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Western Digital’s VelociRaptor VR150 hard drive

Geoff Gasior
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Manufacturer Western Digital
Model VelociRaptor VR150
Price (Street) $300
Availability Now

If PC enthusiasts had a hall of fame for hardware, Western Digital’s Raptor hard drive would be a shoo-in. Storage-related products are usually a little short on sex appeal, but the Raptor has become an icon—a testament to what it means to be an enthusiast.

Like many enthusiast legends, the Raptor started with enterprise-class hardware designed for corporate server rooms. Western Digital, a plucky desktop drive maker with no answer to the SCSI hardware that dominated the enterprise scene at the time, came to bat with the world’s first 10K-RPM Serial ATA hard drive. The original Raptor didn’t usurp the enterprise crown from well-established SCSI players, but its performance blew away every other Serial ATA hard drive on the market. What’s more, the Raptor plugged into standard desktop motherboards, delivering near-SCSI performance without the need for expensive expansion cards.

Enthusiasts were so hungry for the performance delivered by the Raptor’s 10K-RPM spindle speeds that we were willing to live with the drive’s anemic 36GB capacity. That capacity slowly grew over time, with Western Digital upping the Raptor to 74GB in 2004 and 150GB two years later. The Raptor’s last refresh was a couple of years ago, though, and the drive has fallen behind a new wave of terabyte wonders whose crazy-high areal densities deliver phenomenal performance even at 7,200 RPM.

Western Digital wasn’t about to let a performance icon get beaten by run-of-the-mill desktop drives, and certainly not by ones manufactured by companies that also make washing machines, so they’ve rolled out an all-new Raptor. Specifically targeted at enthusiasts, the VelociRaptor VR150 breaks bold new ground by bringing 10K-RPM spindle speeds to a 2.5″ drive buried inside a heatsink that slides into a standard 3.5″ drive bay. Read on to see why this is a brilliantly ambitious idea and whether it allows the VelociRaptor to reclaim the crown of fastest Serial ATA hard drive on the market.

The rationale for a 2.5″ Raptor
Although it’s technically correct that the VelociRaptor is the world’s first 2.5″ Serial ATA drive with a 10K-RPM spindle speed, it’s not the first 2.5″ drive to spin its platters that fast. Seagate’s Savvio did it first, albeit with a SCSI interface. Savvios are aimed squarely at enterprise environments where the ability to pack more drives into rack-mounted servers can pay huge dividends.

The benefits of a 2.5″ form factor go beyond drive density, though. Smaller platters give the drive head a much smaller area to cover. The jump from the innermost track of a 2.5″ platter to the outermost track is much smaller than it is for a 3.5″ platter. As a result, 2.5″ drives have an inherent edge in seek times and random access patterns. That said, 2.5″ drives are at somewhat of a disadvantage in a straight-line drag race. Here, the fact that 2.5″ drives have a much smaller circumference on their outer tracks—the fastest area of the disk for sequential transfers—can be a hindrance.

Power consumption has become an increasingly important consideration, and 2.5″ drives have an advantage there, as well. Smaller platters are lighter, allowing the drive motor to draw less power. Making life easier on the drive motor can enable 2.5″ drives to run quieter than their 3.5″ counterparts, too.

So the prospect of a 2.5″ Raptor sounds promising. But the form factor is a bit of a liability for enthusiasts, because standard desktop enclosures don’t come with bays designed for 2.5″ hard drives. To get around this issue, Western Digital slips the 2.5″ VelociRaptor into an “IcePAK” drive sled that neatly slides into standard 3.5″ drive bays. The IcePAK is equipped with 13 cooling fins, providing additional surface area for its secondary task: acting as the VelociRaptor’s heatsink.

Western Digital says 2.5″ 10K-RPM drives don’t necessarily require heatsinks, but they do run warmer than standard desktop drives. The VelociRaptor needed an adapter to be compatible with 3.5″ drive bays anyway, so having one that serves as a heatsink is a simple but smart bit of engineering.

