Single Disc 3.5" HDDs, Round One: Seagate & Hitachi

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Cramming 160 GB onto a single platter should benefit performance as well as noise. The extremely high areal density means that the data transfer rate should be faster and the seeks should be shorter than a drive with a lower data density. Of course, drive performance is governed by more than just areal density, but there's no doubt that it plays a significant part.

The 7200.9 comes with everything you'd expect from a recently developed drive. The latest version of SATA — 2.5 — is supported, which brings together all of the various optional extensions to the original SATA spec. The two most common of these extensions, native command queuing (NCQ) and the 3.0 Gbps bus speed, are already commonplace on most mainstream models, but there are some other features that aren't so widely supported:

  • ClickConnect — a redesigned data connector that is more secure
  • Hot Plug — allows drives to be safely swapped out while the system is running
  • Link Power Management — allows the bus to consume about a watt less when not being used
  • Staggered Spin-Up — drives can be configured to start up in sequence rather than simultaneously in order to reduce the power draw when the system is first turned on

Most of these features are more useful for server applications than desktop use, but they also open up some other intriguing possibilities. For example, both hot-plugging and staggered spin-up are valuable features in a Network-Attached Storage (NAS) box, such as this one. Remote storage provided by an NAS box is likely to grow in popularity as more people build HTPCs and the large collections of video data that goes with them.

In spite of the plethora of interface extras, the 7200.9 lacks two rather mundane features:

  1. It cannot be powered by a Molex connector, which means that a recent power supply is necessary.
  2. It does not support Automatic Acoustic Management (AAM).

The first feature is a matter of convenience, and it is quickly becoming irrelevant because almost all new power supplies ship with SATA power connectors (although some don't ship with enough of them). However, the lack of AAM is a significant flaw in all of Seagate's offerings. AAM is a popular feature that trades a little seek performance for what is often a significant reduction in seek noise. Unless the default noise level on this drive is already very good, AAM will be missed.


Unlike the Seagate drive, the 7K80 is marketed as a budget drive. The price is right: $50 is almost petty cash, and 80 GB is plenty for a basic system. There are signs that Hitachi took a few cost-saving measures to keep the overall price down. For example, the main body of the drive is thinner than usual, so that the top plate needs to be contoured to fit around the internal components. This design uses less material overall, and makes for an exceptionally lightweight drive. Another sign of cost-cutting is the use of the internal cache to store the drive's firmware. As a result the full 8 MB of cache is not available for use — about 270 KB is consumed by the firmware.

The top of the drive is contoured around the internal components.

The 7K80 cannot match the number of interface featured offered by Seagate, but it does offer a couple of features missing from the 7200.9, such as AAM and a socket for a Molex connector. It also offers Automatic Power Management (APM) which, as far as we know, is only available on Hitachi drives.

The primary purpose of APM is to reduce power draw, but it also has an acoustic side effect. When the drive is not in use, the drive will automatically drop the spindle speed — and both noise and vibration drop with it. A complete description of APM can be found in our review of the Deskstar 7K250, where we first reported on the feature.

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