Notebook HDDs: Hitachi 5K80 80G & Samsung MP0402H 40G

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December 23, 2004 by Mike Chin with Jordan Menu

Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 80GB notebook drive
Samsung MP0402H 40GB notebook drive
Hitachi Global Storage Technologies
Frontier PC Vancouver, BC
Street Prices
Hitachi: 40GB ~US$80; 80GB ~US$150
Samsung: 40GB US$70~75; 80GB US$122~150

To get a PC any closer to silence than the 20-22 dBA/1m noise floor imposed by the quietest desktop hard drives, we have to look at other storage options. With the best low noise fans, it is possible to achieve as much as 20~25 cubic feet per minute at a noise level of <18 dBA/1m. However, the lowest noise achieved by any desktop hard drive has remained unchanged at 20~22 dBA/1m for several years. Suspension shock mounting such a desktop drive can certainly effect a significant subjective drop in noise for a system that's otherwise quiet, but it is very difficult to progress much below 20 dBA/1m with a desktop HDD if something approaching silence is your goal.

The very quietest storage technology is a RAM-based solid state drive, whose parts only move at the level of electrons. But their four-figure $ prices are unreachable for mere mortal PC users. A much more affordable alternative is a quiet notebook drive. As I discovered while reviewing an unusual small fanless computer, the Mappit A4F, some new notebook computers are amazingly quiet. The process of examining and using notebook hard drives as desktop HDD replacements began for me after that review; it is how this series of notebook drive reviews was born.

Our third article about quiet notebook drives involves a Hitachi Travelstar 80G, 5400 rpm drive and a Samsung 40G, 5400 rpm drive. Let's start with a few photos.

Hitachi 3.5" desktop drive next to review subjects Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 and Samsung MP0402H.

Another David and Goliath picture: The weight difference is typically ~600g against ~100g.

The size and weight are fairly obvious, but the thermal and power issues are not quite as obvious. You may never have thought about it before, but there's a very good reason why notebook drives are more energy efficient than the bigger desktop drives: They have to be to work well with battery-powered notebook PCs. The difference is big.

A typical 5400 rpm 2.5" HDD with two platters and four heads takes about 5W to spin up and no more than about 2.5W(!!!) in normal operation. A typical 7200 rpm HDD with two platters and four heads takes about 20~34W to spin up. They take 8~14W on average to seek and write normally. If there is any doubt about these numbers, please check for yourself the PDF data spec sheets on 2.5" and 3.5" HDDs from Seagate, Hitachi, and Samsung.

Regular readers of SPCR know that suspending a hard drive for minimal noise usually causes a rise in temperature due to the lack of heat conduction between the HDD and the chassis. With a notebook drive's trifling power dissipation, overheating is hardly ever a problem when suspending or even enshrouding as long as a small amount of airflow is somewhere nearby.

High Startup Power of Desktop HDDs

Some readers might be surprised about the high startup power figures; I know I was. Note that this power draw only lasts a couple of seconds while the HDD motor accelerates the rotational mass of the disks from stationary to 7200 rpm. But the duration is long enough that several HDDs can stress a PC power supply enough so that it fails to boot the system ¬ó even though once booted up, the same PSU would have no trouble keeping the system running.

Here are some HDD startup power requirements plucked from the tech spec documents.

Hitachi 7K250 Deskstar
(max. A) 1.72 (+12V) & 0.68 (+5V) = 24 W
Hitachi 8K400 Deskstar
2.0A (+12V) & 1.1A (+5V) = 29.5 W
Samsung SP1614C
820 (5V) / 2250 (12V) mA = 31.1 W
Western Digital CaviarWD2000JB (SE)
1.3 A (12V) / 650 mA (5V) = 19.0 W
Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 Serial ATA
2.8A (12V) = 33.6 W

Back to the two notebook drives on hand, one hiccup with the comparison is that the Hitachi is an 80GB model while the Samsung is a 40G. The 80GB model uses two platters and four heads while the 40GB model uses one platter and two heads. There is a small consequence in noise: The two disk models are generally a wee bit louder. Hitachi cites the noise difference between their 2 platter and 1 platter models to be 0.3 Bels, and Samsung cites the noise difference to be 0.2 Bels. It is small but audible. A 40G Hitachi model has the same idle noise spec as the Samsung 40G, and a slightly higher seek noise spec. Please keep this in mind as we continue with the comparison.

Top views...

...bottom views: Not much to differentiate them visually.

HDD Model
Hitachi Travelstar 5K80
Samsung MP0402H
Capacity / Cache / RPM
80GB / 8MB / 5400
40GB / 8MB / 5400
Latency / Avg. Seek
5.5ms / 12ms
5.6ms / 12ms
Power: Startup / Typical / Low power idle
5W / 2.5W / 0.85W
5W / 2.5W / 0.85W
Max Data Transfer Rate: Media - Buffer / Buffer- Host
450 / 100 Mb/s
431 / 100 Mb/s
Operating Temp
0 - 55°C
0 - 55°C
Acoustics, Sound Power: Idle / Read-Write (typical)
2.5 / 2.9 Bel
2.2 / 2.4 Bel

There's not much to differentiate these drives aside from the capacity and the noise. What do 0.3 and 0.5 Bel differences mean in real terms? It's difficult to convert them to the dBA/1m SPL readings we use. It's better for us to listen and measure.

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