Samsung P120 200 + 250 GB Hard Drive

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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. Unfortunately, because the P120 is so new to the market, Storage Review has not yet reviewed the drive at the time of writing. In fact, the only other review that we know of is this performance-focused review by Tom's Hardware Guide.

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. 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.

A final caveat: As with most reviews, our comments are relevant to the sample we tested. Your sample may not be identical. There are always some sample variances, and manfacturers also make changes without telling everyone.

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 18 dBA. For the record, room temperature was 22~23°C.

Drive Model
Mfg date - firmware

Vibration at idle
(10 = no vibration)

Airborne Acoustics
Samsung Spinpoint
P120 SP2004C
June 05 - firmware VM100-33
21 dBA/1m
7.1 W
Seek (AAM)
23-24 dBA/1m
8.9 W
Seek (Normal)
23-24 dBA/1m
10.4 W
Reference Drives
Seagate Barracuda IV
ST340016A - firmware 3.10
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
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
21 dBA/1m
6.2 W
Seek (AAM)
25 dBA/1m
n / a
Seek (Normal)
27 dBA/1m
9.3 W
Similar Capacity Drives
Western Digital Caviar SE WD2500JD (250GB)
March 2005
firmware 31.08F31
22 dBA/1m
7.1 W
Seek (AAM)
23-24 dBA/1m
8.2 W
Seek (Normal)
28-30 dBA/1m
10.7 W
Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 (250GB)
Aug 03
firmware V360A60A
23 dBA/1m
6.9 W
Seek (AAM)
25 dBA/1m
9.8 W
Seek (Normal)
26 dBA/1m
13.1 W

The lineage of the P120 is easily heard the first time it is turned on. The idle noise is smooth, quiet, and predominantly broadband — shhhhhh — although a faint mid-range hum can also be heard at close range. In comparison to the P80 (Nidec), there is much less low frequency noise around the 120 Hz resonant frequency. However, there is slightly more wind noise, which can probably be attributed to the greater number of platters in our P120 sample. The P120 also exhibits less high frequency noise than any of our reference drives. All of these differences are minor; I would be hard pressed to distinguish the P120 from either of our reference drives when they are installed in an actual system.

Seek noise for the P120 is fairly good; in fact, it tied the P80 for the best measured noise in the 3.5" form factor. Subjectively, however, the noise signature is a bit worse than the original P80. Instead of the muted rumble of the original Spinpoint, seeks are closer in quality to the Barracuda IV without AAM: sharp and clicky. Enabling AAM does nothing for the harshness of the noise, although the speed of the seeks seems slightly less. The bulk of the improvement from AAM seems to come in the form of reduced vibration. In free air, I could barely tell when AAM was enabled, but the difference is immediately apparent when the drive was on the vibration box.

The vibration level of the P120 is much more reasonable than the previous Spinpoint (Nidec), approaching but not quite matching the level of the Barracuda IV. Its rating of 5 is about average for a 3.5" drive, so it could certainly benefit from suspension, especially if more than one is installed.

Against the 250GB competition from Western Digital and Hitachi, it has a small but audible lead that's reflected in the measured SPL. Our sample WD2500JD has lower vibration and actually has softer sounding seeks when AAM is enabled, although they measured identically. However, its idle noise is slightly louder and sounds undamped in comparison to the P120; it's noise signature is much "dirtier" in the midrange and high frequencies than the P120, which is almost free of mechanical noise. Still, Western Digital may be Samsung's closest competitor.

The Deskstar 7K250 is also quite good when listened to on its own, but a direct comparison reveals the P120's obvious advantage. The main difference is in the amount of noise; both are fairly smooth in character, but the Deskstar is louder. The Deskstar is also higher vibration than the P120. Seek noise between the two is comparable, with the Deskstar being louder but a bit easier to listen to.

Power consumption of the P120 was about a watt higher than the P80 across the board. This increase comes from two sources: The higher number of platters (two instead of one), and the SATA interface. The increase from the additional platter is obvious: Simple physics dictates that spinning a higher mass requires more energy. The increase from the SATA interface is something we've seen in practical testing. It is also sometimes reflected in the spec. sheets for hard drives in the same line. Note that our measured power draw does not reflect how the drive would perform when used with a more recent disk controller that supports SATA Link Power Management.


An MP3 recording of the Spinpoint P120 was made containing ten seconds of idle noise followed by ten seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled and ten 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. The fidelity of your sound playback system will definitely affect what you hear.

Samsung Spinpoint P120 SP2004C (Idle: 21 / AAM: 23-24 / Seek: 23-24 dBA/1m)

Similar Capacity Drives:

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

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


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.

The fidelity of your sound playback system will definitely affect what you hear.
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.


The Spinpoint P120 continues the legacy of the P80 by increasing the maximum capacity of Samsung's offering while keeping the noise level unchanged: The best in the industry. Although the lack of a single platter model is a little disappointing, it is understandable that Samsung doesn't want to confuse the marketplace by offering a P120 at 100 or 125 GB capacity when the P80 series already offers 80 and 120 GB models. The lack of readily available stock in the 250 GB model is also a little disconcerting, but it is our experience that Samsung HDDs are a bit slower to reach all the retail markets. The simple fact is that retail is just a small fraction of any HDD maker's OEM market and is thus often the last served.

The updated features supported by the native SATA interface and the increase in areal density are welcome benefits, but it is good that the PATA interface hasn't been abandoned just yet; there are still plenty of systems out there that will run perfectly fine with PATA, and its lower price makes it an excellent buy.

About the only criticism that could be made from an acoustic point of view is that the subjective quality of the seeks has worsened slightly and become more noticeable, but this is really just picking nits. Inside a case, the sharpness of the seeks will be dulled and they are not loud enough to be seriously disruptive.

All in all, the P120 should help Samsung maintain its reputation as the manufacturer of the quietest desktop drives on the market.

Many thanks to Samsung Canada for the Spinpoint P120 sample.

* * *

POSTSCRIPT, Jan 30, 2006: SP2504C

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