SPCR's Hard Drive Testing Methodology

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REFERENCE DRIVE RE-TESTED

The drives that have been low noise benchmarks for SPCR were tested using this methodology. These drives are the Seagate Barracuda IV and the Samsung Spinpoint P80. There are two known versions of the P80 series; one uses a Nidec branded motor, and the other, a JVC. We tested one sample of each version. The model number of both versions was SP0802N.

Because the noise characteristics of the Seagate and Samsung drives have already been well documented, our examination of these drives will be brief. A more complete review of these two drives was done in May 2003, and the Samsung Spinpoint was re-reviewed with a sample of a later generation Barracuda line a year later.

SPCR REFERENCE 3.5" DRIVES NOISE EVALUATION
Drive Model
Mfg date - firmware

Vibration
1-10
(10 = no vibration)

Activity
Airborne Acoustics
Power
Seagate Barracuda IV
ST340016A - firmware 3.10
6
Idle
20 dBA/1m
6.7 W
Seek (AAM)
23 dBA/1m
11.3 W
Seek (Normal)
25-26 dBA/1m
11.6 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (Nidec motor)
June 04 - firmware TK100-24
4
Idle
21 dBA/1m
6.3 W
Seek (AAM)
23-24 dBA/1m
8.3 W
Seek (Normal)
25-26 dBA/1m
9.1 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (JVC motor)
Feb 05 - firmware TK200-04
6
Idle
21 dBA/1m
6.2 W
Seek (AAM)
25 dBA/1m
n / a
Seek (Normal)
27 dBA/1m
9.3 W

Seagate Barracuda IV

Even though it was released four years ago, the Barracuda IV still ranks as the one of the quietest drives we know of. Its high frequency noise is minimal and it is characterized by a smooth whoosh that sounds more like airflow than motor noise.

Its seeks are sharp and quite loud relative to the quiet idle noise, but they measure in line with those of other drives. They are intrusive because they are so much louder than the idle noise, not because they are loud in absolute terms. With AAM enabled, the sharp clatter of the seeks is dulled and sound less intrusive.

Vibration is quite low for a 3.5" drive, although not the lowest we've seen. We know from experience that this drive benefits considerably from a suspension mounting to reduce vibration.

Power draw is modest, but anecdotal evidence suggests it runs hot. The extra foam damping on the bottom side of the drive (abandoned since the B-IV) may play a part in trapping a bit more heat than other drives.

Samsung Spinpoint P80, Nidec Motor

The Nidec motor Spinpoint was the version that earned our original recommendation. Idle noise is rougher and slightly louder than the Barracuda, but inside a case it is unlikely to be audible. Compared to the Barracuda, the character of the sound is more metallic, but the overall volume is not enough to be intrusive. Any fan run at stock voltage would easily drown out the noise of the hard drive.

Seek noise is softer and more broadband than the sharp seeks of the Barracuda, although there is a considerable amount of low-frequency rumble. The reduction in noise with AAM enabled is spread across all frequencies, making the reduction in noise more a change in volume than a change in character.

We were surprised at the amount of vibration produced by this drive. While it is not the worst we encountered, it is far from a low-vibration drive. Our recommendation of this drive in the past has been based on the assumption that it would be suspended to reduce noise; there are definitely better choices if suspension is not used.

The power draw is slightly lower than the Seagate Barracuda IV; it may run a touch cooler. This difference does not account for the anecdotal evidence above how much cooler the Samsung runs compared to the B-IV. The aluminum top over of the Samsung may help cool the unit better.

Samsung Spinpoint P80, JVC Motor

The JVC motor version of the Spinpoint has a reputation for having a high-frequency whine that makes it less suitable for use in a quiet system. However, our sample (the only one we've examined personally) exhibited only a trace of this whine. Perhaps the difference in motor is more pronounced in the higher platter models. As with the Nidec version, the idle noise is likely to disappear inside most cases.

Surprisingly, the seek noise produced by the JVC Spinpoint was markedly different in character from the Nidec's seek noise. The character of the noise is midway between the Barracuda IV and the Nidec Spinpoint. Higher frequencies are more pronounced than in the Nidec version, but they still lack the sharpness of the Barracuda seeks. I would characterize the JVC seek noise as a chatter, the Nidec as a rattle, and the Barracuda as a clatter. As with the Nidec version, AAM reduced the seek noise, but did not appreciably change its character.

Vibration for this version was much better than the Nidec version and was roughly on par with the Barracuda. In spite of the louder seeks of the JVC Spinpoint, the seek vibration was slightly less than either of our other reference drives.

The measured power dissipation differences compared with the Nidec version are within the margin of error for the test system and thus insignificant.

Noise Recordings in MP3 Format

Each recording contains 10 seconds of idle noise, followed by 10 seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled and 10 seconds more with AAM disabled. Keep in mind that the audio recordings paint only part of the acoustic picture; vibration noise is not recorded, and drives often sound different depending on the angle from which they are heard.

Seagate Barracuda IV ST340016A (Idle: 21 / AAM: 23 / Seek: 25-26 dBA/1m)

Samsung Spinpoint P80 SP0802N, Nidec Motor (Idle: 21 / AAM: 23-24 / Seek: 25-26 dBA/1m)

Samsung Spinpoint P80 SP0802N, JVC Motor (Idle: 21 / AAM: 25 / Seek: 27 dBA/1m)

Nexus 92mm case fan @ 5V (17 dBA/1m) Reference

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high resolution studio quality digital recording system. The hard drive was placed on soft foam to isolate the airborne noise that it produces; recordings do not take into account the vibration noise that hard drives produce. The microphone was centered 3" above the top face of the hard drive. The ambient noise during most recordings was 18 dBA or lower.

To set the volume to a realistic level (similar to the original), try playing the Nexus 92 fan reference recording and setting the volume so that it is barely audible. Then don't reset the volume and play the other sound files. Of course, tone controls or other effects should all be turned off or set to neutral. For full details on how to calibrate your sound system to get the most valid listening comparison, please see the yellow text box entitled Listen to the Fans on page four of the article SPCR's Test / Sound Lab: A Short Tour.



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