Western Digital's 3TB GreenPower drive

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Western Digital's announcement yesterday of its new 3TB GreenPower drive brought many issues in the storage sector into sharp relief. A 3TB HDD by itself is not unique. Seagate's 3TB FreeAgent external hard drive has been available since the end of June, some four month ago. That begs the question of why Seagate has yet to release the bare 3TB drive.

The answer is likely contained in a WD document entitled Large Capacity Drives (PDF), which addresses the 2.19 TB barrier imposed by legacy BIOS and the Master Boot Record (MBR) partition table scheme. It's a complicated issue that we posted news on recently, but in a nutshell, the only consistent way to access more than 2.19 TB in a single drive with most current PCs is to use it as a secondary, non-boot, storage drive. Widespead adoption of 64-bit Windows and the new Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) — replacing the motherboard BIOS — using Globally Unique Identifier (GUID) partitions will be required before >2.19 TB drives can be used routinely as boot drives. This will come soon enough... but it explains why Seagate has made the 3TB model available only as an external storage device, for now, and allowed WD to be the first to put a bare 3TB drive on the market. WD did go the extra step of providing an AHCI-compliant host bus adapter (HBA) card is included with the retail drive kits, to allow the 3 TB drive to be used as a boot drive in some PCs.

The 3TB GP model has a major impact on our new Silent Server Build Guide, launched just a few days ago. Our HDD of choice was the 2TB GP, six of them, to be precise, for a 12TB server rig. Now you can get the same capacity with just four drives, with reduced power, heat and noise. The 750 GB/platter density makes for some interesting prospects, such as a 1.5 TB 2-platter drive — in theory, it should be a couple of decibels quieter than the already amazingly quiet 4-platter 2/3TB models. Just when we were starting to think that SSDs were ready to rule silent computing... Discuss this news in the SPCR forums.