Since the first Western Digital Raptor was released in early 2003, a new version has arrived roughly every two years. The initial incarnation was the first Serial ATA hard drive to spin its platters at 10,000 RPM. With performance that outclassed its 7,200-RPM competition but only 37GB of storage, the Raptor became the original enthusiast’s boot drive.
In the years since, WD has kept the drive’s spindle speed steady while increasing its capacity. A 74GB model soon followed, and the Raptor jumped to 150GB after that. Then, in 2008, the drive shrunk down to a 2.5″ form factor and got a new name: the VelociRaptor. Despite its smaller size, the VelociRaptor retained the original’s 10k-RPM rotational speed and bumped the capacity up to 300GB. Two years later, a 600GB version of the drive was released.
Betcha can’t guess what’s next.
Assuming you’ve read the title, I suppose you can. Western Digital has a new VelociRaptor with an even terabyte of storage capacity. This latest addition to WD’s high-performance desktop line enters a very different market than the one encountered by its forebear. Solid-state drives have gotten a lot faster in the past two years, and crucially, their prices have fallen by about half. At the same time, mechanical hard drive makers have seemingly become less interested in high-performance desktop drives, instead preferring to focus on notebook models and slower products destined for external enclosures.
Is there a place for the VelociRaptor in the evolving PC storage ecosystem? We’ve been testing the drive against its mechanical, hybrid, and solid-state peers to find an answer. Read on to see what we’ve learned.
New upgrades for an old favorite
Western Digital is positioning the VelociRaptor as a high-performance product for enthusiasts, content-creation professionals, and workstations. The Raptor’s real mission has always been enterprise applications, though. As it’s done with past 10k-RPM drives, WD will surely release a version of the new VelociRaptor specifically tailored for servers. Those enterprise aspirations are what drove WD to shrink the original 3.5″ Raptor down to the 2.5″ form factor that has come to define the VelociRaptor.
The VelociRaptor 1TB still slips into 3.5″ drive bays thanks to its IcePack enclosure, which includes the appropriate mounting holes and port placements for the larger form factor. Removing the 2.5″ drive from this sled requires little more than loosening a few Torx screws. One of those screws is covered by a warranty voiding sticker, though; remove with caution.
As much as I love the sinister-looking teeth that line the IcePack, I’d be tempted to run the VelociRaptor naked. Most contemporary cases already come with 2.5″ mounting hardware to accommodate solid-state drives. There’s a certain elegance to the smaller form factor, too, although the VelociRaptor is thicker than the average 2.5-incher. The drive measures 15 mm thick, while SSDs and notebook drives typically have a thickness of 9.5 mm.
The 2.5″ format allows enterprise versions of the VelociRaptor to be packed tightly into rack-mounted servers. Those environments are filled with vibration from adjacent drives, which the VelociRaptor combats with a Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward mechanism that adjusts the height of the drive head based on vibration data collected from linear accelerometers on the circuit board. WD’s NoTouch ramp load feature moves the drive head completely off the platters when the disk is idling. Keeping the drive head from making contact with the platters purportedly reduces wear and lowers the chance of a catastrophic head crash.
Like the Caviar Black 2TB desktop drive, the VelociRaptor 1TB situates its drive head at the end of a dual-stage actuator. The first stage is similar to the actuators on typical hard drives; it gets the drive head into the right zip code. Stage two involves a piezoelectric motor that allows the drive head to zero in on an individual address. If the next address is within the same zip code, the VelociRaptor can jump to it using only the actuator’s second stage.
