Western Digital drives: Raptor 74 & Caviar SE 250

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TEST RESULTS

Our 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 HDD performance testing results, we recommend Storage Review, who have established a long reputation as the specialist in this field. We refer to Storage Review as a reference for many aspects of HDD performance.

Our test drives were 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 the methodology article thoroughly.

Two forms of hard drive noise are measured:

  1. Airborne acoustics
  2. Vibration-induced noise.

These 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.

RAPTOR & CAVIAR SE NOISE EVALUATION
Drive
Mfg date
firmware version

Vibration
1-10
(10 = no vibration)

Activity State
Airborne Acoustics
Measured Power
Western Digital Raptor WD740GD
February 2005
firmware 31.08F31
6
Idle
21 dBA/1m
7.4 W
Seek (AAM)
24-26 dBA/1m
11.5 W
Seek (Normal)
25-26 dBA/1m
11.9 W
Western Digital Caviar SE WD2500JD
March 2005
firmware 31.08F31
6
Idle
22 dBA/1m
7.1 W
Seek (AAM)
23-24 dBA/1m
8.2 W
Seek (Normal)
28-30 dBA/1m
10.7 W

For comparison, here is the data for SPCR's quiet 3.5" reference drives.

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

NOTE: The acoustics detailed below were assessed after prolonged, very close listening, with the drives as close as a few inches from our ears at times. The subjective descriptions may not match the MP3s of the drives, due to unavoidable losses in audio recording and in your playback system. Whether the described acoustic characteristics are audible inside a case in a working system will depend greatly on the specifics of your system build, the ambient noise level and your own aural sensitivity. Whether you choose to give more weight to our subjective descriptions or to the audio recordings or the SPL measurements will depend largely on your own biases — consider them all for the most balanced perspective.

Raptor

The dual platter Raptor impressed us with its idle noise. There is no motor noise to speak of; the only noise is the whoosh of airflow across the spinning platters. The overall volume is slightly louder than our favorite reference drive — the Barracuda IV — gauged by listening and by SPL measurements. It actually matches our reference quiet Samsung (Nidec motor) drives for idle SPL.

We can vouch for the Raptor's reknown speediness, even though we did not run benchmarks; it is perceivable in everyday general Windows use and in applications. Storage Review describes the Raptor as "the fastest single-user desktop HDD" money can buy. To achieve its exceptionally fast seek performance, the Raptor has to move the read/write heads across the surface of the disc with exceptional speed. A side effect is that the seeks are sudden and sharp, not a good combination for acoustic quality. The seeks are 4-5 dBA/1m higher than the idle noise, enough to be plainly audible. The seek vibration is equally sharp; when placed on our vibration box, the seeking drive produced a loud rumble that added significantly to the overall noise level. Enabling AAM has little effect on seek noise (or power dissipation). Careful listening revealed that the sharp clicks occurred slightly less frequently with AAM, but neither noise character nor volume changed significantly.

The vibration level at idle is quite good, on par with the Barracuda IV. In a real system, the Raptor's vibration noise might be slightly more intrusive than the Barracuda because of the higher pitch fundamental of the 10,000 RPM drive (167 Hz instead of 120 Hz for a 7200 RPM drive), but the total amount of vibration is roughly the same.

We were expecting that the higher spindle speed of the Raptor would translate into a higher power draw. This did appear to be the case, although the increase in power consumption was much less than we expected, somewhere in the realm of 1W at idle and 2-3W while seeking. Despite its spindle speed, the Raptor is not the most power hungry drive we've seen; it is merely higher than average. With the extra heatsinks that are incorporated into the casing, it should have no problem dissipating the extra heat that this power produces.

Caviar SE

After listening to the smooth idle of the Raptor, the Caviar SE sounds bit coarse. In addition to airflow noise, a midband whine from the drive motor is audible. The tonal nature of the noise makes it seem louder than the 22 dBA/1m we measured. Additionally, our sample had a faint high-pitched metallic squeal that faded in and out seemingly at random. Because we had only one sample. there no way to tell whether the noise is representative of this model and/or the Caviar line as a whole. It could admittedly be specific to our sample.

Without AAM, the seek noise is loud. The character of the noise is not bad; seeks sound dull and slightly damped. However, there is a slight metallic ringing that is audible underneath the main seek noise. Unfortunately, the 6-8 dBA/1m rise above idle noise is too much for it to be considered quiet. Enabling AAM (or, if you wish, Soft Seek) eliminates most of the seek noise; the repetitive clatter that is so characteristic of seek noise disappears almost entirely. What remains is the odd metallic ringing that sounds as though a thick chain is being dragged behind a (quiet) truck on a distant road. This ringing noise may be related to the intermittent squeal that we noticed while the drive was idling; although the rhythmic character of the noise is only apparent during seeks, the approximate frequency and volume is about the same. The volume with AAM enabled is quite quiet for seek noise, rising only a decibel or two above idle noise.

As with the Raptor, the vibration is roughly the same as a Barracuda IV: As good as any 3.5" drive, but still enough that it is worth suspending the drive in a quiet system.

Oddly, Western Digital specifies the power consumption for the Caviar SE higher than the Raptor. Our testing did not bear this out. The power consumption of the Caviar is roughly in line with other drives we've tested, which have ranged 6~7W at idle and 8~12W during seek.

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. 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.

Western Digital Raptor WD740GD (Idle: 21 / AAM: 24-26 / Seek: 25-26 dBA/1m)

Western Digital Caviar SE WD2500JD (Idle: 22 / AAM: 23-24 / Seek: 28-30 dBA/1m)

Recently Reviewed:

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)

Reference Comparatives:

Seagate Barracuda IV ST340016A (Idle: 20 / 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

Our first experience with the FDB-equipped WD Raptor has been a good one. The fastest single-user drive also turns out to be very quiet, at least while idling. This is not to say that there is no sonic price to pay for a high performance drive. The sudden seeks and ineffectiveness (or lack?) of the AAM implementation are not characteristics of a truly quiet drive.

We would hesitate to recommend the Raptor if silence is the first priority. However, those who see low noise as a secondary goal after pure performance should be happy with the low noise of this drive, especially when it is not in seek or write.

The Caviar SE, on the other hand, was a bit disappointing on the subjective level. Still, it's a huge improvement over Western Digital's older drives, and it's quiet enough that inside a case, the differences between the Caviar SE WD2500JD and a quieter drive may be inconsequential. The best thing about the Caviar is undoubtedly its implementation of AAM, which made a bigger difference than with any other drive we've tried it on.

The metallic ringing during seek (and the intermittent squeal during idle) is a sound we've never encountered in another drive. Assuming that our sample is representative the rest of the line, this is a significant point against the Caviar, as the combination of its infrequent nature and high frequency is a recipe for an acoustic irritant. Keep in mind, however, that until a couple more Caviar samples can be examined, these comments must be limited to the sample on hand.

Many thanks to Western Digital for the Raptor and Caviar SE samples.

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