Almost exactly one week ago, Western Digital announced its intention to buy Hitachi’s hard-drive business. The deal is still pending regulatory approval, but if it passes muster, this will be the second time IBM’s storage division has changed hands in the last decade. After building up a nice reputation with the Deskstar, IBM was plagued by a wave of click-of-death failures that may have prompted the company to sell off its HDD assets. Hitachi picked up the storage unit, and while it struggled to erase the Deathstar tarnish, the industrial and electronics giant ultimately impressed by becoming the first to cram a terabyte into a 3.5″ hard drive.
Today, we have another Deskstar milestone: the 7K3000 3TB. Hitachi didn’t reach the 3TB mark first, though; that honor belongs to Western Digital for its latest Caviar Green. The thing is, the Caviar Green is one of those tree-hugging, 5,400-RPM models that sacrifices performance to lower noise levels and power consumption. That’s fine if you’re equipping a home-theater PC or want silent secondary storage to back a wicked-fast SSD system drive, but it’s a little sluggish for a desktop’s primary hard drive. The Deskstar 7K3000 spins its three terabytes at 7,200 RPM, and it’s the only internal hard drive you can buy that does so.
A higher spindle speed gives the Deskstar a potent advantage over the Caviar right out of the gate. However, that’s not the only factor to consider when evaluating the performance potential of a mechanical hard drive. One must take into account the areal density of the magnetic platters, a metric that determines how much data is accessible to the drive head with each revolution.
Western Digital has declined to reveal the areal density of the four platters it uses to hit 3TB in the Caviar Green. Simple math tells us that they offer at least 750GB of storage capacity each. Contrast that with the Deskstar, which requires five 600GB platters to reach 3TB, and it’s clear that the 7K3000 isn’t the top dog in every category.
Although Hitachi started reaching for higher capacity points with five-platter drives out of necessity at a time when it was behind the curve on areal density, the company says this has since become a deliberate strategy. According to Hitachi, most premature hard-drive failures can be traced back to the magnetic characteristics of the media or drive head. The more bits you squeeze into every square inch of surface area, the closer you get to the limits of your recording technology. By “not pushing the magnetics as hard,” Hitachi says it can achieve better reliability than drives with higher areal densities.
Of course, it’s good to have a reason for being a generation behind in platter technology. The 7K3000’s 411 Gb/in² areal density is just a smidgen higher than the 400 Gb/in² Western Digital achieved with the Caviar Black 2TB, a four-platter drive that debuted some 15 months ago.
Apart from purportedly higher reliability, there is one other benefit to having a lower areal density. Packing bits more densely may be great for sequential transfers that let the drive head stay on one track and stream data as fast the spindle can spin it, but those smaller bits become more difficult to access when the drive is forced to seek them out. Remember, the drive head is trying to hit targets moving at speeds that would get you ticketed by the highway patrol. I suspect manufacturers have stopped publishing random access times in their datasheets because those times are increasing with each new drive generation.
|Spindle speed||7,200 RPM|
|Areal density||411 Gb/in²|
|Available capacities||1.5, 2, 3TB|
media transfer rate
|Idle acoustics||2.9 Bels|
|Warranty length||Three years|
When the Deskstar is sustaining sequential transfers, Hitachi claims it can hit up to 207MB/s. Since a 3Gbps Serial ATA interface is more than peppy enough to handle that speed, the Deskstar probably doesn’t need its 6Gbps SATA support. We can’t exactly knock Hitachi for supporting the latest standard, though. Besides, the drive may enjoy a minor performance boost with small burst transfers in and out of its generous 64MB DRAM cache.
Hitachi’s decision to go the five-platter route with the 7K3000 has implications for power consumption and noise levels. The additional platter adds weight, forcing the spindle motor to work harder than would be necessary in a four-platter drive. This typically results in higher power consumption and noise levels. We’ve also noticed that drives with higher platter counts tend to be markedly louder when seeking, as if the usual seek chatter were reverberating off the additional platters.
We’ll test power consumption and noise levels for ourselves in a moment. The fact that Hitachi’s datasheet only lists idle numbers isn’t encouraging, though.
