Mobile ATA hard drives compared

SERIAL ATA MAY HAVE all but taken over on the desktop, but plain old ATA is still going strong in the mobile space. Only recently did Serial ATA support make its way into mobile core logic chipsets, and not all laptop manufacturers took advantage of that capability when it first became available. Many waited until second-generation Serial ATA chipsets, such as those in Intel’s latest “Napa” Centrino platform, to transition laptop designs to SATA.

The slow pace of mobile SATA hard drive adoption has created a massive installed base of ATA-equipped laptops, many of which are ripe for a hard drive upgrade. Laptops generally come equipped with painfully slow drives with as little as 2 MB of cache and spindle speeds as slow as 4,200 RPM. These drives generally don’t offer much in the way of capacity, either, with many topping out at only 30 or 40 GB. Fortunately, numerous alternatives exist, including drives with 8 MB of cache and spindle speeds as fast as 7,200 RPM. Greater capacities are available, as well, with most new mobile drives offering between 100 and 120 GB, and at least one leveraging perpendicular recording technology to crack the 160 GB mark.

To gain a better understanding of how the performance of today’s latest and greatest 2.5″ mobile ATA drives looks, we’ve gathered seven drives from the likes of Fujitsu, Hitachi, Seagate, and Western Digital. This mix of drives includes a little of everything, including a 160 GB perpendicular monster and a couple of 7,200-RPM speed demons. We’ve also thrown in a lowly 4,200 RPM drive that will serve as a handy reference point for anyone considering upgrading their laptop’s hard drive. Join us as we subject this collection of drives to a punishing array of performance, noise level, and power consumption tests in search of the ultimate ATA laptop drive.

The 2.5″ ATA form factor
For obvious reasons, laptops use a different hard drive form factor than your average desktop. Mobile drives—otherwise referred to as 2.5″ drives—are significantly smaller than their desktop equivalents, measuring just 2.75″ wide, 0.37″ tall, and 3.96″ long. 3.5″ desktop drives, by comparison, measure 4″ wide, 1.03″ tall, and 5.79″ long. As one might expect, desktop drives also weigh significantly more than the average laptop model. The average desktop drive weighs in at nearly half a kilogram, but the 2.5″ mobile drives we’ll be looking at today weigh closer to 100 grams.

A 2.5″ ATA drive dwarfed by its 3.5″ counterpart

Although petite proportions allow 2.5″ drives to squeeze into ever-smaller laptop chassis, they also force mobile drives to use smaller, lower capacity platters than desktop drives. Drive manufacturers generally can’t pack more than two platters per drive, either, while desktop drives can be found with up to five platters.

The use of fewer, smaller platters may restrict laptop drive capacity, but it also gives them less rotational weight. That allows drive motors to do less work, resulting in lower power consumption than your average desktop drive. Smaller laptop platters are also more resistant to physical shock—an important attribute considering laptops are generally subjected to more physical abuse than desktop PCs.

2.5″ ATA (left) and Serial ATA (right) drives

One of the nicer things about 2.5″ Serial ATA drives is the fact that they use the same power and data connectors as their desktop counterparts. Unfortunately, the 2.5″ form factor’s a little too svelte for that to work with ATA drives—standard IDE connectors alone are nearly as wide as the drives themselves. Since they can’t accommodate traditional ATA data cables, 2.5″ ATA drives are equipped with a 44-pin connector for both data and power. This connector works just fine for laptops, but those looking to run a 2.5″ ATA drive in a desktop system will need an adapter.

A 2.5″ ATA laptop drive adapter

The adapter translates those 44-pins to a standard IDE connector and four-pin Molex plug. Note that there are only two wires going to the power plug, though; one 5V line and one ground. Unlike desktop drives, which draw both 5V and 12V power, laptop drives run on just a single 5V line.

Perpendicular primer
While the bulk of today’s hard drives use longitudinal recording technology to store data to disk, the desire for greater storage capacity has positioned perpendicular recording technology to succeed its parallel predecessor. Alas, we don’t have the musical chops to explain perpendicular recording as well as Hitachi’s infamous Get Perpendicular Flash animation, but our explanation won’t get stuck in your head, either.

