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

Viewing page 2 of 2 pages. Previous 1 2


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. It was also compared against several high-capacity drives: A 500 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.9, and a 500 GB model from Hitachi, the 7K500 respectively.

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.

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 16 dBA. For the record, room temperature was 23°C.

Mfg date
firmware version
(10 = no vibration)
Activity State
Airborne Acoustics
Measured Power
Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS
March 2006
firmware 07.02E07
21 [email protected]
8.5 W
Seek (AAM)
8.6 W
Seek (Normal)
23 [email protected]
10.7 W
Hitachi Deskstar 7K500 HDS725050KLA360
December 2005
firmware K2AOAB0AACCB
26 [email protected]
8.5 W
Seek (AAM)
26 [email protected]
11.5 W
Seek (Normal)
28 [email protected]
15.1 W
Seagate Barracuda IV
ST340016A - firmware 3.10
20 [email protected]
6.7 W
Seek (AAM)
23 [email protected]
11.3 W
Seek (Normal)
25-26 [email protected]
11.6 W
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3500641AS
October 2005
firmware 3.AAB
24 [email protected]
8.3 W
Seek (Normal)
26-29 [email protected]
11.7 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (Nidec motor)
June 04 - firmware TK100-24
21 [email protected]
6.3 W
Seek (AAM)
23-24 [email protected]
8.3 W
Seek (Normal)
25-26 [email protected]
9.1 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (JVC motor)
Feb 05 - firmware TK200-04
21 [email protected]
6.2 W
Seek (AAM)
25 [email protected]
n / a
Seek (Normal)
27 [email protected]
9.3 W

For once, a quick glance at the objective measurements tells everything you need to know about where the drive stands. At idle, the WD5000KS was on par with the Samsung Spinpoint P80 — our longtime favorite that has grown quite long in tooth. This is very impressive: The Caviar SE16 is a four platter drive with much higher capacity. Yet, their volume levels were almost identical. Subjectively, the Western Digital sounded slightly rougher and more broadband, but the drive would need to be in a very quiet system to notice a difference.

The good news continued with seek noise. Even without AAM enabled, the Caviar SE16 was quieter than any other full size drive we have tested, including the famous Seagate Barracuda IV — with or without AAM enabled. It was significantly quieter than the Spinpoint P80, and put the other 500 GB drives to shame. Subjectively, only the Hitachi drive came close — mainly because its loud idle tended to obscure its seek noise.

Enabling AAM improved on this already impressive result. Seek noise with AAM was almost inaudible from one meter — something we have only been able to say about certain notebook drives in the past. It took a concerted effort to pick out seek noise when AAM was enabled. Much of Caviar's advantage comes from the quality of its noise. The noise character of the seeks was very muted and soft, like raindrops in the distance. There was no trace of the rattling chain sound that marred the earlier Caviar SE that we examined.

Only the vibration level prevents the WD5000KS from competing with notebook drives. Vibration was quite high, roughly on par with the Samsung P80, and will require soft-mounting to prevent vibration-induced resonance from ruining its excellent idle noise level. In this respect, it is no different from any other desktop drive.

The idle power consumption of 8.5 watts was about what we have come to expect from large SATA drives. It matched the specified figure of 8.75W quite well. Given that the drive is likely to spend the lion's share of its service hours in idle in a desktop machine, it seems that the Caviar SE16 doesn't quite live up to its billing as "the lowest power consumption of any high-capacity, desktop-class hard drive". Average is a long way from "the lowest".

That said, the power consumption during seek did show a significant improvement over the competition, especially with AAM enabled, when the additional power consumption was shockingly low. The measured increase of 0.1W was so small that we disbelieved the result the first time we measured it. Only a second test (and confirmation with a different measurement method using a clamp meter) finally convinced us that there really was so little difference.

Without AAM, the peak power was measured at 10.7W, still better than any other drive that idles above 8W. Given that we measure peak power consumption, it is believable that average power consumption during seek is close to the 9.5W claimed.


Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here in MP3 format. The recordings below contains 10 seconds of idle noise followed by 10 seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled and 10 seconds more with AAM disabled. (Because Seagate does not support AAM on any of their current drives, the recording for the Seagate 7200.9 omits the section with AAM enabled and is therefore only twenty seconds long.)

Keep in mind that the 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.

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS (Idle: 21 / AAM: 21-22 / Seek: 23 [email protected])

Reference Comparatives:

Western Digital Caviar SE WD2500JD (Idle: 22 / AAM: 23-24 / Seek: 28-30 [email protected])

Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3500641AS (Idle: 24 / Seek: 26-29 [email protected])

Hitachi Deskstar 7K500 HDS725050KLA360 (Idle: 26 / AAM: 26 / Seek: 28 [email protected])

Samsung Spinpoint P80 SP0802N (Nidec) (Idle: 21 / AAM: 23-24 / Seek: 25-26 [email protected])

Seagate Barracuda IV ST340016A (Idle: 21 / AAM: 23 / Seek: 25-26 [email protected])

Nexus 92mm case fan @ 5V (17 [email protected]) Reference


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.


For once, a hard drive has lived up to its marketing claims. The 500 GB Caviar SE16 is the quietest 3.5" desktop drive that we know of on the market today. Not only is it quieter than all of the other high capacity drives that we've looked at, it also beats the Samsung Spinpoint P80 and gives the venerable Barracuda IV a run for the money. These are old drives with fewer platters that have less than one sixth the capacity of the new Western Digital.

The key to its excellent noise performance is seek noise. While the amount of noise it produces at idle is also low — about the same as the Samsung Spinpoint P80 — we have never before encountered a full sized drive with seeks that are nearly inaudible from one meter. For many people, it is seek noise, not idle noise, that is the most important noise factor. It is difficult to push any system to a level where the 21 [email protected] idle noise becomes the primary source of noise in the system, but seek noise can be noticeable even in a system that is only moderately quiet.

In the context of a desktop system, Western Digital's claim that it requires less power than any other high capacity drive is somewhat debatable. The 8.5W it consumes at idle is average at best and is high when the "high capacity" condition is removed. However, that should not detract from the fact that the peak power consumption during seek is significantly lower than the competition. With AAM enabled, there is virtually no difference between the amount of power consumed at idle and during seeking. In a system where the drive sees heavy use — a render farm, for example — the power savings and lower heat could be quite worthwhile.

The only real question mark about the Caviar SE16 is performance. Only one performance review of the WD5000KS has been done by an online web site, and it is not comprehensive enough to draw many conclusions. Of course, such a large drive is likely to be used mainly for archival purposes, so performance may be irrelevant to many users. Our general point of view is that the differences between this and other large capacity drives of similar specifications are not large enough to merit much attention. Ultimately, it is up to users to decide for themselves whether performance is a relevant purchasing factor. For us, the exemplary noise levels of this Caviar SE16 are compelling enough to earn a strong recommendation.

Many thanks to Western Digital for the Caviar SE16 sample.


SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
SPCR's Hard Drive Testing Methodology
SPCR's Recommended Hard Drives
Western Digital Drives: Raptor 74GB and Caviar SE 250GB
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9, 500 GB
Hitachi Deskstar 7K500, 500 GB

* * *

Discuss this article in the SPCR Forums.

Previous 1 2

Storage - Article Index
Help support this site, buy the Western Digital Caviar SE16 500GB — WD5000KS from one of our affiliate retailers!