Three years of warranty coverage rounds out the Deskstar, which is odd considering Hitachi’s boasting about reliability. Three-year warranties are typical for desktop hard drives, but flagship models like the 7K3000 typically get upgraded to five years. Seagate and Western Digital offer similar coverage on their high-end XT and Black drives, respectively.
Before we move onto our test results, there are a few things you should know about the compatibility issues surrounding 3TB hard drives. Hitachi goes into more depth on this page of its website, but here are the basics for Windows users. To tap the Deskstar’s full capacity as a boot drive, you need to be running a 64-bit version of Windows 7 or Vista on a motherboard with a UEFI BIOS. Otherwise, you’ll only have access to the first 2.19TB. Using the 7K3000 as secondary storage doesn’t require a UEFI BIOS or 64-bit OS. However, Windows XP isn’t supported. If you’re splurging on a $180 hard drive for your Windows XP system, perhaps you should look into upgrading the nearly decade-old operating system.
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 Deskstar 7K3000, 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 Deskstar 7K3000’s most direct competition comes from 3.5″ desktop drives with 7,200-RPM spindle speeds. We’ve tested a bunch of ’em, including the highest-capacity models currently available from Seagate and Western Digital. Low-power drives like the Barracuda LP and Caviar Green are also notable alternatives to the 7K3000. We have performance numbers for several such drives, including the 3TB Green.
As always, our graphs show a boatload of additional performance results, including performance data from the latest 2.5″ notebook drives, 10k-RPM VelociRaptors, and nearly a dozen SSDs. We do this not to confuse you, but to provide some insight into how the Deskstar stacks up in a much broader context. 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 Deskstar 7K3000||NA||6Gbps||7,200 RPM||64MB||600GB||3TB|
|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 126.96.36.1994 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.
Most of our tests run on drives connected as secondary storage, so we were able to use the Deskstar’s full 3TB with our test system’s default configuration, which uses the Microsoft AHCI drivers built into Windows 7. For the few tests that required booting off the Deskstar, we elected to stick with the same config, since moving to a motherboard with a UEFI BIOS would change entirely too many variables. We’re currently in the midst of assembling new storage test systems built around B3-revision Sandy Bridge boards with UEFI BIOSes. Look for those systems to pop up in our storage coverage soon. In the meantime, the impact of running the 7K3000 at slightly less than full capacity as a system drive should be negligible considering that our boot and system partition only amounts to 100GB, most of which is unused. The Caviar Green 3TB uses the same setup.
To make our massive collection of results a little easier to interpret, we’ve marked the SSDs and 2.5″ mechanical drives in different shades of grey. The 3.5″ drives are color-coded by spindle speed, with 7,200-RPM models appearing in light blue, 10k-RPM VelociRaptors in dark blue, and low-power drives in green. We need more colors to cover the line graphs, which employ a veritable rainbow to keep things straight. You should be able to spot the Deskstar 7K3000 easily; it’s colored in red throughout.
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:
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:
- WorldBench 6
- Intel IOMeter 2006.07.27
- Xbit Labs File Copy Test 0.3
- HD Tune 4.01
- Visual Studio 2008 with 03-23-2010 Firefox source
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
- Crysis Warhead
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 2.5″ 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.
The Deskstar 7K3000 ties with the Spinpoint F3 as the fastest 7,200-RPM drive in HD Tune’s sustained read speed test. Although the Deskstar has a higher maximum transfer rate, its minimum speed is a little lower than the Spinpoint’s. Both average 116MB/s, which is quite a bit faster than the 98MB/s achieved by the 3TB Caviar Green.
In the line graph above, you can see that the Deskstar’s transfer rate falls smoothly and gracefully as the test progresses across the drive’s full capacity. The transfer-rate curves for the other drives aren’t quite as smooth. Some see their performance drop in regular steps, and the Spinpoint’s transfer rate oscillates wildly through much of the test.
Switching to writes doesn’t change the picture much. The Deskstar offers nearly identical transfer rates going in the other direction, making it a little bit faster than the Spinpoint this time around. Once again, the 7K3000 has a commanding lead over the Caviar Green. Whatever Hitachi is losing with a lower areal density it’s more than making up with a faster spindle speed.
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.