Longitudinal recording arranges bits horizontally in an orientation that’s parallel to the surface of the disk, and that’s worked pretty well for a while. However, as drive manufacturers try to squeeze a greater number of smaller bits onto each disk to increase storage capacity, they run into the Superparamagnetic effect, a phenomenon that occurs when ambient thermal energy causes extremely small particles to lose their magnetic orientation. Such a loss of magnetic orientation would flip a bit from 0 to 1, or vice versa, corrupting the integrity of data stored on a disk.

Bit orientations for longitudinal recording (above) and perpendicular recording (below)

The hard drive industry’s solution to the Superparamagnetic effect is perpendicular recording, which, as its name implies, aligns bits vertically—perpendicular to the disk surface. This technique allows drive manufacturers to squeeze more bits onto a single disk platter, satiating our ever-growing need for greater storage capacity without resorting to smaller bits that could succumb to the Superparamagnetic effect. As an added bonus, perpendicular recording makes much more efficient use of a platter’s available surface area, enabling areal densities that are expected to eclipse those offered by longitudinal recording by an order of magnitude.

Unfortunately, the first commercial perpendicular drives do not deliver these order-of-magnitude improvements in capacity. Thus far, Seagate’s Momentus 5400.3 is the only perpendicular 2.5″ mobile drive on the market, and its 80 GB platters are just 33% larger than the 60 GB platters used by the company’s longitudinal drives. That’s still a respectable capacity boost for a first-generation product, especially considering that even relatively modest gains in a platter’s areal density can improve drive performance.


The drives
With the exception of perpendicular recording technology, mobile ATA drives don’t differ much from one another when it comes to major features. They do differ in other respects, which we’ve outlined in a handy comparison chart that includes all the drives we’re comparing today. The Hitachi Travelstars, Seagate Momentus drives, and Western Digital Scorpio we’ve assembled represent the best each manufacturer has to offer the 2.5″ mobile ATA space. Fujitsu’s MHV2040AT is far from a flagship product, though. It’s a drive we purchased to represent what most folks will find lurking inside their laptops—a low-end model lacking in cache, capacity, and spindle speed.

The table below is comprised of manufacturer-supplied specifications, so keep that in mind. We will test real-world transfer rates, power consumption, noise levels, and the like in the following pages.

  Momentus 5400.2 Momentus 5400.3 Momentus 7200.1 Scorpio WD1200VE Travelstar 5K100 Travelstar 7K100 MHV2040AT
Recording method Longitudinal Perpendicular Longitudinal Longitudinal Longitudinal Longitudinal Longitudinal
Maximum external transfer rate 100 MB/s 100 MB/s 100 MB/s 100 MB/s 100 MB/s 100 MB/s 100 MB/s
Average sustained transfer rate 42 MB/s 44 MB/s 45.8 MB/s NA NA NA NA
Media transfer rate NA NA NA 52.6 MB/s 63.8 MB/s (100 GB)
61.6 MB/s (80, 40 GB)
78.6 MB/s (100 GB)
70.1 MB/s (80 GB, 60 GB)
43.7 MB/s
Read seek time NA NA NA 12 ms 12 ms 10 ms 12 ms
Write seek time NA NA NA 13 ms 13 ms 11 ms 14 ms
Average seek time 12.5 ms 12.5 ms 10.5 ms 12 ms 12 ms 10 ms NA
Average rotational latency 5.6 ms 5.6 ms 4.2 ms 5.5 ms 5.5 ms 4.2 ms 7.14 ms
Spindle speed 5,400 RPM 5,400 RPM 7,200 RPM 5,400 RPM 5,400 RPM 7,200 RPM 4,200 RPM
Available capacities 120 GB, 100 GB, 80 GB, 60 GB, 40 GB, 30 GB 160 GB, 120 GB, 100 GB, 80 GB, 60 GB, 40 GB 100 GB, 80 GB, 60 GB 120 GB, 100 GB, 80 GB, 60 GB, 40 GB 100 GB, 80 GB, 40 GB 100 GB, 80 GB, 60 GB 120 GB, 100 GB, 80 GB, 60 GB, 40 GB
Cache size 8 MB 8 MB 8 MB 8 MB 8 MB 8 MB 2 MB (40 GB), 8 MB (60, 80, 100, 120 GB)
Platter size 60 GB (120 GB, 60 GB, 30 GB)
50 GB (100 GB)
40 GB (80 GB, 40 GB)
80 GB 50 GB (100 GB)
40 GB (80 GB)
30 GB (60 GB)
60 GB 50 GB (100 GB)
40 GB (80 GB, 40 GB)
50 GB (100 GB)
40 GB (80 GB)
30 GB (60 GB)
Idle acoustics 2.4 bels 2.3 bels 2.5 bels 2.4 bels 2.5 bels 2.6 bels 2.6 bels
Seek acoustics 2.9 bels 2.9 bels 2.9 bels 2.6 bels 2.7 bels 3.0 bels 3.0 bels
Standby power consumption 0.26 W 0.2 W 0.26 W 0.16 W 0.2 W 0.2 W 0.2 W
Idle power consumption 0.8 W 0.8 W 1.3W 1.85W 0.85 W 1.1W 0.5 W
Seek power consumption 2.0 W 2.0 W 2.6 W NA NA 2.3 W 1.9 W
Read/write power consumption 1.8/1.8 W 2.0/1.8 W 2.2 W 2.5 W 2.0W 2.0 W 1.6 W
Native Command Queuing? No No No No No No No
Warranty length 5 years 5 years 5 years 3 years (bare), 1 year (retail) 3 years 3 years 3 years
Price (street) (120 GB) (160 GB) (100 GB) (120 GB) (100 GB) (100 GB) (40 GB)

