Seagate Momentus 5400.3 160GB Notebook HDD

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Our sample was tested according to our standard hard drive testing methodology. Our methodology focuses specifically on HDD 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.

The 5400.3 was compared against our reference notebook drive, Samsung MP0402H, that we profiled in a recent notebook drive review. It was also compared against its predecessor, the Seagate Momentus 5400.2.

Two forms of hard drive noise are measured:

  1. Airborne acoustics
  2. Vibration-induced noise.

These two 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.

Unfortunately, AAM (Automatic Acoustic Management) is not supported as a user-configurable option on the Momentus 5400.3, which means that our standard means 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 conditions at the time of testing were 18 dBA and 22°C.

Review sample.

Mfg date
firmware version

(10 = no vibration)

Activity State
Airborne Acoustics
Measured Power
Seagate Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821A
December 2005
firmware 3.ALA
19 [email protected]
1.2 W (heads unloaded)
1.4 W (heads loaded)
Seek (Normal)
20-21 [email protected]
2.7 W
Samsung MP0402H
April 2004
firmware UC100-10
17 [email protected]
0.8 W
Seek (AAM)
18 [email protected]
2.3 W
Seek (Normal)
19-20 [email protected]
2.4 W
Seagate Momentus 5400.2 ST9120821AS
July 2005
firmware 3.04
20 [email protected]
1.5 W (heads unloaded)
2.3W (heads loaded)
Seek (Normal)
20-21 [email protected]
3.3 W

At idle, the 5400.3 was very close to our reference Samsung, which is to say, very, very quiet. Almost all of the noise consisted of a smooth whoosh that should blend easily into the background. It had a similar noise character to the 5400.2, but there seemed to be less of it overall.

Seek noise was different from both of the comparison drives, which both sound sharp and clicky. The 5400.3 seeks sounded like distant raindrops, making made them difficult to distinguish during testing... because it was raining at the time! The volume of the seeks was roughly the same as the 5400.2, and just a little louder than the Samsung. In an actual system, however, these differences are moot: All three drives would probably disappear entirely (acoustically speaking).

In addition to seek noise, one other sound could occasionally be heard: The read/write heads loaded and unloaded with a slight "click" that occurred about ten seconds after the drive became idle. The click sounded similar to seek noise in both character and volume, and most users will probably not be able to tell the difference.

While the idle and seek noise was improved over the 5400.2, the level of vibration a bit higher. As with the other noises, however, the difference was slight, and may not make much of a difference in an actual system.

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