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

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AUDIO RECORDINGS

Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here in MP3 format. The recordings below contain 10 seconds of idle noise, followed by 10 seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled and 10 seconds more with AAM disabled. Because the Seagate does not support AAM, the AAM portion of its recording was omitted.

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 and distance from which they are heard.

Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3160812AS (Idle: 21 / Seek: 28 dBA@1m)

Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3160812AS (Damped with a finger to reduce idle noise: 20 dBA@1m)

Hitachi Deskstar 7K80 HDS728080PLA380 (Idle: 21 / AAM: 23-24 / Seek: 27-28 dBA@1m)

Hitachi Deskstar 7K80 HDS728080PLA380 (Low RPM Mode: 19 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)

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

The single platter drives from Seagate and Hitachi have strong points in their favor, but neither is strong enough to replace the Spinpoint P80 (Nidec motor) as our favorite desktop drive nor displace the Seagate Barracuda IV as the quietest ever. As expected of single platter drives, both are very quiet at idle.

In fact, with a little mass damping, the Seagate could be even quieter than the Samsung at idle. However, its seek noise is not up to par, and AAM is not available to make it quieter. Unless the drive is enclosed in some way, the seeks will always be noticeable.

The Hitachi, on the other hand, seeks fairly quietly when AAM is enabled. Of the two drives, it comes closer to beating the Samsung. In the end, though, it loses out because of the poor noise character at idle. The difference in volume between the Hitachi and the Samsung is not large, but the subjective difference is significant.

The inclusion of APM on the Hitachi does give it one advantage over the Samsung. If the Hitachi is used only infrequently, it could certainly be at home in a quiet system. Unfortunately, because the drive only enters Low RPM mode when it is not being used, it will never have this advantage as a system drive. Ultimately, the low capacity of the drive may be the limiting factor here. Limited-use drives are often used for archival or media purposes, which may require more capacity than the 7K80 has to offer.

Our search to crown a new quiet single-platter storage king continues.

Many thanks to Seagate for the Barracuda 7200.9 sample, and to Hitachi Global Storage for the 7K80 sample.

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