Although desktop ATA drives that support 133 MB/s external transfer rates have been available for some time, laptop drives have stuck with 100 MB/s. That shouldn’t be a big hindrance considering that even high-end SCSI drives have a hard time sustaining transfer rates above 100 MB/s, but it could slow the burst performance as drives serve data directly from cache. Cache size is another area where these laptop drives are a step behind their desktop counterparts. While 16 MB of cache has become common on even mid-range desktop drives, all but one of our mobile drives is equipped with 8 MB of cache. The exception is Fujitsu’s MHV2040AT, whose 2 MB cache is typical of the kinds of low-end drives found in most laptops.

The MHV2040AT’s lowly 4,200-RPM spindle speed also sets it apart from the pack, as the rest of the drives we’ve assembled spin at 5,400 or 7,200 RPM. Both Hitachi and Seagate offer drives with faster 7,200-RPM spindle speeds, but Western Digital’s Scorpio is 5,400 RPM-only, so don’t expect it to match the fastest Momentus and Travelstar drives.

While hard drive manufacturers all agree on how to represent their drives’ spindle speeds and cache sizes, expressing drive performance is another story. Some manufacturers prefer to publish an average sustained transfer rate taken from the middle of the disk, while others choose to reveal their drives’ media transfer rate, which is the highest transfer rate along the densest outer edge of the disk. Obviously, the media transfer rate is more of a best-case scenario, making it difficult to compare expected transfer rates from different hard drive manufacturers. Note that drive capacity can also affect the media transfer rate, as we see with the Travelstars. This is due to the fact that different capacities can use platters with different areal densities, with the denser platters providing speedier transfer rates because the drive head can access a greater amount of data over a shorter physical distance.

In addition to disagreeing over which transfer rate specs to publish, hard drive manufacturers also differ when it comes to revealing seek times. Some prefer to separate seek times into read and write components, while others simply report an average seek time. Here, spindle speed reigns supreme, although it’s interesting to note that Seagate’s average seek times are half a millisecond short of those reported by Hitachi and Western Digital, even when spindle speeds and rotational latencies are equal.

There’s little variance in the acoustic and power consumption specs published by each drive manufacturer, and given the relatively low noise levels and wattages, that’s not surprising. We’ll be doing our own noise and power consumption tests to see how the drives shake out in the real world.

Unfortunately, we can’t adequately test the reliability of each drive in the real world. Well, we could, but you’d be reading this comparison several years from now, so it wouldn’t be all that topical. Still, the warranty length offered by each drive manufacturer at least tells us how long users will be entitled to a free replacement drive in the event of a catastrophic hardware failure. Seagate is king here, offering five years of coverage on all its mobile (and desktop) hard drive products. Three years is pretty standard for the rest of the field, although Western Digital’s policy of only offering a single year of warranty coverage with retail drive kits is a bit puzzling. If anything, one would expect bare drives to be covered by a shorter warranty.

With varying spindle speeds and capacities, it’s no surprise that the drives we’ll be looking at today are all over the map when it comes to pricing. As expected, the Fujitsu MHV2040AT is the cheapest of the lot. It’s a little jarring that the perpendicular Momentus 5400.3 is so much more expensive than even 7,200-RPM drives, but industry-leading capacities have always commanded a hefty price premium.