|VelociRaptor VR200M||VelociRaptor 1TB|
|Interface||6Gbps Serial ATA|
|Spindle speed||10,000 RPM|
|Available capacities||450, 600GB||250, 500GB, 1TB|
|Maximum data rate||145MB/s||200MB/s|
|Idle acoustics||27 dBA||30 dBA|
|Read/write acoustics||34 dBA||37 dBA|
The fine-grained control offered by the dual-stage actuator becomes increasingly important as areal densities rise, making the tracks on the platter narrower and the individual bits smaller. We’ve never been able to coax Western Digital into revealing the exact areal density of the platters in its VelociRaptor drives. However, the company did confirm that the new model uses a trio of 333GB platters. Since the old one had 200GB platters, it looks like WD has increased the areal density by roughly 67%. The resulting increase in linear density is what allows the VelociRaptor 1TB to offer a higher maximum data rate than its predecessor; the more bits that pass under the drive head with each revolution, the higher the sequential throughput
On its own, the VelociRaptor’s 333GB platter capacity isn’t all that impressive. WD’s Scorpio Blue manages to squeeze 500GB onto its 2.5″ platters, and the Scorpio Black’s platters pack 375GB. However, those drives spin at only 5,400 and 7,200 RPM, respectively. The VelociRaptor’s media rotates at a much faster 10,000 RPM. At that speed, the outer edge of the platter is moving at around 75 miles an hour.
Like the Scorpios and most of WD’s latest models, the VelociRaptor’s platters use Advanced Format. This standard replaces the 512-byte sectors of old with 4KB ones that make more efficient use of the drive media. The larger sectors dedicate fewer blocks to address and error correction data, leading to a 7-11% increase in storage capacity, according to WD.
The last upgrade for the VelociRaptor is an increase in cache size from 32 to 64MB. That cache will be the only part of the drive capable of making use of the 6Gbps Serial ATA interface, which offers much more bandwidth than the drive’s maximum data rate.
Five-year warranty coverage is to be expected on a premium hard drive like the VelociRaptor, and WD doesn’t disappoint. The longer warranty is particularly notable given the recent trend toward shorter coverage for mainstream drives. Despite their premium prices, only a handful of SSDs can match the VelociRaptor’s five-year coverage.
Our testing methods
We have a full suite of performance results for literally dozens of different drives, but today, we’ve narrowed the field to focus largely on how the VelociRaptor’s performance compares to mechanical alternatives. The only drive that’s really comparable to the new VelociRaptor is its predecessor, the VR200M, which we’ve tested alongside a selection of 7,200-RPM desktop models. We’ve also thrown in a handful of 2.5″ notebook drives, including two generations of Seagate’s Momentus XT hybrids, which combine mechanical platters with NAND caches.
Since the VelociRaptor 1TB is set to cost $320, we couldn’t resist adding a handful of SSDs in the same price range. We’ve included four 240-256GB models based on some of the most popular controller configurations on the market right now. Our testing methods and systems haven’t changed, so the VelociRaptor’s scores can be compared to those in any of our storage reviews dating back to last September.
If you’re familiar with our test methods and hardware, the rest of this page is filled with nerdy details you already know; feel free to skip ahead to the benchmark results. For the rest of you, we’ve summarized the essential characteristics of all the drives we’ve tested in the table below.
|Interface||Cache||Spindle speed||Areal density||Flash controller||NAND|
|Corsair Force Series 3 240GB||6Gbps||NA||NA||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25-nm Micron async MLC|
|Corsair Force Series GT 240GB||6GBps||NA||NA||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25-nm Intel sync MLC|
|Crucial m4 256GB||6Gbps||256MB||NA||NA||Marvell 88SS9174||25-nm Micron sync MLC|
|Samsung 830 Series 256GB||6GBps||256MB||NA||NA||Samsung S4LJ204X01||2x-nm Samsung Toggle DDR|
|Hitachi Deskstar 7K3000 3TB||6Gbps||64MB||7,200 RPM||411 Gb/in²||NA||NA|
|Seagate Barracuda 3TB||6Gbps||64MB||7,200 RPM||625 Gb/in²||NA||NA|
|Seagate Momentus 5400.4 25GB||3Gbps||8MB||5,400 RPM||204 Gb/in²||NA||NA|
|Seagate Momentus XT 500GB||3Gbps||32MB||7,200 RPM||394 Gb/in²||NA*||4GB SLC|
|Seagate Momentus XT 750GB||6Gbps||32MB||7,200 RPM||541 Gb/in²||NA*||8GB SLC|
