Hitachi TravelStar E7K100 7.2k-rpm notebook drive

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2.5" HDD NOISE COMPARISON
Drive Model
(linked to review)
SPL
Idle / AAM / Seek
(dBA@1m)
Vibration
1-10
(10 = no vibration)
UNIT UNDER REVIEW:
Hitachi TravelStar E7K100
HTE721010G9SA00
20 / 21 / 21-22
8
Hitachi's flagship 7,200 RPM notebook drive, competing directly with the Seagate Momentus 7200.1, and beating it handily in terms of both noise and idle power consumption. Power management is disabled, as the drive is targeted at the server and workstation segments, where low power is not a requirement. Unfortunately, the high rotation speed causes a lot of vibration, which resonates at the relatively high (and audible) pitch of 120 Hz.
Seagate Momentus 7200.1
ST910021AS
21 / – / 22-23
8
Seagate's performance-oriented notebook drive, with a 7,200 RPM spindle speed that translates into a seek time that approaches desktop performance. Unfortunately, the faster spindle speed causes corresponding increases in turbulence noise (at idle) and power consumption. Subjective noise quality is good for both seeks and idle, but the level of noise is closer to desktop drives than the super quiet Samsung MP0402H. Vibration resonance is at 120 Hz rather than the usual 90 Hz for notebook drives.
Seagate Momentus 5400.2
ST9120821AS
20 / – / 20-21
9
Too close to the Samsung MP0402H to crown either drive as low noise champion, but a very good choice in any case. Idle noise has slightly more "wind noise" than the Samsung but no high frequency noise at all. Although AAM is not supported, seeks are completely inaudible when placed on soft foam. Consumes more power than most notebook drives.
Western Digital Scorpio
20 / 21 / 21
7-9
Sample variance makes it hard to rank the noise this drive, but it belongs somewhere between the Samsung notebook series and the Seagate Barracuda IV. Idle noise is mainly a low frequency motor hum with little high frequency whine. Seeks are almost too quiet to notice, and can be characterized as a low rumble. AAM has not effect, but it would be hard to improve the seeks anyway. Vibration ranged from the level of the Barracuda IV to below the Samsung MP0402H.
Fujitsu MHT2080BH
22 / 23-24 / 23-24
9
Idle noise is rather disappointing; it sounds undamped and is louder than the Barracuda IV. Seeks are about average for a notebook drive, rising about 1-2 dBA/1m above idle. The Fujitsu has the lowest vibration of any drive tested. May avoid the intermittent clicking problem common with notebook drives because it waits for 10-15 seconds after a seek before unloading the heads. Consumes ~0.2W more than other notebook drives in all power states.
17 / 18 / 19-20
8
The acoustics of this drive are virtually identical to the Fujitsu MHT2040AT, a considerably slower 4200 rpm drive and the quietest we've encountered. The Samsung is extremely quiet, and there is very little if any high frequency noise to speak of. It has minimal vibration, but placing it on soft foam does reduce low freq. noise audibly. The unit used in the test PC was suspended in elastic string and mostly surrounded by soft but dense foam. Seek noise is somewhat more audible than the 1 dBA gain suggests, but very soft.
19 / – / 20
?
The Hitachi comes very close to the Samsung, but has a slightly sharper and higher pitched sound, with perhaps a touch more vibration as well. The seek noise is a touch louder too. When inside even a very quiet desktop PC, the slightly higher noise level of this drive over the Samsung may not be audible. The performance is superior, according to SiSoftware Sandra 2005, and also subjectively.
Toshiba MK6022GAX
22 / – / –
?
Slightly louder than the Seagate Barracuda IV single platter 3.5" reference hard drive. The noise signature has the broadband shhhh quality exhibited by the Samsung SP 3.5" drives, but higher in pitch, a bit like the Seagate. A trace of whine, but not like the Seagate Momentus. Seek noise is only moderately louder than idle, perhaps by 3 dBA. Vibration is higher than any of the 4200rpm drives; similar to the Momentus. Performance seems quite speedy, as it should be with 16 MB cache and 5400rpm, but inconsistent results with all the benchmarks tried stops me from publishing results.
Seagate Momentus ST94811A
24 / – / –
?
The Momentus has a terrible constant "pure" tone somewhere in the 6~10KHz range. It drops 2-3 dBA in level when the listener or the mic faces the edge of the drive because of directionality of the high frequency whine. Seek noise is substantially higher, probably 3~5 dBA. Vibration is much lower than any 3.5" drive, but higher than either of the 4200rpm drives tried. A real disappointment, but it did perform about as fast as or faster than the Seagate Barracuda-IV.
Fujitsu MHT2040AT
16 / – / –
?
The only noise maker in the Mappit A4F PC, which seemed virtually inaudible to me. The noise is not inaudible, but very low and soft, easily dismissed in the ambient noise of all but the quietest spaces. There is no high pitched whine to speak of, and the seek noise does not seem more than maybe 2 dBA higher than idle. It is the slowest performer of all the drives here. Extremely low vibration.
Toshiba MK4025GAS
16 / – / –
?
This 8 MB cache 4200 RPM drive offers better performance than 2 MB cache 4200 rpm drives, and it is identical in both idle and seek noise to the Fujitsu above. Extremely low vibration.
RETIRED REFERENCE HDDs
Seagate Barracuda IV ST340016A
21 / 23 / 25-26
6
In idle, it remains the quietest of all 3.5" drives. This sample is almost 2 years old, but seems unchanged in noise. There may be a touch of high frequency whine but it is very low in level, and easily obscured when mounted in a PC case. Seek is considerably higher, possibly as much as 5~6 dBA. Low vibration, but much higher than any of the notebook drives.
Samsung SP0802N (Nidec motor)
21 / 23-24 / 25-26
4
The idle noise is a touch higher, and its seek may actually be lower than the Seagate B-IV. Similar vibration level as the B-IV, but there are reports of some samples exhibiting much higher vibration levels. This is cured by HDD decouple mounting (suspension in elastic material or placement on soft foam), which is virtually mandatory for a truly quiet PC anyway.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here in MP3 format. The 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.

