Maxtor Diamondmax 10/300 & Hitachi 7K250 Hard Drives

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TEST RESULTS

Our two samples were tested according to our standard hard drive testing methodology. Our methodology focuses specifically on noise, and great effort is taken to ensure it is comprehensively measured and described. Performance is not tested, for reasons discussed in detail in the methodology article. For comprehensive performance testing about HDDs, we recommend Storage Review, who have established a strong reputation as the specialist in this field, doing nothing but testing HDD performance. We refer to Storage Review as a reference for many aspects of HDD performance.

The DiamondMax and Deskstar will be compared against our reference drives, the Seagate Barracuda IV and Samsung Spinpoint P80, that are profiled in our methodology article. To get a good idea of where the drives in this review stand, it is important to read this article thoroughly.

Two forms of hard drive noise are measured:

  1. Airborne acoustics
  2. Vibration-induced noise.

These two types of noise impact the subjective perception of hard drive noise differently depending on how and where the drive is mounted.

Both forms of noise are evaluated objectively and subjectively. Both the subjective and objective analyses are essential to understanding the acoustics of the drives. Airborne acoustics are measured using a professional caliber SLM with absolute sensitivity below 0 dB. Measurements are taken at a distance of one meter above the top of the drive using an A-weighted filter. Vibration noise is rated on a scale of 1-10 by comparing against our standard reference drives.

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA.

DIAMONDMAX 10 & DESKSTAR 7K250 NOISE EVALUATION
Drive
Mfg date - firmware

Vibration
1-10
(10 = no vibration)

Activity State
Airborne Acoustics
Measured Power
Maxtor DiamondMax 10 (6B300S0)
Jan 05 -
firmware BANC1BY0
2-3
Idle
23 dBA/1m
8.1 W
Seek (AAM)
24-25 dBA/1m
10.7 W
Seek (Normal)
27-28 dBA/1m
13.6 W
Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250GB)
Aug 03
firmware V360A60A
4
Idle
23 dBA/1m
6.9 W
Seek (AAM)
25 dBA/1m
9.8 W
Seek (Normal)
26 dBA/1m
13.1 W

DiamondMax 10

While not quite in the same league as our single platter reference drives, the triple platter DiamondMax is nevertheless impressive when compared to the previous Maxtors we've heard. At 23 dBA/1m, this drive is quite at home in a quiet system if not a completely silent one. Its noise character is a bit harsh, as though there are several sharp peaks, but the total volume is quiet enough that it would not be intrusive in most systems. There is a very slight high frequency ringing that is audible within a foot or two of the drive.

The DiamondMax's seek noise is loud and disruptive. Like the Barracuda IV, seeks are sharp and are much louder than the idle noise. Enabling AAM makes a dramatic difference. Both volume and sharpness are reduced immensely; AAM seeks are barely audible above the idle noise. Of all the drives we've tested, the DiamondMax's implementation of AAM is the most effective.

Low vibration is not a strong suit of the DiamondMax 10. Our first sample of the drive had the most vibration of any drive in the lab by a large margin. In fact, we requested a second sample to confirm that the problem was not simply a result of sample variance. The second sample did indeed soften our initial verdict, improving our vibration evaluation by a single grade. Even the second sample still had more vibration than any other drive in the lab, although the difference was not as marked as in the first sample.

Deskstar 7K250

The idle noise of the 7K250 is very smooth; it is similar in quality to the Seagate Barracuda IV (our favorite reference drive), albeit a bit louder. The difference in volume is at least partially caused by the higher number of platters in the Deskstar. Close up, the idle noise sounded amazingly like the airflow from a fan. The noise has very little high frequency content, and constitutes a broadband whoosh or hiss depending on the angle you hear it from.

Seek noise is average; it is not especially bad, nor is it particularly good. Most of the noise is a high-frequency clicking, but, unlike the Barracuda and the DiamondMax, they are not particularly sharp. AAM has virtually no effect on the seek noise, although there is a touch of rumble when it is not enabled.

Vibration is better than the DiamondMax, but not particularly impressive. It's at roughly the same level as a Nidec motor Spinpoint, which leaves room for improvement. Suspension would certainly benefit this drive.

One of the general complaints about the Deskstar line in the past is the intermittent "head reset" noise that it makes every ten minutes or so when idling, and the 7K250 also exhibits this noise. It's been characterized as a "chirping" or "meowing" sound that lasts two or three seconds. Personally, I think the closest comparison is the sound a camcorder makes when loading a tape. The volume of the noise is slightly higher than the seek noise; I'd guesstimate it at ~30 dBA/1m.

