Western Digital's single-platter 320GB Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS

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SAMPLE #2: The Real McCoy?

A call to our media rep at WD about our disappointment with the drive's acoustics resulted in a flurry of activity, and this information:

There was a change in a controller and firmware from the pre-production version drive you received. This is why you were hearing a higher pitch that the new production drive.

It seemed odd that we received a pre-production sample without being told that it was such... but accidents happen. WD promised to overnight current production samples of both the 320GB and 640GB versions to us. Good, but in the meanwhile, the frustration at not being able to finish off this review was mounting. We turned to Anitec Computers, a retailer in vancouver who supports SPCR strongly, and they came through immediately with a loaner sample, making sure that it was exactly the same model, WD3200AAKS-00B3A0. Anitec, like most of Canada, did not have any stock of the 640GB model; it has yet to be seen in any Canadian shops.

One look at the sample from Anitec made it clear the drive didn't just go through a firmware and controller chip change. The new sample had a different casting and cover as well, despite both being made in Malaysia just a week apart. With all those changes, the only things that could be the same as the first sample was the platter, heads and motor.

First sample on the right, second sample on the left.
Note the difference in the raised rib around the perimeter.

The newer sample has 11 support ribs under the platter area while the earlier one has just 5.

The only differences in the labels are highlighted: Date, DCM, & WWN.
There's nothing on the labels to suggest these are different models.


Two WD Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS-00B3A0 Samples
Mfg date
firmware version
(10 = no vibration)
Activity State
Airborne Acoustics
([email protected])
Measured Power
January 24, 2008

firmware 01.03A01
454 grams
4.6 W
Seek (AAM)
5.8 W
Seek (Normal)
5.8 W
January 17, 2008

firmware 01.03A01
430 grams
24 / 22*
4.9 W
Seek (AAM)
24 / 22*
5.9 W
Seek (Normal)
25 / 23*
6.0 W
* SPL varied depending on which side of the drive faced the microphone. See text.

The second sample was better than the first in every way. The acoustic signature was lower in overall pitch, which makes it less audible, and it was also less tonal. It sounded quieter and measured that way as well. The vibration level also dropped a bit, perhaps because the whole casing was vibrating less than in sample #1. The difference between seek and idle was actually difficult to hear or record, because they're quite close. The difference in seek noise with AAM engaged or not is too small to hear even from very close, so normal is the preferred (faster) setting. The acoustics of this second sample match the quietest 7200 RPM desktops available, regardless of which side of the drive faces the microphone or listener.

Power consumption is also a touch lower, bringing it to champion territory. The seek power is actually lower than in the 5400 RPM Green Power 750GB drive. All in all, the second sample might almost be a different drive.

However, two things remained the same: The random access time measured 16.4ms on both samples, and the firmware was unchanged, despite the comments from WD. Looking closely at the printed circuit board, there were differences that suggest an IC chip might have been changed, but the same firmware used. On the other hand, perhaps only the PCB supplier changed...

Details from WD3200AAKS-00B3A0 PCBs: Sample #2 on left.

...because on the component side of the boards, no substantive differences could be seen.

Point of geek interest: The controller PCB makes electrical contact to the drive / head assembly and for data via these pressure contact points. The PCB simply screws into place without having to attach cables; pressure and precision alignment make the necessary electrical contacts.

A Tip for Uber Silencers: Listening close, it seemed that there was still bit of "hollow" resonance in the sound. Out of curiosity, I put the tip of my index finger against the middle of the top cover of the drive, and applied a bit of pressure. Just a touch, really. I was surprised at how much of that hollow ringing disappeared. This is only audible from very close, but in a super quiet system, it might be worth finding a way to damp the top of the drive. Putting the drive in one of those rubber boxes from Scythe or Smart Drive from Grow Up Japan would certainly work, but a clothing elastic suspension would damp the top the same way. I also discovered that placing an ordinary rubber eraser atop the drive did the trick too. This effect was recorded; see MP3 recordings on the next page.

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