WD Caviar SE16 500GB: Big Low-Noise Champ?

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June 17, 2006 by Devon Cooke

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS
500GB, 7,200 RPM Hard Drive
Market Price

Western Digital came late to the game with their 500 GB drive, but finally introduced it early this year to a minimum of fanfare. Despite having been on the market for nearly six months, the drive has hardly been noticed by the usual large review and news sites. The attitude seems to be that this drive is just another 500 GB, 7,200 RPM drive of which nothing special is expected. Ho hum.

It may be that Western Digital is aware of this. They have kept the usual our-drive-is-faster-than-your-drive marketing to a minimum; only one of three self-described "Key Features" relates to performance. The other two are about how cool and how quiet the drive is. Judging by their marketing efforts, if Western Digital is trying to appeal to anyone, it's SPCR. Don't we feel special.

Naturally, we look at the marketing claims with a certain amount of skepticism. We have yet to meet such a high capacity drive that we have liked enough to recommend. Too often, the higher platter count that is required to give such high capacity has come at the cost of noise and heat (case in point, the recently released 750GB Barracuda 7200.10 from Seagate). Nevertheless, we are not convinced that making a quiet 500GB drive can't be done, just that nobody has done it — yet. The stakes are high — SPCR has never wholeheartedly recommended a drive bigger than 250 GB — so we wish Western Digital the best of luck.

Western Digital WD5000KS (quoted from Western Digital's datasheet)
Large capacity — up to 500 GB of storage — ideal for graphic design, video editing, gaming, advanced business computing, and other high-end desktop applications. Half a terabyte is a lot... but Seagate's 7200.10 easily beats this with their 750GB Barracuda 7200.10.
16 MB cache — bigger cache means faster performance. A massive cache combined with up to 300 MB/s transfer rate make these ultrafast drives the perfect solution for fully loaded PCs with fast processors. Standard on high capacity drives.
Cool — designed to have the lowest power consumption of any high-capacity, desktop-class hard drive, which lowers the operating temperature for enhanced drive reliability. That’s why these drives are the drives of choice for the world’s leading consumer electronics manufacturers as well as the world’s leading PC makers. To our knowledge, no other manufacturer has made thermal performance a priority for desktop drives — or explained why it matters so well.
Quiet — Today’s PCs, digital video recorders, and gaming machines are increasingly operated in environments where noise is less tolerated. With its WhisperDrive™ and SoftSeek™ technologies, WD minimizes noise to levels virtually imperceptible to the human ear. The most important feature — this is SPCR.
FlexPower™ — connector technology that accepts power from either industry-standard or new SATA power supplies. Compatibility with older power supplies is a plus.
SATA latching connector — provides a secure connection between the hard drive and the cable by using a locking latch mechanism. Much needed since the original SATA spec was developed, and now required by the latest revision, SATA 2.5.
SecureConnect™ — provides a 500 percent stronger cable-to-drive connection than first-generation SATA hard drives and cables. Also ensures backward compatibility with legacy SATA cables and backplanes. A proprietary alternative to the latching connector, this is Western Digital's first attempt to solve the connection problem. A special cable is required.


The specifications below are specific to model that we examined. Capacity, cache size, platter number, interface, and even performance vary from model to model even within a single product line. Acoustics and power dissipation also vary depending on the number of platters in the drive; smaller capacity drives tend to have fewer platters, and tend to produce less noise and use less power.

Specifications: Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS-00MNB0
(from Western Digital's web site)
Formatted Capacity
500,107 MB
16 MB
Spindle Rotation Speed
7,200 RPM
4.20 ms
Average Seek: Read / Write
8.9 ms / 10.9 ms
Buffer to Disc Transfer Rate
748 Mbit/s
0.6 ± 0.082 kg
Operating Temperature
5 - 55°C
Power Dissipation: Idle / Seek
8.75 / 9.50 W
+12V Current: Idle / Seek
430 / 450 mA
+5V Current: Idle / Seek
730 / 800 ma
Acoustics: Idle / Seek Mode 3 / Seek Mode 0
28 / 29 / 33 dBA

Western Digital's emphasis on thermals and noise also shows through in the specifications. The power specifications are some of the most detailed (and accurate looking) that we've ever seen. Each of four possible drive states (sleep, standby, idle, and seek) are rated in three different ways: +12V Current, +5V Current, and total power consumed. We are interested to see how these specifications compare with the results of our power testing, especially the seek power, which is rated at just three quarters of a watt above the idle rating.

Three acoustic ratings are given: Idle, and Seek Modes 0 and 3. Presumably, these "Modes" refer Automatic Acoustic Management (AAM), which can drastically reduce seek noise when implemented properly.

Pay attention to the shape of the label — it's one way to identify which revision the drive belongs to.

As a general rule, Western Digital makes very little effort to talk about or differentiate the continuous revisions and updates that they put into their drives. Because of this, different drive revisions occasionally share the same model number even when performance or noise are significantly different. This review examines the most recent revision of the Caviar SE16 series, coded 00MNB0 as a suffix to the model number. This is a more recent revision than the Caviar SE we examined previously (00HBC0), and can be distinguished by the shape of the label. The newer revision can be identified by the black hole in the middle of the label.

The drive can be powered by either a SATA or an IDE connector. Using both will probably fry the drive.

Ergonomically, Western Digital has done a good job. Details can make a difference, and, while the back connector looks similar to any other drive, there are a few differences that make working with the WD5000KS just a little bit easier.

First of all, even though SATA power connectors are now quite easy to come by, Western Digital has yet to drop the legacy IDE power connector, which helps maintain compatibility if the drive is dropped into a system with an older power supply.

But, the real reason for keeping it may be unrelated to the power supply. Western Digital's proprietary SecureConnect cable fits over the SATA power connector, but does not provide power to it. This means that the IDE power connector must be used when a SecureConnect cable is used.

Why would you use a SecureConnect cable? Well, for one, Western Digital includes it in their retail package. But why would they go to the trouble of developing a proprietary connector for a publicly available standard? The reason is that the connector, as defined in the original standard, was quite flimsy, and would occasionally unplug themselves if the data cable was disturbed. There was a need for a more secure cable that Western Digital recognized, and the SecureConnect cable was developed to fill the need.

The connector is roughly the size and shape of a traditional IDE connector, and fits just as snugly. Two sturdy posts on either side of the connectors anchor the plug securely in the back of the drive and a deliberate effort is needed to disconnect it. Fortunately, the plug is deep enough to grip securely, so it is easier to pull out than an IDE connector, which sometimes requires gently yanking on the cable itself to disconnect.

Western Digital's SecureConnect plug fits over both the data and power plugs...

...but only provides a data connection. Power must be supplied by an IDE connector.

SATA-IO, the organization that oversees the SATA specification, has also recognized the flimsiness of the connector, and has developed their own latching connector to solve the problem. This connector also requires a special cable, and must be supported by all SATA 2.5 compliant devices.

It is not clear whether the Caviar SE16 complies with SATA 2.5. All of the WDxxxxKS drives support the 3.0 Gbps bus speed, but few other SATA 2.5 features are mentioned. Western Digital does advertise compatibility with a "SATA latching connector", which presumably refers to the "official" connector.

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