Since mobile drives aren’t all that visually stunning, we’ll make do with a group shot of all the drives. As you can see, they look pretty much identical.


Test notes
Today we’ll be comparing the performance of the mobile ATA hard drives we’ve already discussed. We’ve also thrown in a couple of additional drives for good measure, including a Serial ATA version of the Momentus 7200.1 that took top honors in our recent 2.5″ Serial ATA hard drive comparo. That should give us a good idea of how the Serial ATA interface and features like Native Command Queuing can impact mobile hard drive performance. We’ve also included a Barracuda 7200.9 desktop SATA drive to highlight how 2.5″ hard drive performance compares to what’s available in the 3.5″ desktop world. Obviously, we expect the Barracuda to sweep our performance tests, but it will be interesting to see by how much, and at what power consumption cost.

The drives we’re comparing differ when it comes to external transfer rates, spindle speeds, platter densities, 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? Price
Barracuda 7200.9 300 MB/s 7,200 RPM 8 MB 160 GB 160 GB Yes
Momentus 7200.1 SATA 150 MB/s 7,200 RPM 8 MB 50 GB 100 GB Yes
Momentus 5400.2 100 MB/s 5,400 RPM 8 MB 60 GB 120 GB No
Momentus 5400.3 100 MB/s 5,400 RPM 8 MB 80 GB 160 GB No
Momentus 7200.1 100 MB/s 7,200 RPM 8 MB 50 GB 100 GB No
Scorpio WD1200VE 100 MB/s 5,400 RPM 8 MB 60 GB 120 GB No
Travelstar 5K100 100 MB/s 5,400 RPM 8 MB 50 GB 100 GB No
Travelstar 7K100 100 MB/s 7,200 RPM 8 MB 50 GB 100 GB No
MHV2040AT 100 MB/s 4,200 RPM 2 MB NA 40 GB No

At 7,200 RPM, we have a pretty even matchup between the Momentus 7200.1 and Travelstar 7K100. Both drives feature 50 GB platters and sport 8 MB of cache, so neither has an obvious advantage. Things are a little more complicated on the 5,400-RPM front, though. There, we have drives with 50, 60, and 80 GB platters, although all at least have 8 MB of cache. And then there’s the MHV2040AT, whose slow spindle speed and diminutive cache put it at a distinct disadvantage.

Since this comparison focuses on 2.5″ drive performance, we’ve only included one desktop-class 3.5″ drive for reference. However, all testing was conducted on the same platform as our 3.5″ hard drive reviews, so you can compare the performance of our mobile drives with a wider range of 3.5″ drives by flipping back to our Western Digital Raptor X review. Our test system is also identical to the one used in our 2.5″ Serial ATA hard drive comparo, so those results are comparable, as well. However, we have changed the way we conduct power consumption tests, so you won’t be able to compare power consumption scores from this review with those in older articles.

Before diving into our test results, we’d like to take a moment to thank NCIX for hooking us up with the MHV2040AT and Travelstar 5K100 and 7K100. NCIX is one of Canada’s best online retailers, and having one of their retail locations within walking distance of my Benchmarking Sweatshop is quite handy.

Our testing methods
All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged, using the following test system.

Processor Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz
System bus 800MHz (200MHz quad-pumped)
Motherboard Asus P5 WD2 Premium
Bios revision 0422
North bridge Intel 955X MCH
South bridge Intel ICH7R
Chipset drivers Chipset
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
Audio codec ALC882D
Graphics Radeon X700 Pro 256MB with CATALYST 5.7 drivers
Hard drives Seagate Momentus 7200.1 100 GB SATA
Seagate Momentus 5400.2 120 GB
Seagate Momentus 5400.3 160 GB
Seagate Momentus 7200.1 100 GB
Western Digital Scorpio WD1200VE 120 GB
Hitachi Travelstar 5K100 120 GB
Hitachi Travelstar 7K100 100 GB
Fujitsu 12425322 40 GB
OS Windows XP Professional
OS updates Service Pack 2

Our test system was powered by OCZ PowerStream power supply units. The PowerStream was one of our Editor’s Choice winners in our last PSU round-up.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

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.

As one might expect, the combination of 7,200 RPM spindle speeds and Serial ATA prove to be a potent combination in WorldBench. Still, our ATA drives aren’t too far off the pace. They’re led by the Momentus 7200.1, with the 5400.3 surprisingly hot on its heels. Neither the Travelstar 5K100 nor the MHV2040AT looks particularly comfortable in this test, with the latter a good five points slower than the Travelstar.