Advanced Power Management

When APM is enabled via the Hitachi Feature Tool, the drive enters Low Power Idle after 3-5 minutes of inactivity. This occurs with a sharp click as the heads are unloaded to reduce power consumption . The same noise occurs when the heads are loaded. It's roughly the same volume as the head reset noise.

Despite the minor annoyance that unloading the heads causes, it is worth enabling APM for the other feature it provides: Low RPM Standby, which occurs after 10-15 minutes of drive activity. Low RPM Standby lowers the spindle speed. This effects a substantial drop in both airborne acoustics and vibration-induced noise. Although this feature will not be that useful if the drive is used as a boot or system drive, we highly recommend enabling it if the drive is used primarily for data storage or backup.

ADVANCED POWER MANAGEMENT
SPL
Normal / Low Power Idle
23 dBA/1m
Low RPM Standby
19 dBA/1m
Vibration
1-10 (10 = no vibration)
Normal / Low Power Idle
4
Low RPM Standby
7
Measured Power
Normal Idle
6.9 W
Low Power Idle
4.8 W
Low RPM Standby
2.6 W

The noise characteristics of this drive in Low RPM Standby are comparable to many notebook drives. At 60% of full speed, the spindle speed is approximately 4,200 RPM and its first harmonic occurs at ~70 Hz; most people are less sensitive to this frequency than the 120 Hz that the drive produces at full speed. Power draw also drops dramatically, down to notebook drive levels.

The volume is so low that noise character is almost irrelevant, but there is a slight squeal that is reminiscent of a muted television. From a distance of one meter, the squeal was barely audible over the ambient noise; inside a case it would disappear entirely.

Vibration was comparable or slightly better than the lowest vibration 3.5" drive in our lab — almost notebook level. The lower frequency of resonance at this level made it difficult to hear even on our resonance-amplifying test box. Only the pickiest silencers need worry about vibration at this level.

NOTE: There appeared to be some odd interaction between Windows power management and the Hitachi APM. We'd suggest you use one of the other but not both.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here in MP3 format. The first two recordings below contains ten seconds of idle noise, followed by ten seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled and ten seconds more with AAM disabled. The Hitachi Low RPM Standby recording is a continuous 12 seconds. 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.

Maxtor DiamondMax 10 6B300S0 (Idle: 23 / AAM: 24-25 / Seek: 27-28 dBA/1m)

Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 HDS722525VLSA80 (Idle: 23 / AAM: 25 / Seek: 26 dBA/1m)

Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 HDS722525VLSA80 (Low RPM Standby: 19 dBA/1m)

Reference Comparatives:

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 is 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.

CONCLUSIONS

Although neither of the drives we tested managed to reach the noise standards set by our perennial favorites, the Barracuda IV and the Spinpoint P80, this is due at least in part to the higher number of platters (and thus capacity) of our samples. The single platter versions of the DiamondMax 10 and Deskstar 7K250 are probably more suited for use in a quiet system than the flagship models that we tested.

The low idle noise and effective implementation of AAM on the DiamondMax 10 impressed us, especially in light of the Maxtor drives we've heard in the past. Maxtor drives have a reputation for good performance, so it's nice to know that there's potential for quiet 3.5" drives that don't automatically impose a performance penalty. However, the high vibration of the drive means it will not be quiet if it is mounted in the standard way; even more than usual, we recommend suspension to fully silence this drive.

In stock form, the noise level of the Deskstar 7K250 is about average. Its idle noise is quite similar to the DiamondMax 10, and while its vibration is not as bad as the Maxtor, it's still far from stellar. Both of our reference drives beat the noise level of the Deskstar in general use. However, in combination with its Low RPM Standby, the large capacity of the Deskstar (in comparison to our reference drives) makes it an excellent choice for a secondary drive that will be used infrequently.

Although the same effect could be achieved with any hard drive by spinning down the disc via Windows Power Management, Hitachi's Low RPM Standby has some advantages over this method. Because the feature is enabled on the drive itself, it is possible to spin down only the Deskstar without affecting other drives in the system. Windows Power Management only allows a single idle time-out to be set for all drives in the system.

Additionally, keeping the disc spinning instead of stopping it entirely reduces both the spin-up time when the drive is needed and the wear and tear on the drive bearings. Enabling Low RPM Standby will likely be better for drive longevity than spinning it down entirely.

If suspended, both the DiamondMax 10 and the Deskstar 7K250 are appropriate for use in a quiet but not silent system. Acoustically, they are similar enough that a choice between these drives ultimately comes down to price and performance rather than noise.

Many thanks to Maxtor for the DiamondMax 10 sample, and to Hitachi Global Storage Technology for the Deskstar 7K250 sample.

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