We’ve been waiting for that refresh for a couple of years now, and Western Digital finally tipped its hand in January when it announced the Raptor WD1500. The drive retains the Raptor’s 10K-RPM spindle speed and Serial ATA interface, but adds a beefier cache, larger total capacity, and support for Native Command Queuing. Just days later, Western Digital pulled back the curtains on the Raptor X, a version of the WD1500 with a window on the drive’s internals. That’s right: a hard drive window.
The Raptor X shares the WD1500’s updated internals, and apart from the better view, it’s identical to its enterprise-class counterpart. But how does it perform? We’ve cornered one in our labs and subjected it to an exhaustive set of synthetic and application tests to find out.
From an aesthetic perspective, hard drives tend to be rather dull. Not the Raptor X, though. It’s dressed in black and features a unique window that offers a glimpse at the mirror-like finish of the drive’s platters and one of its heads. The view is even more impressive with the drive powered on, as the platter spins and the drive head darts from track to track. Check out a video of the drive head in action here. There isn’t any real utility to the drive window, though. One could perhaps use it to diagnose a head crash or other mechanical failures, but it’s really just for show—showing off, that is. When you’re running what may be the fastest Serial ATA hard drive on the market, you might as well show off its internals. Think of it like an engine window on a Ferrari F430.
Of course, Ferraris don’t come cheap, and neither does the Raptor X. The drive carries a $50 price premium over the Raptor WD1500, which lacks the window but is otherwise identical to the Raptor X.
Apart from the WD1500, the Raptor X’s closest competitor is its predecessor, the Raptor WD740GB. Here’s how the new drive’s specs compare.
|Raptor X||Raptor WD740GD|
|Maximum external transfer rate||150MB/s|
|Maximum internal transfer rate||84MB/s||72MB/s|
|Read seek time||4.6ms||4.5ms|
|Write seek time||5.2ms||5.9ms|
|Average rotational latency||2.99ms|
|Idle power consumption||9.19W||8.40W|
|Read/write power consumption||10.02W||7.90W|
|Warranty length||Five years|
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Raptor X and the WD740GD is the former’s higher density platters. New 75GB platters allow Western Digital to squeeze 150GB out of a two-platter design, giving the Raptor X twice the capacity of the previous generation. Platters with a higher areal density do more than just increase the drive’s storage capacity, though. Greater areal densities allow the drive head to access the same amount of data over a shorter physical distance, resulting in higher sustained transfer rates.
In addition to doubling the WD740GD’s total capacity, the new Raptor also doubles its predecessor’s cache size from 8MB to 16MB. Support for Native Command Queuing (NCQ) has been added, as well. The WD740GD actually supports a form of command queuing known as Tagged Command Queuing (TCQ), but storage controllers with TCQ support have been few and far between. Support for NCQ is far more common—nearly universal among high-end core logic chipsets.
Despite several new features, the Raptor X has the same 10K-RPM spindle speed as previous Raptors. Write seek times are more than half a millisecond faster with the new drive, at least according to Western Digital’s spec sheet. That might not seem like a lot of time, but with processors pushing billions of instructions per second, it’s a virtual eternity inside a modern PC.
Speaking of eternities, the original 150MB/s Serial ATA interface has been around for a while now. Newer SATA hard drives and storage controllers have moved on to support 300MB/s transfer rates, but the Raptor X tops out at only 150MB/s. Western Digital says it hasn’t been able to get 300MB/s transfer rates working perfectly with a wide enough variety of disk controllers, so it has taken a conservative approach with the Raptor X. Since not even 15K-RPM SCSI drives can sustain fast enough transfer rates to saturate a 150MB/s connection, the Raptor X’s lack of support for 300MB/s transfer rates shouldn’t be a huge drawback.
We’ll be comparing the Raptor X’s performance with that of a slew of competitors, including some of the latest and greatest Serial ATA drives from Hitachi, Maxtor, Seagate, and Western Digital. We’ve also thrown in a Maxtor Atlas 10K V to explore how the new Raptor fares against something from the SCSI world.
The drives we’ll be looking at differ when it comes to external transfer rates, spindle speeds, cache sizes, platter densities, NCQ support, and capacity, all of which can have an impact on performance. Keep in mind the following differences as we move through our benchmarks:
|Max external transfer rate||Spindle speed||Cache size||Platter size||Capacity||Native Command Queuing?|
|Atlas 10K V||320MB/s||10,000RPM||8MB||74GB||300GB||No*|
|Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ||150MB/s||7,200RPM||8MB||80GB||160GB||Yes|
|Barracuda 7200.9 (160GB)||300MB/s||7,200RPM||8MB||160GB||160GB||Yes|
|Barracuda 7200.9 (500GB)||300MB/s||7,200RPM||16MB||125GB||500GB||Yes|
Note that the Atlas 10K V, Caviar SE16, and Raptor WD740GD lack support for Native Command Queuing. As we’ve mentioned, the WD740GD does support a form of command queuing known as Tagged Command Queuing (TCQ), but host controller and chipset support for TCQ is pretty thin. Our Intel 955X-based test platform doesn’t support TCQ, either. Thanks to an Adaptec 29320R SCSI controller, it will support the Atlas 10K V’s SCSI command queuing. The Atlas technically doesn’t do NCQ, but SCSI command queuing should be just as good—if not better.