Since we’re testing with the 3Gbps Serial ATA controller in Intel’s P55 chipset, the Deskstar doesn’t get to flex its 6Gbps connectivity. I’m not sure there’s much to show off, though. The Deskstar fails to eclipse 200MB/s in HD Tune’s burst speed test. At least that burst rate makes the 7K3000 quicker than a number of its rivals.
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 and a graph that just focuses on 3.5″ mechanical models.
Although its read access times aren’t particularly fast, the Deskstar’s comparative standing improves as we move to larger transfer sizes. To get a better sense of things, let’s take a closer look at access times with 4KB and 1MB transfer sizes.
With a 4KB transfer size, the Deskstar’s read access times are several milliseconds behind the fastest 7,200-RPM desktop drives. In fact, the 7K3000 is even slower than the 3TB Caviar Green. The Deskstar looks a little better with the 1MB transfer size, which puts it at the back of the 7,200-RPM field but at least way out ahead of the low-power offerings.
Things look better for the Deskstar when we switch to random writes. As the graph above illustrates, the Caviar Green 3TB’s access times are considerably slower than any of the other 3.5″ mechanical drives.
The 7K3000, meanwhile, is much more competitive. With the 4KB transfer size, the Deskstar manages the third-fastest access time of the 7,200-RPM pack. Although not as fast with the larger 1MB transfer size, the Deskstar still beats its terabyte cousin and the Barracuda 7200.12.
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.
Sequential transfers again prove to be a strong suit of the Deskstar 7K3000, which nearly matches the latest VelociRaptor in FC-Test. Samsung’s terabyte Spinpoint is a few MB/s ahead, and Seagate’s Barracuda XT 2TB is just 1MB/s behind.
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.
This real-world test proves to be fertile ground for the 7K3000. Sure, the Deskstar still trails the Spinpoint. The gap between those two is only 2MB/s, though. That’s a much smaller delta than the 9MB/s lead that the Deskstar enjoys over the next-closest 7,200-RPM desktop drive. The Caviar Green 3TB languishes a full 20MB/s short of the 7K3000’s copy speed.
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, Nero does the best job of stressing the storage subsystem. Hitachi does pretty well in that test; the Deskstar 7K3000 comes out ahead of the mechanical field, and its 7K1000.C cousin takes second place ahead of WD’s fastest VelociRaptor.
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 Deskstar finds itself in the middle of the pack in our boot time test. You can save a couple of seconds with a faster mechanical drive or lose a few with a slower one.
For some strange reason, the Deskstar crashed out of our game tests when running off the same system image we used with every other drive. The image otherwise worked properly, completing our WorldBench and compile tests without a fuss. Fortunately, we had no problems running the game tests after doing a fresh Windows install.
I say fortunately because the 7K3000 handled our gaming tests pretty well. In both, it essentially tied for the lead among 7,200-RPM desktop drives.
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.
Impressive. The 7K3000 has a long way to go to catch the solid-state crowd, but it scores higher than any other 7,200-RPM desktop drive here.
Let’s break down the overall average into individual test results to see if anything stands out.
The individual test results closely mirror the overall average. Notice that the Deskstar performs particularly well with the file-copy and virus-scan workloads, which just happen to be the most demanding of the bunch. The Caviar Green 3TB is sluggish across the board, and it really chokes on our virus scan.
As a control, we also recorded a trace of our foreground tasks, while nothing was going on in the background.
Taking the multitasking element out of the equation doesn’t change the picture much.
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.
The Deskstar’s performance with our startup workload is about what you’d expect given what we’ve seen in DriveBench thus far.
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 2.5″ notebook 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.
Our IOMeter tests nicely simulate the kinds of enterprise workloads faced by the 7K3000’s Ultrastar twin. The results aren’t particularly encouraging for Hitachi. Although the Deskstar’s transaction rate ramps up aggressively as the load rises above 64 concurrent I/O requests, it’s not all that impressive under lighter loads that are likely to be more common—especially on the desktop. The Caviar Blacks have much higher transaction rates across all load levels, and the VelociRaptors are in another class entirely.
To Hitachi’s credit, the Deskstar does come out ahead of the 3TB Caviar Green. The gap between them isn’t very big, though.
Remember what I said about spindle motors having to work harder to rotate the weight of additional platters? The 7K3000’s power consumption is pretty high overall, likely because it’s saddled with a fifth platter (the other mechanical drives we tested have four or fewer platters). More troubling is the fact that the Deskstar’s idle power draw is only 1W lower than under load.