It sounds like Western Digital has worked out all the angles for the VelociRaptor, but the fact remains that bringing 10K-RPM spindle speeds down to a 2.5″ form factor is no easy task. 2.5″ drives are just really tiny—the actual drive that sits inside the VelociRaptor’s IcePAK sled is roughly 70% smaller by volume than a standard 3.5″ drive—and it’s difficult to pull off miniaturization while maintaining breakneck spindle speeds.

To be fair, though, the 2.5″ drive at the heart of the VelociRaptor isn’t quite as small as a common notebook drives. The 2.5″ form factor standard has provisions for different drive thicknesses, with most of today’s notebook drives conforming to the thinnest 9mm option. The VelociRaptor’s 2.5″ drive measures 15mm thick, which means you won’t be able to squeeze it into a standard notebook. The VelociRaptor’s thickness neatly matches that of Seagate’s Savvio drives, though.

Given its form factor, the VelociRaptor’s core seems like a logical and potentially very attractive Serial ATA alternative to Seagate’s Savvio drives in the enterprise world. However, Western Digital isn’t talking about an enterprise version of the VelociRaptor just yet. Enthusiasts get first dibs this time around.

Down to details
Although the VelociRaptor’s novel design is easily the drive’s defining feature, a 10,000 RPM spindle speed is what makes it a Raptor. Western Digital is still the only hard drive maker offering 10K-RPM drives with Serial ATA interfaces, which may be part of the reason why the Raptor is updated so infrequently. The other reason, WD tells us, is because once enterprise versions of the Raptor are qualified by server vendors for use in their systems, they’d rather keep using the same drive rather than have to re-qualify new versions on a regular basis.

Raptor EL150

Raptor VR150

Maximum external
transfer rate
150MB/s 300MB/s

Sustained data rate
88MB/s 120MB/s
Read IOPS 124 134
Average read seek
4.7ms 4.2ms
Average write seek
5.9ms 4.7ms

Spindle speed
10,000 RPM 10,000 RPM

36GB, 74GB, 150GB 300GB

Cache size
16MB 16MB

Platter size
74GB 150GB

Idle acoustics
29 dBA 29 dBA

Seek acoustics
36 dBA 36 dBA
Mean Time Between
Failures (MTBF)
1.2 million hours 1.2 million hours

Warranty length
Five years Five years

High spindle speeds have always allowed Raptors to offer incredibly low seek times, and the VelociRaptor is the fastest example yet. The drive’s read seek time is half a millisecond quicker than WD’s existing 3.5″ Raptor, and its write seek time is a whopping 1.2 milliseconds faster. Milliseconds might not sound like much in the real world, but within the confines of a modern PC where bits are flipping at billions of times per second on multiple processor cores, there’s not a moment to spare.

So why does the VelociRaptor seek quicker than its predecessor if both share the same 10K-RPM spindle speed? Partially because the VelociRaptor’s smaller platters are easier for the drive head to traverse, as we discussed above. The VelociRaptor also packs a much higher areal density than its 3.5″ forebear, giving the drive head access to more data over shorter physical distances. While existing Raptors only squeeze 74GB onto their 3.5″ platters, the VelociRaptor’s much smaller 2.5″ platters pack 150GB each.

Another dynamic we discussed above comes into play here, as well. The VelociRaptor’s 2.5″ platters have a much smaller outer edge circumference, somewhat offsetting the impact of its increased areal density on sequential transfer rates. Mind you, the VelociRaptor’s sustained data rate is still 36% higher than the prior Raptor, with a faster 300MB/s Serial ATA interface to back it up.

The VelociRaptor needs only two platters to reach its 300GB capacity. Western Digital says it’s also working on a single-platter version of the drive, but that’s not ready yet.

The VelociRaptor is clearly Western Digital’s flagship performance drive, and at $300 for 300GB, it’s not a cheap proposition. You’d think for such a premium product, Western Digital would have made every attempt to keep up with the Joneses. But the VelociRaptor only has 16MB of cache and that’s, well, less than the 32MB cache on many terabyte drives. Western Digital says it did extensive performance profiling to evaluate larger cache sizes, but that it found little performance benefit in jumping up to 32MB. I can’t say that we’ve ever found evidence to the contrary in our own testing, but given the VelociRaptor’s competition and the drive’s premium status, it’s hard to understand why WD didn’t go with a 32MB cache to hedge its bets.