Multimedia editing and encoding

MusicMatch Jukebox

Windows Media Encoder

Adobe Premiere

VideoWave Movie Creator

With the exception of the MHV2040AT, which trails the field throughout, scores are actually pretty close in WorldBench’s MusicMatch Jukebox, Windows Media Encoder, and VideoWave Movie Creator tests. Premiere is another story, though. In that test, we see both Travelstars falling off the pace. The performance of Western Digital’s Scorpio is surprisingly good, as it nearly matches the 7,200-RPM Momentus.


Image processing

Adobe Photoshop

ACDSee PowerPack

Photoshop doesn’t provide much opportunity for the drives to stretch their legs, but ACDSee proves problematic for some. Again, the Travelstars are a little behind the other ATA drives, with the exception of the MHV2040AT, of course. The 4,200-RPM drive is really slow here, turning in a time over three minutes longer than its closest competitor.

Multitasking and office applications

Microsoft Office


Mozilla and Windows Media Encoder

Although WorldBench’s Office XP test spreads the field ever so slightly, there isn’t much variation through the suite’s office and multitasking tests.

Other applications



Winzip and Nero are much more demanding of the disk subsystem, however. In Winzip, the Travelstar 7K100 scores its first win over the 2.5″ ATA drives, followed closely by the Scorpio. Seagate bounces back in Nero, with the Momentus 7200.1 and 5400.3 taking the top two spots. The Travelstar 5K100 looks particularly weak in Nero, as its performance lags behind all but the MHV2040AT by a significant margin.


Boot and load times
To test system boot and game level load times, we busted out our trusty stopwatch.

Boot times are reasonably close, with spindle speed proving to be the deciding factor. The gap between 7,200 and 5,400-RPM drives only amounts to a second or two, but the 4,200-RPM MHV2040AT boots into Windows more than five seconds slower than the slowest 5,400-RPM drive.

The 4,200 RPM Fujitsu’s level load times are pretty abysmal in DOOM 3 and Far Cry, as well. Here, the Travelstar 7K100 looks like the fastest 2.5″ ATA drive, taking top honors in Far Cry, and placing a very close second in Doom. Among the 5,400-RPM drives, Seagate’s offerings prove faster than those from Hitachi and Western Digital.


File Copy 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 megabytes per second.

The Momentus and Scorpio drives fare the best in FC-Test’s file creation tests while the Travelstars languish a little. They’re still a whole lot faster than the MHV2040AT, which is decimated by the entire field.

Hitachi bounces back in the read tests, where the Travelstar 7K100 leads our 2.5″ ATA drives across each test pattern. The 5K100 doesn’t fare nearly as well as the 5,400-RPM Scorpio and Momentus drives, though.

Results in FC-Test’s copy tests are mixed, but the Travelstar 7K100 is the most consistent of the ATA drives. The Scorpio also fares well against its 5,400-RPM competition, while the Travelstar 5K100 only manages to consistently beat the lowly Fujitsu.


iPEAK multitasking
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.

A lack of Native Command Queuing support proves detrimental for our laptop ATA drives, as the Serial ATA Momentus and Barracuda claim an early lead. Somewhat surprisingly, the perpendicular Momentus 5400.3 does well here, just edging out the 7,200-RPM ATA drives from Hitachi and Seagate. Neither the Scorpio nor the Travelstar 5K100 are particularly adept at handling this test, though.

The Travelstar 7K100 looks like the drive to beat in the first wave of our multitasking tests, as it does well with both secondary tasks. The Momentus drives, on the other hand, falter when the secondary task switches from a file copy operation to a VirtualDub import. So does the Scorpio WD1200VE, while the Travelstar 5K100 seems less comfortable with a file copy as its secondary task.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in this first batch of iPEAK results is the fact that the MHV2040AT doesn’t come in last place across the board. However, our iPEAK tests were designed for drives with capacities greater than 40 GB, and they have to “wrap around” to run on the smaller MHV2040AT.


iPEAK multitasking – con’t

We see much of the same in our second round of iPEAK tests, with the Travelstar 7K100 turning in the most consistent performance across different load types. Its little brother, the Travelstar 5K100, does well with a VirtualDub import as a secondary task, but not so well when we move to file copy operations. As we saw before, the Scorpio and Momentus drives favor multitasking loads with a file copy operation as the secondary task


IOMeter – Transaction rate
IOMeter presents a best-case scenario for command queuing by hammering drives with multiple I/O requests, but it’s not that indicative the kinds of workloads most mobile systems will face. Still, IOMeter gives us another metric to see how these drives compare.