|WD Caviar Black 1TB||6Gbps||64MB||7,200 RPM||400 Gb/in²||NA||NA|
|WD Caviar Black 2TB||6Gbps||64MB||7,200 RPM||400 Gb/in²||NA||NA|
|WD Scorpio Black 750GB||3Gbps||16MB||7,200 RPM||520 Gb/in²||NA||NA|
|WD VelociRaptor VR200M 600GB||6Gbps||32MB||10,000 RPM||NA||NA||NA|
|WD VelociRaptor 1TB||6Gbps||64MB||10,000 RPM||NA||NA||NA|
We used the following system configuration for testing:
|Processor||Intel Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz|
|Motherboard||Asus P8P67 Deluxe|
|Platform hub||Intel P67 Express|
|Platform drivers||INF update 22.214.171.1240
|Memory size||8GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz|
|Audio||Realtek ALC892 with 2.62 drivers|
|Graphics||Asus EAH6670/DIS/1GD5 1GB with Catalyst 11.7 drivers|
|Hard drives||Corsair Force 3 Series 240GB with 1.3.2 firmware
Corsair Force Series GT 240GB with 1.3.2 firmware
Crucial m4 256GB with 0009 firmware
Samsung 830 Series 256GB with CXM03B1Q firmware
Hitachi Deskstar 7K3000 3TB with MKA0A580 firmware
Seagate Barracuda 3TB with CC47 firmware
Seagate Momentus XT 500GB with SD22 firmware
Seagate Momentus XT 750GB with SM12 firmware
WD Caviar Black 1TB with 05.01D05 firmware
WD Caviar Black 2TB with 01.00101 firmware
WD Scorpio Black 750GB with 01.01A01 firmware
WD VelociRaptor VR200M 600GB with 04.05G04 firmware
WD VelociRaptor 1TB with 04.06A00 firmware
|Power supply||Corsair Professional Series Gold AX650W|
|OS||Windows 7 Ultimate x64|
Thanks to Asus for providing the systems’ motherboards and graphics cards, Intel for the CPUs, Corsair for the memory and PSUs, Thermaltake for the CPU coolers, and Western Digital for the Caviar Black 1TB system drives.
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- Intel IOMeter 1.1.0 RC1
- HD Tune 4.61
- TR DriveBench 1.0
- TR DriveBench 2.0
- TR FileBench 0.2
- Qt SDK 2010.05
- MiniGW GCC 4.4.0
- Duke Nukem Forever
- Portal 2
Some further notes on our test methods:
- To ensure consistent and repeatable results, the SSDs were secure-erased before almost every component of our test suite. Some of our tests then put the SSDs into a used state before the workload begins, which better exposes each drive’s long-term performance characteristics. In other tests, like DriveBench and FileBench, we induce a used state before testing. In all cases, the SSDs were in the same state before each test, ensuring an even playing field. The performance of mechanical hard drives is much more consistent between factory fresh and used states, so we skipped wiping the HDDs before each test—mechanical drives take forever to secure erase.
- We run all our tests at least three times and report the median of the results. We’ve found IOMeter performance can fall off with SSDs after the first couple of runs, so we use five runs for solid-state drives and throw out the first two.
- Steps have been taken to ensure that Sandy Bridge’s power-saving features don’t taint any of our results. All of the CPU’s low-power states have been disabled, effectively pegging the 2500K at 3.3GHz. Transitioning in and out of different power states can affect the performance of storage benchmarks, especially when dealing with short burst transfers.
The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. 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
HD Tune lets us present transfer rates in a couple of different ways. Using the benchmark’s “full test” setting gives us a good look at performance across the entire drive rather than extrapolating based on a handful of sample points. The data created by the full test also gives us fodder for line graphs.
To make the graphs easier to interpret, we’ve greyed out the SSDs. They’ve also been left off our line graphs to make things easier to read. The other results have been colored by drive maker, with the VelociRaptor 1TB set apart from WD’s other offerings in a brighter shade of blue.
Score one for the VelociRaptor—sort of, and only just. The latest VelociRaptor just edges out the Barracuda 3TB to top the mechanical field in HD Tune’s read speed test. As the line graph illustrates, the VelociRaptor offers higher transfer rates than the ‘cuda over about the last quarter of their respective capacities. The old VelociRaptor must settle for third place among mechanical drives, 35MB/s behind the leader.
Well, the leader of the mechanical pack, anyway. The VelociRaptor 1TB is blown away by the SSDs, whose average sequential read speeds are 2.5 times faster.