At least Western Digital has preserved the Raptor’s five-year warranty—an attribute that comes from its enterprise roots. Western Digital’s standard desktop drives are only covered by a three-year warranty, although it is worth noting that Seagate offers five years of warranty coverage on all its internal hard drive products, including standard desktop models.

Test notes
We’ll be comparing the performance of the VelociRaptor with that of a slew of competitors, including some of the latest and greatest Serial ATA drives from Hitachi, Maxtor, Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital. These drives 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


Native Command

Barracuda 7200.7
150MB/s 7,200-RPM 8MB 80GB 160GB Yes

Barracuda 7200.8
150MB/s 7,200-RPM 8MB 133GB 400GB Yes

Barracuda 7200.9
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 8MB 160GB 160GB Yes

Barracuda 7200.9
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 125GB 500GB Yes

Barracuda 7200.10
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 188GB 750GB Yes

Barracuda 7200.11
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 250GB 1TB Yes

Barracuda ES
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 188GB 750GB Yes

Barracuda ES.2
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 250GB 1TB Yes

Caviar GP
300MB/s 5,400-7,200-RPM 16MB 250GB 1TB Yes

Caviar SE16
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 83GB 250GB No

Caviar SE16 (500GB)
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 125GB 500GB Yes

Caviar SE16 (640GB)
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 320GB 640GB Yes

Caviar SE16 (750GB)
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 188GB 750GB Yes

Caviar RE2
150MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 100GB 400GB Yes

Caviar RE2 (500GB)
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 125GB 500GB Yes

Deskstar 7K500
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 100GB 500GB Yes

Deskstar 7K1000
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 200GB 1TB Yes

DiamondMax 10
150MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 100GB 300GB Yes

DiamondMax 11
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 125GB 500GB Yes

Raptor WD740GD
150MB/s 10,000-RPM 8MB 37GB 74GB No*

Raptor X
150MB/s 10,000-RPM 16MB 75GB 150GB Yes

Raptor WD1500ADFD
150MB/s 10,000-RPM 16MB 75GB 150GB Yes









SpinPoint F1
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 32MB 334GB 1TB Yes

Spinpoint T
300MB/s 7,200-RPM 16MB 133GB 400GB Yes

VelociRaptor VR150
300MB/s 10,000-RPM 16MB 150GB 300GB Yes

Note that the 250GB Caviar SE16 and the Raptor WD740GD lack support for Native Command Queuing. 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.

We have test results from several versions of Western Digital’s Caviar SE16 and RE2. To avoid confusion, we’ll be listing their capacities in parentheses in each of our graphs.

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 other drives aren’t explicitly labeled as NCQ drives because they’re not available without NCQ support.

We should note that our WD1500ADFD has a slightly newer firmware revision than the Raptor X sample we’ve had since February 2006. The drives still share identical internals, but firmware optimizations could give our newer Raptor an edge over the X in some tests.

Performance data from such a daunting collection of drives can make our graphs a little hard to read, so we’ve highlighted the VelociRaptor in bright orange. To frame the drive against its most recent competition, we’ve also highlighted the Barracuda 7200.11 and ES.2, the Deskstar 7K1000, the SpinPoint F1, the Caviar GP and RE2-GP, the Caviar SE16 640GB, and the VelociRaptor’s Raptor X and WD1500ADFD in yellow. We have two sets of IOMeter graphs, as well: one with all the drives and another with just the Caviar and its direct rivals. Most of our analysis will be limited to how the VelociRaptor compares with its direct rivals, so it should be easy to follow along.

Finally, we should note that the VelociRaptor VR150 we used for testing is an engineering sample that isn’t an exact representation of what you’ll be able to find on store shelves. Western Digital tells us the only differences between the drive we have and retail examples will be minor firmware changes. We’ll try to get our hands on a retail sample to test as soon as we can.

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

Thanks to the folks at Newegg for hooking us up with the DiamondMax 11 we used for testing. Also, thanks to NCIX for getting us the Deskstar 7K1000 and Spinpoint F1.

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.