Please note: This recording was made correctly. If you can't hear a difference between idle and AAM seek, it's because the difference is too small!

Hitachi TravelStar E7K100 HTE721010G9SA00 (Idle: 20 / AAM: 21 / Seek: 21-22 dBA@1m)

Reference Comparatives:

Seagate Momentus 7200.1 ST910021AS (Idle: 21 / Seek: 22-23 dBA@1m)

Seagate Momentus 5400.2 ST9120821AS (Idle: 20 / Seek: 20-21 dBA@1m)

Samsung MP0402H (Idle: 17 / AAM: 18 / Seek: 19-20 dBA@1m)

Western Digital Scorpio WD800VE (Idle: 20 / AAM: 21 / Seek: 21 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 E7K100 represents one of the best compromises between drive performance and noise that we've seen. The noise level is the same as most other notebook drives: Inaudible except to the extremely sensitive and/or picky. Even better, drive performance should be on par with most desktop drives; both rotation speed and areal density are similar. Not only that, the drive is targeted at the server and workstation markets, so power management (and the associated performance and longevity issues) should not be an issue. The E7K100 has the acoustic advantage of a notebook drive without the usual disadvantages.

Thanks to all of the above, the E7K100 is well positioned to lead the upcoming transition to 2.5" drives. That's not to say it doesn't have drawbacks, but most of the drawbacks are a matter of circumstance and convention rather than any inherent flaws in the design.

As with any new technology, the E7K100 costs an arm and a leg, and it is difficult to find. Large OEMs should not have a problem of course, but pickings are pretty slim from the retail side. In fact, at the time of writing, I was unable to find any online stores that carry the specific model reviewed here. However, several sites had lower capacity models, and several had the 7K100 (no "E") with a 100 GB capacity. Given the similarity between the two models, the non-"E" version could easily be substituted with APM was disabled.

In spite of its advantages, the E7K100 is unlikely to become a smash hit among desktop PC users — it simply costs too much. Until it comes down in price, it will most likely remain a rosy indicator of good things to come.

Many thanks to Hitachi Global Storage Technology for the TravelStar E7K100 sample.

Discuss this article in the SPCR Forums.

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