HD Tune’s write speed test produces similar results for the mechanical drives. The VelociRaptor remains in the lead, trailed by the Barracuda 3TB.
Although the SSDs don’t enjoy as much of an advantage as they did in the read speed test, they still outclass the VelociRaptor. The slowest of the solid-state drives is 80MB/s ahead of the WD drive, and the Samsung 830 Series is 2.4 times faster.
HD Tune’s burst speed tests are meant to isolate a drive’s cache memory.
The VelociRaptor 1TB’s 64MB cache is very quick, allowing the drive to leap into fourth place overall. It’s not the only mechanical drive to post higher burst speeds than some of the SSDs, though. The Barracuda has a higher write burst speed, in fact.
HD Tune — Random access times
In addition to letting us test transfer rates, HD Tune can measure random access times. We’ve tested with four transfer sizes and presented all the results in a couple of line graphs that include the Samsung 830 Series SSD for reference. We’ve also busted out the 4KB and 1MB transfers sizes into bar graphs that include all the SSDs.
There’s no getting around the fact that the access times for SSDs are two orders of magnitude lower than they are for mechanical drives. Even the Momentus XT hybrids get in on the action up to the 64KB transfer size. 1MB random reads prove too large for their solid-state caches, though. The SSDs are down to one order of magnitude ahead in the 1MB test, as well.
Against its strictly mechanical peers, the VelociRaptor is unmatched. The 10k-RPM spindle speed pays big dividends here, putting the VelociRaptors in a different class than their 7,200-RPM competition. The new model is slightly quicker than the old one across the board.
Things get a little bit, well, weird in HD Tune’s 512-byte random write test. The SSDs continue to dominate, of course, and the read-only caches of the Momentus XT hybrids are of no help. A number of the Western Digital drives have higher access times than one might expect given their performance in the other tests, though. The VelociRaptor 1TB is one of them, but its predecessor is unaffected. Somehow, the Barracuda 3TB manages SSD-like access times, which makes me think it’s caching small writes in its DRAM cache.
In the tests with larger transfer sizes, the VelociRaptor 1TB continues to excel. It has much lower access times than the 7,200-RPM alternatives and even a big edge over the old VelociRaptor in the 1MB test. The solid-state drives remain out of reach.
TR FileBench — Real-world copy speeds
Concocted by resident developer Bruno “morphine” Ferreira, FileBench runs through a series of file copy operations using Windows 7’s xcopy command. Using xcopy produces nearly identical copy speeds to dragging and dropping files using the Windows GUI, so our results should be representative of typical real-world performance. We tested using the following five file sets—note the differences in average file sizes and their compressibility. We evaluated the compressibility of each file set by comparing its size before and after being run through 7-Zip’s “ultra” compression scheme.
|Number of files||Average file size||Total size||Compressibility|
The names of most of the file sets are self-explanatory. The Mozilla set is made up of all the files necessary to compile the browser, while the TR set includes years worth of the images, HTML files, and spreadsheets behind my reviews. Those two sets contain much greater numbers of smaller files than the other three. They’re also the most amenable to compression.
We’ve tested the SSDs in a used state, after running a 30-minute IOMeter workload. The IOMeter test file consumes the SSD’s entire capacity, and we delete it right before running FileBench. SSDs are typically slower in this state than they are fresh from a secure erase that empties all the available flash pages. We haven’t found a substantial difference in the performance of mechanical drives between these states.
The new VelociRaptor takes a bite out of the Crucial m4 in the Mozilla and TR tests, but it can’t catch the other SSDs. Those drives open up bigger leads in the other tests, which are made up of fewer, larger files. In the MP3, RAW, and movie tests, the VelociRaptor stays within striking distance of another SSD, this time the asynchronous SandForce setup that underpins Corsair’s Force Series 3.
WD’s latest VelociRaptor is much faster than the old 600GB model no matter the file set. It runs away from the mechanical drives in the TR and Mozilla tests, too. However, the VelociRaptor is neck-and-neck with the Barracuda when copying our mid-sized MP3 and RAW files.
TR DriveBench 1.0 — Disk-intensive multitasking
TR DriveBench allows us to record the individual IO requests associated with a Windows session and then play those results back as fast as possible 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. The individual workloads are explained in more detail here.