The VelociRaptor gets off to a good start, tying the WorldBench overall score of Western Digital’s Caviar SE16 640GB. The VR150 is only a couple of points faster than its predecessor, though.

Multimedia editing and encoding

MusicMatch Jukebox

Windows Media Encoder

Adobe Premiere

VideoWave Movie Creator

Among WorldBench’s multimedia editing and encoding tests, only Premiere appears to benefit from faster hard drives. There, the VelociRaptor is among the leaders, just four seconds off the pace set by Samsung’s SpinPoint F1.

Image processing

Adobe Photoshop

ACDSee PowerPack

ACDSee spreads the field a little, and the VelociRaptor takes full advantage, edging out the 640GB Caviar SE16 for the lead.

Multitasking and office applications

Microsoft Office


Mozilla and Windows Media Encoder

Performance doesn’t vary much in WorldBench’s office and multitasking tests, although the SpinPoint does manage to best the VelociRaptor by ten seconds in the multitasking test.

Other applications



Nero and WinZip both give the hard drives an opportunity to show off, and the VelociRaptor comes out on top in the latter by nine seconds. The VR150 has to settle for second place behind Western Digital’s latest Caviar SE16 in the Nero test, though.

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

The VelociRaptor isn’t the quickest drive booting into Windows. However, it has little problem outgunning its competition when we switch to games. The VR150’s three-second margin of victory in Far Cry level load times is particularly impressive.

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 MB/s.

To make things easier to read, we’ve separated our FC-Test results into individual graphs for each test pattern. We’ll tackle file creation performance first.

The VelociRaptor doesn’t manage a clean sweep, but it comes out ahead in three FC-Test’s five file creation test patterns. Second-place finishes with the remaining two test patterns keep the VR150 near the top of the pile, well ahead of the previous generation Raptors.

FC-Test’s file read tests prove to be even more fruitful for the VelociRaptor, which dominates all five test patterns. The drive’s margins of victory with the Windows and Programs test patterns, which are made up of large numbers of smaller files, are especially impressive. Again, the older Raptors are simply in another class—a remedial one, by comparison.

FC-Test – continued
Next, File Copy Test combines read and write tasks in some, er, copy tests.

Copy tests certainly seem to suit the VelociRaptor. The VR150 turns in the fastest performance with each test pattern, by healthy margins across the board. Older Raptors really show their age here, trailing not only the VelociRaptor but just about every other 7,200-RPM hard drive released in the last year.

FC-Test’s second wave of copy tests involves copying files from one partition to another on the same drive.

The SpinPoint F1 steals one from the VelociRaptor in FC-Test’s partition copy tests, but the VR150 comes out on top with the four remaining test patterns.

iPEAK multitasking
We’ve developed a series of disk-intensive multitasking tests to highlight the impact of seek times and 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.

In our first wave of iPEAK multitasking tests, the VelociRaptor only manages the quickest mean service times for two workloads. The VR150 remains competitive with the other three, where it always lies within striking distance of the top spot, but there’s no domination here—well, not unless you compare the VelociRaptor’s performance with that of its predecessors, which are much slower with each workload.

iPEAK multitasking – continued

The VelociRaptor only manages one win in our second wave of iPEAK workloads, but it’s among the fastest drives with the rest. Only when we combine Outlook and VirtualDub import operations does the VR150 fall off the pace by a substantial margin, and even then, it’s still quicker than the vast majority of drives we’ve tested.

IOMeter – Transaction rate
IOMeter presents a good test case for both seek times and command queuing. To keep things easy to read, we’ve created two sets of graphs. The first includes the VelociRaptor and its closest competitors, while the second has results for all the drives we’ve tested. With over two dozen drives, those latter graphs are a little difficult to read, so we’ll focus our attention on the first set and the VR150’s more direct rivals.

The VelociRaptor’s IOMeter transaction rates are nothing short of a revelation. Not even the Raptor X and WD1500ADFD—which still are both much quicker than the fastest 7,200-RPM drives in this test—come close to matching the VR150’s performance. The gap only widens as we increase the number of outstanding I/O requests, although there’s a curious dip in transaction rate scaling with 64 outstanding I/Os.

