the Windows 7 desktop. Before they even begin to load Windows, our test systems must first initialize multiple storage controllers. That takes some time, which is why your own system may boot much faster than ours. But, since all the drives are penalized equally with our setup, the results are comparable, at least amongst themselves.

The Scorpio Black 750GB can’t quite catch the Momentus XT hybrid in our system boot time test, but it’s more than a second quicker than the 500GB Black. Indeed, the new Black is more than half a second faster than all of its purely mechanical notebook rivals. The latest Scorpio boots our system nearly four seconds faster than a Momentus with the same capacity.

Those advantages don’t hold in our level load tests, however. The Momentus hybrid has a distinct advantage in Modern Warfare 2, where the Black might as well be tied with its Momentus 750GB counterpart from across the aisle. Load times are close between the two in Crysis Warhead, this time with the Momentus out ahead.

Disk-intensive multitasking

TR DriveBench allows us to record the individual IO requests associated with a Windows session and then play those results back on different drives. We’ve used this app to create a set of multitasking workloads that combine common desktop tasks with disk-intensive background operations like compiling code, copying files, downloading via BitTorrent, transcoding video, and scanning for viruses. You can read more about these workloads and desktop tasks on this page of our SSD value round-up.

Below, you’ll find an overall average followed by scores for each of our individual workloads. The overall score is an average of the mean performance score with each multitasking workload.

Our multitasking workloads run a little faster on the 500GB Scorpio Black than they do on the new 750GB model. Still, it’s a one-two finish for Western Digital. Note that the Momentus 750GB crunches 100 fewer IOps than its Scorpio Black counterpart, a difference of more than 20%.

Let’s break down the overall average into individual test results to see if anything stands out.

With the exception of the virus scanning workload, the Scorpio Black 750GB never falls out of second place among the mobile drives. For some reason, the Seagate drives handle our virus scanning scenario a little better than they do the other multitasking workloads. Their advantage isn’t particularly momentus (ha!), but it’s enough to knock the Scorpio Black down a few pegs in the standings.

As a control, we also recorded a trace of our foreground tasks, while nothing was going on in the background.

Interesting. The 500 and 750GB Scorpio Black are very closely matched in this control test. Clearly, the former deals with our multitasking element better than the latter.

DriveBench lets us start recording Windows sessions from the moment the storage driver loads during the boot process. We can use this capability to gauge boot performance, this time with TweetDeck, Pidgin, AVG, Word, Excel, Acrobat, and Photoshop loading from the Windows startup folder.

Our boot-time trace runs quicker on the latest Scorpio Blacks than on the other notebook drives we’ve tested. The difference between the 500 and 750GB variants doesn’t amount to much, though.


Our IOMeter workloads are made up of randomized access patterns, presenting a good test case for both seek times and command queuing. The app’s ability to bombard drives with an escalating number of concurrent IO requests also does a nice job of simulating the sort of demanding multi-user environments that are common in enterprise applications.

SSDs are orders of magnitude faster than mechanical hard drives in this test, making graphing them together a little pointless. We’ve also dropped performance data from our 3.5″ desktop drives to make the graphs easier to read. If you’d like the see how everything stacks up, flick your mouse wheel down this page of our four-way 7,200-RPM terabyte comparison.

Of the top four notebook drives in our IOMeter testing, Scorpio Blacks occupy three spots. The 750GB Black closely matches the performance of its 500 and 320GB brothers in three of four access patterns. However, with the file server access pattern, the 750GB Black has much lower transaction rates than either of the other Scorpios. The Momentus 750GB suffers a similar fate, and it’s faster than the equivalent Black overall.

The file server access pattern uses a mix of reads and writes between 512 bytes and 64KB, while the workstation and database access patterns stick to 8KB requests. Based on our results, it looks like the old Scorpio Blacks are much more adept than the new one at handling a mix of transfer sizes. Since the web server access pattern also has a mix of transfer sizes—but is made up exclusively of read requests—the Scorpio’s troubles seem to be limited to writes.

Power consumption

The Scorpio Black 750GB’s power consumption is very close to that of the 500GB model. All of the notebook drives are pretty evenly matched. In fact, they don’t draw a whole lot more power than the SSDs.

Noise levels

I’ve consolidated the solid-state drives here because they’re all completely silent. The SSD noise level depicted below is a reflection of the noise generated by the rest of the test system, which has a passively-cooled graphics card, a very quiet PSU, and a nearly silent CPU cooler.

You’ll need a very sensitive sound level meter to distinguish between the noise levels generated by the 500 and 750GB Scorpio Black. The Scorpios are a little louder than their competition when seeking but within a decibel of the other notebook models at idle.

Most mechanical hard drives have an Automatic Acoustic Management (AAM) value that can be set between 128 and 254. Manipulating this setting tends not to affect idle noise levels, but it can dramatically impact seek noise and access times. To get an idea of the sort of performance and acoustic range available with our collection of mechanical drives, we’ve tested the seek noise level and random access time of each at the extremes of the AAM scale. By default, most of the mechanical drives had AAM disabled or set to 254, which is the most aggressive seek setting. Seagate is an exception on a couple of fronts. AAM doesn’t appear to work at all on the Barracuda XT, and on the Momentus 750GB, it’s set at 208 by default.