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.
Utter domination for the SSDs. Their I/O rates are in the neighborhood of four times higher than the best mechanical drive, which turns out to be the VelociRaptor 1TB—again. The new VelociRaptor has a comfortable lead over its elder sibling and a substantial advantage over all the other mechanical drives, including the hybrids. Indeed, the VelociRaptor 1TB nearly doubles the score of the Barracuda 3TB and Caviar Black 1TB.
Let’s break down DriveBench’s individual tests to see if we can find any interesting storylines.
The VelociRaptor 1TB’s trouncing of its mechanical competition is consistent. However, it pales in comparison to the performance of the SSDs. Looks like the Barracuda 3TB, which fared well in our real-world file copy tests, doesn’t like performing typical desktop tasks at the same time. It plunges to last place in the file copy test, pushing about a quarter of the IOps of the latest VelociRaptor.
TR DriveBench 2.0 — More disk-intensive multitasking
As much as we like DriveBench 1.0’s individual workloads, the traces cover only slices of disk activity. Because we fire the recorded I/Os at the disks as fast as possible, solid-state drives also have no downtime during which to engage background garbage collection or other optimization algorithms. DriveBench 2.0 addresses both of those issues with a much larger trace that spans two weeks of typical desktop activity peppered with multitasking loads similar to those in DriveBench 1.0. We’ve also adjusted our testing methods to give solid-state drives enough idle time to tidy up after themselves. More details on DriveBench 2.0 are available on this page of our last major SSD round-up.
Instead of looking at a raw IOps rate, we’re going to switch gears and explore service times—the amount of time it takes drives to complete an I/O request. We’ll start with an overall mean service time before slicing and dicing the results.
Once again, the new VelociRaptor finds itself caught between two worlds. On one hand, its mean service time is comfortably shorter than any of the other mechanical drives. On the other, the SSDs lead by fair margins. The mean service times of the fastest solid-state drives are less than one fourth those of the new VelociRaptor.
Let’s see what we can learn by splitting service times between read and write requests.
The SSDs clean up with reads, but their write performance isn’t as impressive. The Crucial m4 has a longer mean write service time than a number of the mechanical drives, including the VelociRaptor 1TB, which nearly catches the Corsair Force Series 3.
There are millions of I/O requests in this trace, so we can’t easily graph service times to look at the variance. However, our analysis tools do report the standard deviation, which can give us a sense of how much service times vary from the mean.
Well, there’s your problem, Crucial. The m4 has much more variance in its write service times than any other drive, including the slowest mechanical model. The other SSDs offer much more consistent write service times.
The old VelociRaptor actually has less variance in its write service times than the old model, but the difference is quite small. The new model makes it up with reads, although the service times of the mechanical drives are much more variable as a whole.
If I haven’t already scared you off with too many graphs and statistics, this next pair will do it. We’re going to close out our DriveBench analysis with a look at the distribution of service times. I’ve split the tally between I/O requests that complete in 0-1 milliseconds, 1-100 ms, and those that take longer than 100 ms to complete.
Thanks to its solid-state cache, the Momentus XT 750GB is able to hang with the VelociRaptor 1TB in the read component of this metric. The latest VelociRaptor has more sub-millisecond read service times than its mechanical peers. The SSDs are in another tier, though. They also have fewer extremely long service times over 100 milliseconds, but the percentages for that category are quite low overall.
The new VelociRaptor again proves potent when we consider write performance. It’s the only mechanical drive to break into the SSD pack, completing more write requests in under a millisecond than the Crucial m4.
Our IOMeter workloads feature a ramping number of concurrent I/O requests. Most desktop systems will only have a few requests in flight at any given time (87% of DriveBench 2.0 requests have a queue depth of four or less). We’ve extended our scaling up to 32 concurrent requests to reach the depth of the Native Command Queuing pipeline associated with the Serial ATA specification. Ramping up the number of requests also gives us a sense of how the drives might perform in more demanding enterprise environments.
We run our IOMeter tests using the fully randomized data pattern, which is a worst-case scenario for SSDs, not that it matters. They’re so much faster in these IOMeter tests that including the results would completely throw off the scale of the graphs, making the mechanical drives impossible to distinguish from one another. If you want to see what I’m talking about, check out how the SSDs stack up on this page of our Vertex 4 review.