Good luck with these, folks.

IOMeter – Response time

The carnage continues when we look at IOMeter response times, which show the VelociRaptor well out ahead of the fastest Serial ATA drives on the market.

IOMeter – CPU utilization

IOMeter CPU utilization is low for all our drives. Move along.

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

The VelociRaptor is the first SATA hard drive we’ve seen eclipse 100MB/s in HD Tach’s sustained read and write speed tests. The SpinPoint F1 and 640GB Caviar SE16 aren’t far behind, but they don’t quite reach that mark.

Western Digital’s previous Raptor drives use slower 150MB/s Serial ATA interfaces, and that holds them back in this test. With its 300MB/s Serial ATA link, the VelociRaptor’s burst performance is the fastest we’ve seen from any drive.

We expected the VelociRaptor’s random access time to be quick, and it is. Obviously, the VR150 has a huge advantage over 7,200-RPM drives here. What’s more impressive, however, is that it’s 1.5 milliseconds quicker than the Raptor X.

CPU utilization results are within HD Tach’s +/- 2% margin of error for 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 run with the PCB facing up.

You might expect the VelociRaptor’s 10K-RPM spindle speed to generate a lot of noise, but it’s one of the quietest drives we’ve ever tested at idle. Noise levels do rise under load, however, where the VelociRaptor’s aggressive seeking puts it in the middle of the pack. Even then, the VelociRaptor is several decibels quieter than its Raptor predecessors, although that may give you little comfort under Vista, which seems to seek constantly in an attempt to fill its caches.

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.

The VelociRaptor’s 2.5″ core has a lot less weight to spin than traditional 3.5″ drives. That pays huge dividends in power consumption. We should note that unlike 2.5″ mobile drives, which only draw power from the 5V line, the VelociRaptor pulls from both 5V and 12V rails.


Western Digital’s new VelociRaptor VR150 is a leaner, meaner version of the Raptor that really owes little to its predecessor other than a 10K-RPM spindle speed. The VelociRaptor’s design is a radical departure from the original, but we’ve grown to expect Western Digital to inject a little flavor into a hard drive market that’s typically short on interesting designs. After all, this is the same company that released a windowed Raptor and tweak spindle speeds to lower power consumption for its GreenPower line.

While we commend the VelociRaptor’s novel design, performance is what really matters. Fortunately, the VR150 delivers on that front in spades. It wasn’t the fastest drive in every test and was even beaten by 7,200-RPM drives on a handful of occasions, but the VelociRaptor’s combination of blazing-fast transfer rates and lightning-quick access times is a tough matchup for any Serial ATA drive. The VelociRaptor’s only weakness may be its seek noise levels, which are higher than those of the fastest 7,200-RPM drives, but still much quieter than current 3.5″ Raptors.

The VelociRaptor offers excellent performance across a wide range of applications, but its most spectacular showing was easily with IOMeter’s multi-user workloads. These workloads don’t simulate typical desktop environments, of course, but they’re the most demanding tests we run. And they make a heck of a case for an enterprise derivative of the VelociRaptor. The 2.5″ form factor is perfect for rack-mount systems where the VelociRaptor’s low power consumption and strong multi-user performance will surely be appreciated. But I digress.

Western Digital VelociRaptor VR150
April 2008

The VelociRaptor reclaims the crown of fastest Serial ATA hard drive in spectacular fashion. Drives are shipping now, so you should be able to get your hands on one soon. However, like the original Raptor, there’s a price premium to be paid for this level of performance. The 300GB VR150 will sell for $300, giving it a cost per gigabyte five times that of terabyte drives currently on the market. Incidentally, though, the VelociRaptor’s cost per gigabyte closely matches that of current Raptor drives, which are slower, louder, and consume more power.

So the VelociRaptor isn’t a bang-for-your-buck wonder, then—at least not for typical desktop workloads. But it’s still an absolute beast and a worthy successor to existing Raptors. What’s more, the VelociRaptor embodies exactly the kind of imaginative innovation we like to see. When taken with its exceptional performance, we’d be remiss not to give the VelociRaptor VR150 an Editor’s Choice award.

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