While our SCSI card supports command queuing, adding it to our test system introduces a couple of other issues. The system lacks PCI-X slots, so the card is stuck on the relatively pokey PCI bus. At the very least, this will limit the speed of burst transfers, although it could also affect performance in other tests. SCSI drives also support a WRITE_THROUGH flag that requires that data be written directly to the disk rather than to the drive cache. This feature prevents data from being lost in the event of a power failure or other interruption, but it can slow write performance. WRITE_THROUGH is an important feature for enterprise applications, so we haven’t disabled it on the Atlas 10K V.
Since Seagate makes versions of the 7200.7 both with and without NCQ support, the 7200.7 in our tests appears as the “Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ” to clarify that it’s the NCQ version of the drive. The Caviar RE2, Deskstar T7K250, DiamondMax 10, 7200.8, 7200.9, and Raptor X aren’t explicitly labeled as NCQ drives because they’re not available without NCQ support.
Our testing methods
All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged, using the following test systems.
|Processor||Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz|
|System bus||800MHz (200MHz quad-pumped)|
|Motherboard||Asus P5WD2 Premium|
|North bridge||Intel 955X MCH|
|South bridge||Intel ICH7R|
|Chipset drivers||Chipset 220.127.116.113
|Memory size||1GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Micron DDR2 SDRAM at 533MHz|
|CAS latency (CL)||3|
|RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)||3|
|RAS precharge (tRP)||3|
|Cycle time (tRAS)||8|
|Graphics||Radeon X700 Pro 256MB with CATALYST 5.7 drivers|
|SCSI card||Adaptec 20320R with 18.104.22.168 drivers|
|Hard drives|| Hitachi 7K500 500GB SATA
Maxtor DiamondMax 10 300GB SATA
Maxtor Atlas 10K V SCSI
Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 NCQ 160GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 400GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 160GB SATA
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 500GB SATA
Western Digital Caviar SE16 250GB SATA
Western Digital Caviar RE2 400GB SATA
Western Digital Raptor WD740GD 74GB SATA
Western Digital Raptor X 150GB SATA
|OS||Windows XP Professional|
|OS updates||Service Pack 2|
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- WorldBench 5.0
- Intel IOMeter v2004.07.30
- Xbit Labs File Copy Test v1.0 beta 13
- TCD Labs HD Tach v3.01
- Far Cry v1.3
- DOOM 3
- Intel iPEAK Storage Performance Toolkit 3.0
The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.
All 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.
WorldBench overall performance
WorldBench uses scripting to step through a series of tasks in common Windows applications. It then produces an overall score. WorldBench also spits out individual results for its component application tests, allowing us to compare performance in each. We’ll look at the overall score, and then we’ll show individual application results alongside the results from some of our own application tests.
The Raptor X leads the pack in WorldBench, bettering its predecessor’s score by a full two points. Let’s break down WorldBench’s overall score into individual results to see where the Raptor X gained the most ground.
Multimedia editing and encoding
Windows Media Encoder
VideoWave Movie Creator
While it manages to lead the field throughout WorldBench’s multimedia editing and encoding tests, the Raptor X really only distinguishes itself in Premiere. Even then, the WD740GD is right on its heels.
Photoshop doesn’t spread the field much, but ACDSee gives the Raptor X a little room to stretch its legs.
Multitasking and office applications
Mozilla and Windows Media Encoder
The Raptor X falls to the middle of the pack in two of WorldBench’s multitasking and office application tests, but scores are virtually identical across the board.
Scores are far from identical in Winzip and Nero, though. The Raptor X takes top honors in both, and it has a huge lead on its closest competitors in Nero.
To test system boot and game level load times, we busted out our trusty stopwatch.
Curiously, the Raptor X’s Windows XP boot time isn’t anything special. Don’t mind the Atlas 10K V’s comparatively long boot times here; a good chunk of that time is consumed by the Adaptec SCSI card as it scans the SCSI bus for connected devices.
The Raptor X’s Far Cry level load times aren’t all that hot, either, although the drive is faster than any other in our DOOM 3 level load test.
File Copy Test is a pseudo-real-world benchmark that times how long it takes to create, read, and copy files in various test patterns. File copying is tested twice: once with the source and target on the same partition, and once with the target on a separate partition. Scores are presented in MB/s.
The Raptor X goes five for five in FC-Test’s file creation tests, and with most test patterns, the competition doesn’t even come close. Note that the Atlas 10K V is way behind here, likely due to its use of the WRITE_THROUGH flag.
Despite its perfect record in the file creation tests, the Raptor X only wins two of FC-Test’s read tests. In the other three, it’s forced to settle for a couple of silvers and one bronze. However, even in defeat, the Raptor X is never far off the lead.
In a return to glory, the Raptor X rips through FC-Test’s copy tests and finishes way ahead of the field with a couple of test patterns.