Our IOMeter workloads benefit from quick access times, and the 10k-RPM drives outclass their 7,200-RPM rivals as a result. The VelociRaptors offer much higher transaction rates from the lightest to the heaviest load. The new model extends its lead over the VR200M as the number of concurrent I/O requests ramps up in the web server, database, and workstation tests. However, the reverse is true in the file server test, where the difference between the two is particularly prominent. I suspect that’s because the file server test is the only one to contain 512-byte writes, which we’ve already seen pose problems for the new VelociRaptor.
Before timing a couple of real-world applications, we first have to load the OS. We can measure how long that takes by checking the Windows 7 boot duration using the operating system’s performance-monitoring tools. This is actually the first time we’re booting Windows 7 off each drive; up until this point, our testing has been hosted by an OS housed on a separate system drive.
The Momentus XT 750GB has some caching mojo dedicated to accelerating the Windows 7 boot process, and the new VelociRaptor 1TB can’t keep up. It’s a few seconds shy of the SSDs, too, but loads the OS quicker than all of the purely mechanical drives.
Level load times
Modern games lack built-in timing tests to measure level loads, so we busted out a stopwatch with a couple of reasonably recent titles.
The SSDs have a few seconds on the VelociRaptor 1TB here, as well. The latest Momentus XT hybrid enjoys quicker Duke Nukem Forever load times than the WD drive, but its solid-state cache isn’t as effective at speeding entry into one of Portal 2‘s test chambers. As we’ve seen throughout our tests, the new VelociRaptor offers better performance than purely mechanical drives, including its 10k-RPM sibling.
We tested power consumption under load with IOMeter’s workstation access pattern chewing through 32 concurrent I/O requests. Idle power consumption was probed one minute after processing Windows 7’s idle tasks on an empty desktop.
The new VelociRaptor’s power consumption is very close to that of the old model, which is surely a requirement of its underlying enterprise ambitions. While they can’t match the low power draw of the solid-state or notebook drives, the VelociRaptors do pull fewer watts than the desktop models.
We’re a little OCD here at TR, so we’ve constructed a Box ‘o Silence to test the noise emitted by mechanical hard drives. This 18″ x 20″ anechoic chamber is lined with acoustic foam, and we suspend hard drives inside it, exactly 4″ away from the tip of our TES-52 digital sound level meter. You can read more about the setup here.
To ensure the lowest possible ambient noise levels, we swapped the test system’s graphics card for a passively-cooled Gigabyte model and unplugged one of the Frio’s dual fans. Noise levels were measured after one minute of idling at the Windows desktop and during an HD Tune seek test.
The VelociRaptor 1TB is a bit of a chatterbox when seeking; it’s much louder than any of the other drives, including the old VelociRaptor. I wasn’t annoyed by the drive’s seek noise when it was running on my open test rack, which sits about five feet away, but the buzzing was more noticeable than the duller whir of the other mechanical drives.
At idle, the new VelociRaptor is less obtrusive, matching the noise level of the Caviar Black 1TB. It’s quieter than the VR200M, too, albeit by fewer decibels than the difference in seek noise between the two VelociRaptors.
The value perspective
Welcome to our famous value analysis, which adds capacity and pricing to the performance data we’ve explored over the preceding pages. We used Newegg prices to even the playing field, and we didn’t take mail-in rebates into account when performing our calculations. Since the VelociRaptor 1TB isn’t widely available online just yet, we’ve had to use WD’s suggested retail price.
First, we’ll look at the all-important cost per gigabyte, which we’ve obtained using the amount of storage capacity accessible to users in Windows.
Although the SSDs approach the arbitrarily magical dollar-per-gigabyte mark, the mechanical drives are cheaper, at least per gigabyte. The VelociRaptor 1TB’s $320 asking price makes it more expensive per gig than all the mechanical drives except the VR200M. The Momentus XT hybrids also command a premium, while the Barracuda 3TB represents the best value for your storage dollar—based on capacity alone.
Our remaining value calculations use a single performance score that we’ve derived by comparing how each drive stacks up against a common baseline provided by the Momentus 5400.4, a 2.5″ notebook drive with a painfully slow 5,400-RPM spindle speed. This index uses a subset of our performance data described on this page of our last SSD round-up.