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.
The Deskstar is quieter than I’d expected. At idle, it’s only 1.5 decibels louder than a low-power Caviar Green with the same capacity. There’s a clearly audible chatter when the Deskstar is seeking, resulting in a noise level 3 decibels higher than the like-sized Caviar Green. To its credit, the 7K3000’s seek noise is substantially quieter than the Caviar Black 2TB and only a little bit louder than the old Caviar Green 2TB.
Normally, we’d do another round of testing with our mechanical drives to evaluate the impact of different Automatic Acoustic Management (AAM) settings on seek noise and performance. The Deskstar didn’t respond to HD Tune’s attempts to change its default AAM setting, though. HD Tune listed the drive’s AAM default as 0 (AAM values are typically between 128 and 254), and no amount of fiddling managed to make another value stick.
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.
As a top-of-the-line capacity, the Deskstar 7K3000 3TB shouldn’t be expected to compete with the cost per gigabyte of drives that offer less total storage capacity. Still, the Deskstar gets you slightly more capacity per dollar than Caviar Green 3TB.
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.
Slower random access times and lower IOMeter transaction rates prevent the Deskstar from topping the Caviar Blacks when we calculate an overall performance score. Third place ain’t bad, though. The 7K3000 is only a few percentage points shy of second place, and it has a much larger lead over the fourth-place Spinpoint.
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 2.5″ 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.
Oh, sweet scatter plot. You tell us just about everything we need to know. The Deskstar offers similar performance to the Caviar Black 1TB at a much lower cost per gigabyte. Versus the only other three-terabyte drive in the bunch, the Deskstar offers substantially higher performance without adding to the 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.
This plot nicely highlights the fact that the Deskstar 7K3000 is not an inexpensive drive to purchase outright. However, it’s cheaper than the Caviar Green, which lags behind on the performance front.
On one hand, the Deskstar 7K3000 represents an impressive milestone for mechanical storage. On the other, it’s the latest example of Hitachi reaching a new capacity with five platters instead of four. Adding another platter to compensate for a lower areal density is hardly cheating, and it may even pay dividends if there’s truth to Hitachi’s claim that lower areal densities lead to fewer media and head failures over the long term. But the fact remains that Hitachi is squeezing a lot less data into every square inch of platter area than its competitors.
There may be little point to debating the merits of this design decision, though. Western Digital has already announced its intention to buy Hitachi’s storage business, and the Deskstar 7K3000 could be a dead man walking as a result. That would be a shame, because it’s currently the only 7,200-RPM drive you can buy with a 3TB capacity. Seagate claims to be shipping a 3TB flavor of its Barracuda XT, but we haven’t been able to find one that’s actually for sale. Besides, the ‘cuda is a five-platter design. Western Digital has yet to announce its plans for a 3TB Caviar at 7,200 RPM.
If the 7K3000 is to be the last Deskstar—of Hitachi’s or ever—at least the brand is going out in style. The 7K3000 has impressively fast sequential transfer rates, and it ripped through our disk-intensive multitasking workloads. For a five-platter design with a 7,200-RPM spindle speed, the Deskstar is pretty quiet, too. I’d still side with the Caviar Green 3TB for a home-theater PC, but I would consider the 7K3000 for secondary desktop storage, a role in which in can provide tangible performance benefits.
One also has to consider the fact that the Deskstar currently costs $20 less than the Caviar. Anyone in the market for a 3TB system drive would do well to pick up the Hitachi, pocket the difference, and enjoy the faster performance. The case for home-theater PCs and secondary storage isn’t as clear-cut. If the rest of your system is already pretty quiet, and you aspire to a silent PC, the Caviar is probably the better option. WD throws in a 6Gbps SATA card that’ll let you boot off the Caviar with its full 3TB capacity, too.
Since the Deskstar is the better system drive of the two, the add-in card isn’t enough to sway things in Western Digital’s direction overall. Hitachi may be behind on areal density, but the combination of a faster spindle speed and lower price win the day. In the realm of ultra-high-capacity hard drives, the Deskstar 7K3000 is TR recommended, even if it’s a dead man walking.