Now that’s interesting. While the 7,200-RPM Serial ATA drives dominate, as one might expect given their command queuing capabilities, the Travelstar 7K100 is way off the pace in all but the read-dominated web server test. We saw similar behavior with the Serial ATA version of the 7K100, and Hitachi was able to reproduce those results.

With its 7,200-RPM competition languishing, the Momentus 7200.1 runs the table in IOMeter, although it’s still quite a bit slower than its SATA counterpart. Among our 5,400-RPM drives, the Travelstar 5K100 actually fares well, particularly under heavier loads where it has a bit of an edge over the Momentus drives. The Scorpio, on the other hand, tends to perform better with fewer outstanding I/O requests. That’s probably an acceptable performance characteristic for a mobile drive that’s unlikely to see hundreds of simultaneous I/O requests.


IOMeter – Response time

The Momentus 7200.1 continues to dominate our ATA drives when we move to IOMeter response times, and as expected, the 7K100 has some real problems with some test patterns. Scores are a lot closer when we look at our 5,400-RPM drives, but the Travelstar 5K100 manages to edge out the Momentus and Scorpio drives in all but one test pattern.


IOMeter – CPU utilization

CPU utilization is low across the board.


HD Tach
We tested HD Tach with the benchmark’s full variable zone size setting.

While it’s got nothing on the desktop Barracuda, the Travelstar 7K100 manages to beat the Momentus 7200.1 in HD Tach’s sustained transfer rate tests. Seagate’s Momentus 5400.3 claims the top spot among the 5,400-RPM drives. There, the Momentus 5400.2 and Scorpio WD1200VE are closely matched, with the Travelstar 5K100 lagging a little. And then, of course, there’s the MHV2040AT at close to 10 MB/s off the pace.

Burst performance is pretty consistent across the ATA drives, with the Hitachis proving a little bit faster. The big loser here is the MHV2040AT, which can’t even muster a third of the ATA interface’s peak throughput.

HD Tach’s random access time tests favor the Momentus drives, with the Travelstars and the Scorpio about a millisecond behind at each spindle speed.

The results of our HD Tach CPU utilization tests are well within the +/- 2% margin for error in this test.


Noise levels
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 tested with the PCB facing down to accommodate the ATA adapter.

Spindle speed is a big factor in our noise level tests, as fewer RPMs generate less noise at both idle and under a seek load. Surprisingly, though, the 4,200-RPM MHV2040AT isn’t the quietest drive of the lot. That honor just barely belongs to the Momentus 5400.3.

Looking at our 7,200-RPM drives, the Momentus 7200.1 is a little quieter, especially under load, than the Travelstar 7K100.

Power consumption
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. Through the magic of Ohm’s Law, we were able to calculate the power draw from each voltage rail, and add them together for the total power draw of the drive. Since mobile drives only tap the 5V line, their 12V power draw was zero.

Less than one watt separates our mobile ATA drives both at idle and under a seek load, but interestingly, our 2.5″ Serial ATA drive proves to be even more power-hungry. The most impressive result here has to be the Momentus 5400.3, which actually manages to consume less power under load than even our 4,200-RPM MHV2040AT. Seagate’s Momentus 7200.1 also consumes less power than the Travelstar 7K100 under load, but not at idle, where the Hitachi drive has a 0.2 W advantage.


If our test results make one thing abundantly clear, it’s that anyone with a 4,200-RPM laptop hard drive with 2 MB of cache could use an upgrade. Even 5,400-RPM mobile drives offer significantly better performance than the 4,200-RPM Fujitsu MHV2040AT with little to no noise or power consumption penalty. To be fair, the MHV2040AT sells for around $60, making it the cheapest drive in the round-up. But you get what you pay for, and spending a little extra can go a long way toward improving performance and increasing storage capacity.