Although we were able to change the Scorpio Black’s AAM setting, doing so failed to alter the drive’s performance or noise levels by substantial margins. You might as well leave it set at 254.

The value perspective

After seven pages of performance data, it’s time to add pricing to the mix with an analysis of the Scorpio’s value proposition. We’re using Newegg pricing for most of the drives to ensure an even playing field.

Capacity per dollar is up first. Here, we divide the total number of bytes reported to Windows 7 by a Giga (109), and then by the price of each drive.

With a $120 street price, the Scorpio Black 750GB costs a little more per gigabyte than most of the other notebook drives. There are better deals to be had, at least as far as this metric is concerned. However, the differences between notebook drives isn’t nearly as large as the gap between 2.5″ mechanicals and the solid-state horde.

Overall performance is up next, and this is where things get complicated. We’ve created an overall index that compares performance to a common baseline: a lowly 4,200-RPM notebook drive from many years ago. The index is based on a sampling of test results from the preceding pages, and you can read more about which tests we used and how our value scores are calculated on this page of our SSD value round-up.

Thanks in part to the quick access times of its solid-state read cache, the Momentus XT edges out the Scorpio Black 750GB overall. The old Scorpio Black 320GB also does pretty well here, likely also on the strength of speedy access times. In a bit of a coup for Western Digital, the top three spots among strictly mechanical notebook drives are all occupied by Scorpio Blacks.

Since we’re dealing with storage devices, capacity should be part of the equation. We’ve divided each drive’s overall performance score by its cost per gigabyte to get a look at overall performance per dollar per gigabyte. Try saying that five times fast.

I’ve omitted the SSDs and 3.5″ drives from the scatter plots for the sake of readability. If you’re curious to see how they compare, consult this section of our last hard drive round-up.

The scatter plot makes things pretty clear. The Scorpio Black 750GB offers a healthy step up in performance over the 500GB model with a corresponding increase in the cost per gigabyte. Despite costing less per gigabyte, the Momentus 750GB is much slower overall and thus less appealing from a value perspective. The Momentus XT is in an even worse position, offering only marginally higher performance at a substantially greater cost.

Another way to look at this data is to divide each drive’s performance by the cost of a system built around it. The aim here is to determine whether spending a little (or a lot) more makes sense when the price premium is absorbed into the cost of a complete build. For our system price calculations, we’ve used our test rig as the inspiration for a base config, to which the price of each drive will be added. Our example system includes a Core i5-750, a P55-based ASUS P755D-E motherboard, 4GB of DDR3-1333 memory, a passively-cooled Radeon HD 4850, Antec’s Sonata III enclosure, and Windows 7. Grand total: about $750, which happens to nicely match the prevailing cost of mid-range notebooks.

Factoring in the cost of a complete system puts into perspective what are relatively minor differences in drive prices. Our contenders are bunched much more tightly along the price axis, but their relative performance hasn’t changed.


After its 500GB predecessor took home an Editor’s Choice award in our recent 7,200-RPM notebook hard drive round-up, we had high hopes for the Scorpio Black 750GB. For the most part, the drive lived up to expectations.

Obviously, the new Scorpio’s most important attribute is the additional 250GB lurking in its 2.5″ form factor. The 50% increase in capacity over its predecessor will surely be appreciated by folks trying to squeeze the entirety of their digital lives onto a single notebook hard drive.

Advanced Format deserves a shout out for its part in helping the Scorpio up to this latest rung on the capacity ladder. However, much of the credit goes to the higher areal density of the drive’s platters. That greater bit density enables the Scorpio to sustain faster sequential transfer rates than its predecessor. I suspect it’s also responsible for the fact that the 750GB drive’s random access times are slower than those of the 500GB model. No one said the path to higher capacities would be an easy one.

Western Digital appears to be climbing the mountain with more grace than its competitors, though. The Scorpio Black 750GB is slightly faster than the 500GB drive overall, making it the quickest mechanical notebook drive around. Throw in five years of warranty coverage, and things are looking good for another award.

But not an Editor’s Choice. The Scorpio Black’s $120 asking price looks a little high in light of the exceptional value offered by the 500GB Black, which costs only $70. Top-of-the-line capacities usually carry a bit of a premium, so we’re not surprised. We’re also not particularly discouraged. Seagate’s slower Momentus 750GB runs $110 online and only has a three-year warranty. Considering its competition, the new Scorpio is easily compelling enough for TR Recommended distinction.

Comments closed
    • indeego
    • 12 years ago

    Other than:

    – Boot times (some double speed.)
    – File Copy (some double.)
    – Game level load times (Again, double speed.)

    You are correct. Those synthetic benches are fun stuff.

    Also note TR uses an enthusiast platform for testing, you will see much faster (dare I say half the boot time?) in any modern laptop than they have listed here, making the difference a greater percentage.

