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

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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.

Our test drives were compared against our reference drives, the Seagate Barracuda IV and Samsung Spinpoint P80, which 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.

Because AAM (Automatic Acoustic Management) is not supported as a user-configurable option on the Barracuda 7200.9, our standard method of generating seek noise via the AAM test function in Hitachi's HDD Feature Tool could not be used. Instead, seek noise was generated by copying a large file set within the drive. Unfortunately, this task does not require as much random seeking as the AAM test, so seek noise was not as constant as usual. To compensate, we spent more time than usual listening to and measuring the seek noise.

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 manufacturers also make changes without telling everyone.

Ambient noise at the time of testing was 17 dBA. For the record, room temperature was 21°C.

Reviewed Drives
Drive Model
Mfg date - firmware
Vibration at idle
1-10
(10 = no vibration)
Activity
Airborne Acoustics
Power
Seagate Barracuda
7200.9 ST3160812AS
Nov 05 - firmware 2AAA
5
Idle
21 dBA@1m
6.1 W
Seek
28 dBA@1m
9.7 W
Hitachi Deskstar 7K80 HDS728080PLA380
Aug 05 - firmware PF20A69A2CH6
4
Idle
20 dBA@1m
4.7 W
Seek (AAM)
23-24 dBA@1m
8.8 W
Seek (Normal)
27-28 dBA@1m
12.3 W
Reference Drives
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 7200.9 (160 GB)

The idle noise for the single platter 7200.9 was just slightly louder than the Samsung Spinpoint P80. Subjectively, it sounded very smooth, with no trace of whine or high frequency noise. Even so, it was louder than it needed to be and had a slightly hollow sound to it, as though it was being amplified. Damping the top of the drive by pressing on it with my fingers had an immediate and noticeable effect: The hollowness disappeared and the overall noise level became even more broadband and difficult to distinguish from the ambient room noise. It may have been even quieter than the Samsung.

Needless to say, I took a quick measurement to see if I could confirm my subjective impression, and found that the noise level had indeed dropped slightly, to 20 dBA@1m. At this level, it approached the noise level of the Barracuda IV — possibly the quietest 3.5" drive ever made.

Although idle noise was very good, seek noise was not. Seeks were both loud and sharp, especially against the smoothness of the idle noise. In a running system, the seeks would be slightly damped but would certainly be audible. AAM is sorely missed in this drive.

The level of vibration from the 7200.9 was about average for a desktop drive. Suspending or soft-mounting the drive would certainly be beneficial.

On the whole, power consumption was very low, as can be expected of a single platter drive. The 6.1W it consumed at idle puts it on par with the most frugal desktop drives we have tested. Power draw in seek was also quite low, although not to the same degree as at idle.

Hitachi Deskstar 7K80 (80 GB)

In terms of sheer volume, the idle noise for the 7K80 was somewhere between the damped and undamped 7200.9. In other words, it was about as loud as a Samsung Spinpoint. However, in terms of noise character, it was significantly rougher and more noticeable than both the Seagate and the Samsung. Buried underneath the turbulence that dominated the noise character was a distinct tone that sounded like the steady rumble of a passenger ferry operating in the distance. Close listening also revealed a slight ringing overtone, but most people are unlikely to notice it.

Like the Seagate, the seek noise for the 7K80 is quite loud and stands out clearly against the idle noise. Unlike the Seagate, however, AAM is included, and effective enough that I had difficulty hearing the seek noise at a distance of one meter. It's even enabled by default. The noise character of the seeks is less staccato than the Seagate, more akin to a rumble than a click. AAM softens the sound even more; it sounds like a shuffle that disappears into the roughness of the idle noise.

The biggest acoustic strike against the 7K80 is the amount of vibration it produces. Mounted with screws in the ordinary way, this drive will almost certainly produce an audible hum at its primary resonant frequency of 120 Hz. Soft-mounting is highly recommended.

The power consumption was even better than the Seagate, which makes this one of the least-power hungry drives we've reviewed. Idle power consumption was a paltry 4.7W. Power usage for seeking was also quite good when AAM was enabled, but without AAM, the power consumption was merely average. Keep in mind that the drive spends the vast majority of its time in idle, so seek power is not especially relevant to the overall power usage.

To test the Automatic Power Management, Low RPM Mode was enabled using Hitachi's Feature Tool and the drive was left untouched for a while. After about 10-15 minutes, the drive automatically reduced the rotation speed, and the drive became almost silent.

ADVANCED POWER MANAGEMENT
SPL
Normal Idle
21 dBA/1m
Low RPM Standby
19 dBA/1m
Vibration
1-10 (10 = no vibration)
Normal Idle
4
Low RPM Standby
8
Measured Power
Normal Idle
4.7 W
Low RPM Standby
3.2 W

With Low RPM Mode enabled, the 7K80 sounded like a quiet notebook drive. From a distance of one meter, the noise was just barely above the ambient noise level in the lab, and subjective listening confirmed that this was the case. Only a very slight high frequency tone gave the presence of the drive away. Perhaps because the majority of the turbulence noise had disappeared, the sound was less broadband that regular idle, but it was so hard to hear that the character was almost irrelevant.

The level of vibration also dropped dramatically, as did the resonant frequency. It would require better hearing than mine to pick out the vibration noise in this state.

Power consumption dropped to 3.2W, just barely more than a notebook drive. Strangely, the effect on power draw was less than with the 7K250 on which we originally tested APM. It is quite possible that the primary power consumer in this state was no longer the drive's mechanical components but the electronics.



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