With the MHV2040AT eliminated from contention, we have six other drives to consider. Fortunately, some are easier to dismiss than others. Take the Travelstar 5K100, for example. The drive scores points for a $120 street price that makes it the most affordable 5,400-RPM drive of the lot, but that’ll only get you 100 GB; the rest of the 5,400-RPM field is packing 120 GB or more. Poor performance is really what hurts the 5K100, though. It’s the slowest 5,400-RPM drive overall, in some cases trailing the rest of the field by almost as big a margin as the Fujitsu.

Next in line for consideration is Western Digital’s Scorpio WD1200VE, a drive that matches up pretty well with Seagate’s Momentus 5400.2. The Scorpio’s performance is particularly strong in FC-Test, and its seek noise levels are nice and low. However, the drive’s warranty terms are a little short when compared with the Seagates. To Western Digital’s credit, the WD1200VE is roughly $20 cheaper than the Momentus 5400.2, making it the most affordable 120 GB drive in this comparison.

The Momentus 5400.2’s five-year warranty gives it a slight edge over the Scorpio, but the 5400.2 is ultimately upstaged by its perpendicular successor, the Momentus 5400.3. The 5400.3 delivers better performance nearly across the board, and boasts a higher storage capacity than any laptop drive available on the market. It’s also the first commercially-available perpendicular laptop drive, so there’s some additional cachet—and some additional cost. The Momentus 5400.3’s 160 GB total capacity is 33% higher than that of its closest competitors, yet the drive’s $240 price tag is closer to 50% higher. That’s a hefty premium to pay, especially considering 7,200-RPM drives still retain the laptop performance crown. Still, for those who crave storage capacity above all else, the 5400.3 is the best mobile option out there.

Seagate Momentus 7200.1 100 GB ATA
April 2006

Fortunately, the obvious performance advantages we’ve seen from the 7,200-RPM mobile hard drives don’t come at too great a cost. The 7,200-RPM ATA drives from both Hitachi and Seagate are available for less than $180, and their noise levels and power consumption aren’t all that much higher than the 5,400-RPM drives. Capacity doesn’t suffer much, either, with both available at 100 GB. Unfortunately, choosing between the two 7,200-RPM drives is a difficult task. The Momentus 7200.1 and Travelstar 7K100 are both very capable, and while the Momentus scores better in WorldBench, IOMeter, and HDTach’s random access time test, the Travelstar is faster in HD Tach’s sustained transfer rate tests, iPEAK multitasking, and our boot and load time tests.

Were price and warranty equal between the Travelstar 7K100 and Momentus 7200.1, we’d call it a dead heat. But they’re not. The Travelstar has a slight edge in price, selling for $10 less than the $180 Momentus. That swings the momentum in Hitachi’s favor, but Seagate’s five-year warranty is a heckuva rebound, offering two more years of coverage than Hitachi’s three-year coverage. Two years for $10 sounds good to us, making the Momentus 7200.1 our Editor’s Choice for mobile ATA drives in a photo finish. 

Comments closed
    • printmr
    • 14 years ago

    Is there any difference in the heat generated by these drives? I would be concerned that upgrading to one of these drives might cause overheating on my laptop… thanks for a great article!

    • besonen
    • 14 years ago

    thanks for the review.

    i’m surprised you didn’t include a toshiba drive in the mix especially given their presence in the laptop hard drive world.

    kinda of reminds me of your power supply review (that you reference in this review). in that review you did not include a power supply from pc power & cooling (pcpc). pcpc is considered by many to be the gold standard in power supplies.

    when you folks choose products for a category comparison do you consider it important to at least include all of the most significant players in the category you are reviewing?

    comparison reviews that are comprehensive are *much* more useful than comparison reviews that omit particular competitors.

    to the author of this review specifically, did you consider adding a toshiba product to your comparison and if so why not?


      • Dissonance
      • 14 years ago

      We did. In fact, we invited them to participate, but received no response. Unfortunately we don’t always have the resources to go out and buy every piece of hardware we’d like to include in an article.

    • mac_h8r1
    • 14 years ago

    I just love it when I do my research & buy a product that rocks. It’s even better when the next month TR puts it through the gauntlet and it wins Editors Choice.

    7200.1 FTW!!

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 14 years ago

    I wouldn’t mind getting a k7200 or whatever that was to replace the 60gb 5400rpm in here. It bogs down way too easily. Maybe that’s just the swapping from 512mb of ram? *shrug*

    • A_Pickle
    • 14 years ago

    More and more, I’m itching to try a Seagate. I’ve heard nothing but good things from them…

    • Vrock
    • 14 years ago

    It will be a cold day in hell before I ever spend more than $100 on any hard drive, mobile or desktop. Yes, I’m cheap.

