With SSDs increasingly serving our high-performance storage needs, the acoustic footprint of hard drives has arguably become a more important differentiating factor—especially for PC enthusiasts who have built themselves near-silent systems. 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 CPU cooler's dual fans. Noise levels were measured after one minute of idling at the Windows desktop and during an HD Tune seek test.
We've color-coded the results by manufacturer to make the graphs easier to read. Because they have no moving parts and are essentially silent, the SSDs are missing from the noise results. When they do appear in the graphs, the corresponding bars are greyed out to set apart what is really a different class of PC storage.
The WD Red 4TB is remarkably quiet; it emanates a faint hum while idling, and its seek chatter is barely audible from a few inches away. Only the 3TB version produces less noise, likely because it has fewer platters. Drives with higher platter counts tend to generate more noise.
Spindle speeds also affect noise levels, so it's no surprise that the three quietest drives have rotational speeds close to 5,400 RPM. The 7,200-RPM models are all much louder. In fact, the Black 4TB generates nearly 10 decibels more than its Red counterpart during our seek test. Since decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, that delta makes the Black twice as loud as the Red. You can definitely hear the difference between the two—and even between the Red and Seagate's Desktop HDD.15 4TB—when the drives are getting hammered.
Power consumption was tested 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.
Although the Desktop HDD.15 consumes a little less power than the Red 4TB under load, the WD drive is more efficient at idle.
The Red 4TB draws only a fraction of the power of its Black sibling, largely due to the difference in spindle speed. Drive motors require more power the faster they spin the platters. Power consumption typically increases with the platter count, as well. That's why the Red 3TB requires less wattage than the 4TB model.
Unless you're running a big stack of drives, such small differences will amount to little more than a drop in the bucket on your monthly power bill. Keep in mind that heat output usually tracks with power consumption, though.
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