Serial ATA and NCQ are relatively new to the laptop world, and 7,200-RPM spindle speeds and high-capacity platters are still pretty cutting-edge for the 2.5" mobile form factor. The question, of course, is how well the latest Serial ATA notebook drives have integrated these new features and capabilities. It's also worth asking whether there's really a big performance gap between 5,400- and 7,200-RPM notebook drives. To find the answers, we've assembled the latest 5,400- and 7,200-RPM Serial ATA notebook drives from Hitachi and Seagate and run them through the wringer. Read on for the surprising results.
The size and weight of traditional 3.5" desktop hard drives are obviously a little much for mobile applications, so laptop drives have their own 2.5" form factor. 2.5" actually refers to the width of a mobile drive's platter; In reality, 2.5" drives are typically 2.75" wide, 0.37" tall, and 3.96" long. That's tiny when compared with 3.5" desktop drives, which typically measure 4" wide, 1.03" tall, and 5.79" long. Mobile drives are nearly six times smaller than their desktop counterparts by volume, and looking at the drives side by side, it's easy to see the disparity.
These smaller dimensions also allow 2.5" drives to be much lighter than desktop drives, which is an important consideration for mobile applications. Typical desktop drives weigh in at over half a kilogram, but the mobile drives we'll be looking at today are around 115g—roughly one fifth the weight. Lower weight helps mobile 2.5" drives sip less power, too, saving on all-important battery life. Perhaps most importantly, though, the 2.5" form factor's smaller platters are more resistant to physical shock. That's especially important for those of us who tend to toss laptops around with not nearly enough regard for the spinning mechanics inside.
Despite their diminutive form factors, 2.5" Serial ATA hard drives actually use the same connectors as their desktop counterparts. These drives plug into standard SATA data and power cables, making them particularly intriguing options for small form factor systems. If enthusiasts are going to press mobile Pentium M and Turion 64 processors into action in toaster-sized boxes, they might as well bring along mobile hard drives to match.
Unfortunately, the connector compatibility enjoyed by 2.5" SATA hard drives doesn't extend to mobile ATA drives. Those drives require pin and power adapters to work with desktop ATA systems, which isn't quite as convenient.