      • A_Pickle
      • 14 years ago

      There almost isn’t reason to now. 200 GB hard drives cost less than $100. ๐Ÿ˜€

        • Vrock
        • 14 years ago

        This review would have you believe otherwise, just to shave a few seconds off boot/load times.

      • Krogoth
      • 14 years ago

      a single 74GB Raptor is ceratinly worth the price tag if you use it as a boot/applications disk. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Crackhead Johny
    • 14 years ago

    Hmm. I think my new D820 will take a SATA drive (Dell site says it will) is there a SATA version of the Seagate 7200? or other recomendation for a nice SATA for this machine?

      • indeego
      • 14 years ago

      Yeah saw the link at the end of the articleg{

    • srg86
    • 14 years ago

    hmmm very interesting.

    For about a year I’ve been thinking about replacing the 20GB IBM Travelstar 40GN in my laptop (4200RPM 2MB cache) and this review has made me think.

    Last year I bought a WD Scorpio 400VE but that was a big mistake. At times it would just go into fits of recalibraion that would last about 5 mins, it would make the whole machine jerk as it clicked along. I keep it in my USB2 hd enslosure as the recalibration doesn’t bother just saving files but I won’t be buying another Scorpio (shame as I like WD’s desktop drives).

    Anyway, that Seagate 5400.2 looks very good, and at about ยฃ46 for the 40GB version (all I really need) it could be my next choice.

    BTW Excellent review as ever ๐Ÿ™‚

      • crabjokeman
      • 14 years ago

      I have two WD400VE’s and no problems here. You did turn off drive indexing, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I believe there’s also a firmware update out there to stop it from clicking.

      Keep in mind that many of the models tested have multiple platters and that the single platter models may be even quieter (like the 40 GB Scorpio).

        • srg86
        • 14 years ago

        Nothing to do with rive indexing, it’s recalibration.

        I tried that firmware you speak of but it just said “Not Applicable”.

        It’s not the clicking I’m worried about, it caused the whole machine to jerk, even the mouse pointer.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 14 years ago

    I’ve been using WD for ages, but Seagate won me over about 2 years ago. I’ve no complaints form a 5400.2 and a 7200.9. *thumbs up*
    Great review as always.

    • Dposcorp
    • 14 years ago

    Excellent review.
    Seagate FTW!

    I have a 100GB 5400.2 and it was a great update for 4 + year old Dell 8100. Lots of quiet, fast storage for my lappy and a 5 year warranty.
    I want to get a second one for my hot swap bay so I can have 200GB storage on the go.

    I think I paid around $95, which was awsome.
    I would have gotten a 7200RPM drive for the same money, but it wasnt worth losing 40% of my capacity.

    • mesyn191
    • 14 years ago

    Good article, would’ve been nice to throw in a regular desktop drive for a comparison though. Only other one that I’ve seen like that was at, and the fastest laptop drive they had at the time was about 30% slower than a regular desktop hard drive, but that review is a little old now…

      • FireGryphon
      • 14 years ago

      The Barracuda 7200.9 is included in the tests.

        • mesyn191
        • 14 years ago

        My bad, didn’t see it.

    • willyolio
    • 14 years ago

    dang. i was hoping for a samsung drive in there as well- i love their desktop drives, i wonder if their laptop ones are just as good…

      • axeman
      • 14 years ago

      I’ve heard they’re not that reliable. But I don’t believe everything I hear. I have a 40gb/5400rpm/8mb in an external USB2 box. So far so good.

    • amphibem
    • 14 years ago

    And as someone who went from a 4200rpm/2mb to 7200rpm/8mb laptop hard drive the difference is huge. It used to lag considerably doing simple things like opening Firefox but now, coupled with a gig of RAM, it it never loses reponsivness.

    And second having an ‘old’ hard drive as a reference point, these test figures are not much use to many without a baseline to compare from. And its good to see my dollars are well spent ๐Ÿ™‚

    • videobits
    • 14 years ago

    Thank you for including the baseline ‘old slow’ drive.
    Too many time I see these comparisons of whatever hardware and all you see is fairly new stuff. I want to know how much better the new hotness is vs. the old n busted I currently have. That’s much more interesting than seeing 4 pieces of new gear that are all still within 5% performance of each other.

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