That pretty much says it all. The VelociRaptor 1TB is clearly the fastest mechanical drive, and it offers substantially higher performance than the old model. However, SSDs represent a huge step up overall.
Now for the real magic. We can plot this overall score on one axis and each drive’s cost per gigabyte on the other to create a scatter plot of performance per dollar per gigabyte. Because the SSD performance scores are so much higher, I’ve busted out two scatter plots: one with labels and just the mechanical drives, and another that maps the relationship between those drives and the solid-state alternatives. The latter gets a little too crowded for labels, so you’ll have to make do with the color-coding.
The VelociRaptor 1TB is in a much more attractive region of our first scatter plot than the VR200M, which is both slower and more expensive per gig. While the other mechanical drives sit to the left of the new VelociRaptor on the dollar-per-gigabyte axis, they’re much lower on the performance scale.
In our second plot, the solid-state drives stick to the top-right corner, with extremely high performance that costs quite a lot more per gigabyte. The mechanical drives occupy the lower left quadrant, offering less performance at a lower per-gig cost.
To look at the value perspective from a slightly different angle, we’ve divided our overall performance score by the sum of our test system’s components. Those parts total around $800 before we add the cost of the SSDs.
As the most expensive mechanical drive of the bunch, the VelociRaptor 1TB sits the farthest to the right on our first scatter plot. Its price premium at least comes with higher performance than the other mechanical drives.
The second plot is really interesting because the new VelociRaptor costs about as much as our 240-256GB SSDs. They offer about a quarter of the capacity, of course, but also several times the performance.
The VelociRaptor 1TB is easily the fastest mechanical hard drive we’ve tested. In addition to offering the highest sequential transfer rates, it delivers best-in-class access times. The VelociRaptor’s 10k-RPM spindle speed deserves much of the credit, and the move to higher-density platters allows the new model to improve upon the old one’s performance while also offering an extra 400GB of storage capacity.
As we saw throughout our test suite, the VelociRaptor’s performance falls between SSDs and slower-rotating mechanical drives. So does its cost per gigabyte. I’m just not sure how many desktop users are looking for storage in that middle ground. Most of them would probably be better served by the combination of a solid-state boot drive backed by secondary mechanical storage. Indeed, one could pair WD’s own Caviar Black 1TB with a 128GB SSD for less than the new VelociRaptor’s $320 asking price.
Capacity is the only advantage the VelociRaptor has over the growing field of solid-state drives. Modern SSDs are faster across the board. They’re pricier, of course, but only per gigabyte. Our favorite SSD, the Samsung 830 Series 256GB, has been selling for around $300, or $20 less than the new VelociRaptor’s suggested retail price. The VelociRaptor offers four times the storage capacity, though.
I’ve held off calling the VelociRaptor a dinosaur until now, but that’s the inescapable reality. The fact is the VelociRaptor hails from an era when 10k-RPM drives were the only way to get substantially quicker access times in a desktop PC. SSDs have redefined the market for high-performance desktop storage, relegating the VelociRaptor to a much smaller niche. It seems unlikely that enthusiasts will plunk down $320 for a terabyte of mechanical storage unless they’re building an ultra-high-end system already equipped with an SSD. The VelociRaptor seems more likely to appeal to workstation users and content-creation professionals working with data sets too large for affordable SSDs.
Let’s not forget the fact that WD is surely grooming a version of the VelociRaptor targeted squarely at servers. That drive will also face challenges from solid-state storage, but its capacity could prove more valuable for enterprise applications that deal with loads of data. And no one will notice the VelociRaptor’s seek chatter when it’s running inside a crowded server room.
Server versions of the VelociRaptor have always seemed to be Western Digital’s primary focus. The desktop flavors have felt like a sort of bonus for enthusiasts, an admittedly small niche in the larger PC market going back as far as the original Raptor. To remain relevant to that niche, the next generation will need to do something drastic—likely with solid-state storage. Whether the next ‘Raptor sheds its mechanical platters completely or become some sort of robot-dinosaur hybrid remains to be seen. I guess we’ll let you know in a couple of years.