The Raptor X’s strong file copy performance extends through FC-Test’s partition copy tests, where it registers faster transfer rates than every other drive. Keep in mind, however, that the Atlas 10K V’s file copy performance will at least in part be constrained by the drive’s support of the WRITE_THROUGH flag.
We recently developed a series of disk-intensive multitasking tests to highlight the impact of command queuing on hard drive performance. You can get the low-down on these iPEAK-based tests here. The mean service time of each drive is reported in milliseconds, with lower values representing better performance.
Maxtor’s DiamondMax 10 proves surprisingly resilient in our iPEAK tests, forcing the Raptor X to play second fiddle for most of the first round. Note how much the Raptor X improves on its predecessor’s performance, though.
The Raptor X can’t catch the DiamondMax in our second round of iPEAK tests, but it does cement its second place standing. Again, note the huge improvement in performance over the WD740GD.
IOMeter presents a best-case scenario for command queuing, so the NCQ-less Western Digital drives should have a slight disadvantage here under higher loads.
The Raptor WD740GD has been outclassing 7,200-RPM Serial ATA drives in IOMeter for some time, and its successor continues that legacy. However, despite its support for Native Command Queuing, the Raptor X is only marginally faster than its predecessor. Neither drive comes close to the performance of the Atlas 10K V SCSI drive once we hit more than one outstanding I/O request.
IOMeter response times have the Raptor X wedged between slower 7,200-RPM Serial ATA drives and the 10K-RPM Atlas. From a performance perspective, SCSI clearly isn’t dead yet.
The Raptor X’s IOMeter CPU utilization is a little higher than that of the other drives, but it barely eclipses half a percent.
We tested HD Tach with the benchmark’s full variable zone size setting.
What happens when you combine 75GB platters with 10K-RPM spindle speeds? You get mind-numbing transfer rates in HD Tach. Note how higher areal densities allow the Raptor X to better its predecessor by about 10MB/s at the same spindle speed.
Unfortunately, the Raptor X’s lack of support for 300MB/s Serial ATA transfer rates slows the drive in HD Tach’s burst speed test.
The Raptor X is also a little slower than the WD740GD in the random access time test, although it’s still much quicker than the 7,200-RPM drives.
CPU utilization results are well within HD Tach’s +/- 2% margin of error in this test.
Noise levels were measured with an Extech 407727 Digital Sound Level meter 1″ from the side of the drives at idle and under an HD Tach seek load. Drives were run with the PCB facing up.
Although far from the quietest drive at idle, the Raptor X isn’t all that loud under load. The high-pitched whine that plagued early Raptors appears to be gone for good.
Power consumption was measured for the entire system, sans monitor, at the outlet. We used the same idle and load environments as the noise level tests.
Despite its phenomenal performance, the Raptor X’s power consumption is quite reasonable. Our Atlas 10K V numbers might be a little inflated here, since it was necessary to run the system with the Adaptec SCSI card installed. Our other results were taken without the Adaptec card in the system.
Regardless of whether you actually want to see your hard drive’s internals—and pay a $50 premium for the privilege—you have to admire the engineering that went into installing a window in the Raptor. From a technical standpoint, it probably would have been much easier to put a window on a drive with a slower spindle speed, but Western Digital had the audacity to do it with a 10K-RPM drive. That says a lot, especially in a hard drive world filled with relatively dull and boring designs.
Of course, there’s more to the Raptor X than just its window. The drive offers a number of improvements over previous Raptors, including higher density platters, a larger cache and total capacity, and support for Native Command Queuing (NCQ), all while retaining the 10K-RPM spindle speed that made the Raptor so popular in the first place. Thanks to those new additions, the Raptor X has no problem outperforming its predecessor, in some cases quite dramatically. In fact, the addition of NCQ support seems to have had a particularly profound impact on performance under multitasking loads.
If anything dampens our enthusiasm for the Raptor X, it’s the drive’s lack of support for 300MB/s Serial ATA transfer rates. That’s not a huge deal, of course, and we’d rather have Western Digital get it right than release something half-baked. However, with a suggested retail price of $350, the Raptor X has little room for error.
That’s right: $350 for a 150GB hard drive. That’s a pretty dismal cost per gigabyte, but given the Raptor X’s performance, it’s not that hard to justify. Raptors obviously aren’t the most economical solution for those looking to maximize storage capacity, but if you’re looking for the fastest Serial ATA hard drive around, the Raptor X is the way to go. If you don’t want to pay a premium for a window, you can always opt for Western Digital’s Raptor WD1500. That drive shares the same internals as the Raptor X, costs less than $300, and should offer identical performance. We don’t hand out Editor’s Choice awards often here at TR, but the Raptor X is deserving for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s by far the fastest Serial ATA hard drive around. As if that weren’t enough, Western Digital had the engineering prowess—and nerve—to put a window in it. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Western Digital made the window optional by offering the WD1500 for those who have little interest in staring at their drive’s internals for hours on end. I’ve been playing with the Raptor X for a couple of weeks now and the window’s novelty still hasn’t worn off, but then, perhaps I’m too easily amused by precise mechanics spinning at mind-numbing speeds.