    Also, pay close attention to TR Drivebench/multitasking. This is where the true difference in SSD and mechanicals comes into play. On our systems, a drive AV scan + normal work pattern is like butter. An AV scan does not interrupt work product like it did with mechanicals. Same with backups of in-use systems.

    • Corrado
    • 12 years ago

    But if I have a laptop already, I should buy a netbook to … take with me? Thats what a laptop is for. If you get a 13″ laptop, you’re not saving much more space going to a netbook. Why buy a desktop and a netbook for the same price as you can buy a regular laptop?

    • 5150
    • 12 years ago

    Better yet, someone else besides Seagate needs to do it. I would touch their drives with a 10′ cattle prod.

    • grantmeaname
    • 12 years ago

    That doesn’t seem like throwing away $400 needlessly? I feel like the scenario is getting more and more contrived.

    • grantmeaname
    • 12 years ago

    No, our school’s ISP actually categorically blocks the bittorent protocol’s port, so they’re not too worried about it. I don’t know why.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 12 years ago

    Interesting that they prohibit networking gear. Is the reason for that to ostensibly prevent (yeah, right) P2P-ing, or if not what’s the reason?

    • Firestarter
    • 12 years ago

    Are you going to be running simulations in the library? Photoshop heavily? Transcode videos? Most anything that you are likely going to do on the move can be done by a netbook.

    • ltcommander.data
    • 12 years ago

    The Momentus XT is in dire need of a 750GB version. That would make things more interesting.

    • Corrado
    • 12 years ago

    But what if I like to go work in the library, or in the quad, or at starbucks? Portability is a nice thing, especially when you can take full computing power with you.

    • just brew it!
    • 12 years ago

    If you can’t fit a desktop system into your dorm room, you’re not trying hard enough.

    • grantmeaname
    • 12 years ago

    The combo SSD/HDD is no faster than any decent HDD (cf. the review we’re commenting on).

    It’s not an artificial limitation, I live in a dorm room, and networking gear is prohibited, and a NAS (or a desktop) does not fit.

    • grantmeaname
    • 12 years ago

    any computer can, you just buy an adapter. If I ever get to the point where I need the capacity I’m getting something like the 1TB Blue and ditching by DVD burner.

    • grantmeaname
    • 12 years ago


    • axeman
    • 12 years ago

    Because of the tiny (compared to desktop) platters, it looks like the motors in these drives aren’t very power hungry, did you see the power consumption graphs? Under load, these 7200rpm 2.5″ mechanical drives are still drawing less than HALF of the power draw the desktop “green” drives spinning at lower RPM. Light platters FTW. As far as what the cache memory chips draw, well, I dunno. Maybe it’s a space consideration, cost, and the lack of e-peen contests among the drive makers in the mobile sector. Desktop drives might sport larger cache, but there’s not much evidence that it helps much other than the spec sheet.

    • axeman
    • 12 years ago

    I thought the reason to own a laptop is to take it places with you, places where you don’t have all your stuff accessible from a gigabit attached NAS. Still, even if you do need to large files around, even with an ultraportable you could always have big, slow storage stuffed in an external enclosure that’s stashed in your bag somewhere. I’ve seen 2.5″ drives that can be powered over USB power alone, but it seems laptop USB ports aren’t usually up to this. USB/eSATA combo ports are out there, not sure how many USB3 ports are showing up on laptops though.

    • Dashak
    • 12 years ago

    I bought the 500GB version four days ago…

    • pedro
    • 12 years ago

    Fantastic. Thanks for the review Geoff.

    I’m currently rolling with a Scorpio Black 320 GB and I’m almost out of space so this has come at just the right time. I wonder if anyone on here has any experience with removing the optical drive on a plastic MacBook (5,2)? I would like to utilize that bay for a second HDD. Is it possible? I know it can be done with unibody MacBooks but I’m not so sure about the plastic ones.

    • just brew it!
    • 12 years ago

    Mmm… I’ve got a 2.5″ eSATA external enclosure that could use a capacity upgrade. This drive looks like a potential candidate.

    • bimmerlovere39
    • 12 years ago

    Additionally, a good number of ThinkPads (and I’d assume others, but I don’t know) can swap out their optical drives for a 2.5″ sled. 128GB SSD + 750GB Scorpio Black? Me likey 😀

    • Duck
    • 12 years ago

    +16MB is bad but 7200RPM motor is just fine?

    • Vaughn
    • 12 years ago

    16mb vs 32mb cache.

    As far as I know cache memory tends to be power hungry. So wouldn’t that be a bad thing in a mobile space with limited power?

    • indeego
    • 12 years ago

    That is an artificial limitation you placed on yourself. There are laptops (even some ultraportables) out there that can carry more than one HDD, or a combo SSD/HDD. Opticals are legacy, IMO, and should be external if needed.

    • grantmeaname
    • 12 years ago

    My notebook is my only computer. Wifi and Gigabit networking gear be damned, it doesn’t change the fact that I am limited to one 2.5″ drive for all of the data I want to have access to at all times.

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 12 years ago

    I’ll probably upgrade my notebook to use one of these along with a smaller (~120 GB) SSD in a few months.

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