Momentus 5400.6 & Scorpio Blue: Seagate & WD 2.5" HDDs at 500GB

Storage
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TEST RESULTS

Our samples were tested according to our standard hard drive testing methodology. The significant change in our testing procedure is that as of mid-2008, we're conducting most acoustics tests in our own anechoic chamber, which results in more accurate, lower SPL readings than before, especially as the SPL approaches 20 dBA and below, which is the territory of laptop drives. Our methodology focuses specifically on noise, and great effort is taken to ensure it is comprehensively measured and described. Performance is not tested comprehensively, for reasons discussed in detail in the methodology article. In essence, between similar drives, we feel the performance differences are trivial, while the noise differences can be significant. Furthermore, many other hardware review sites (such as The Tech Report, Anandtech, and X-bit Labs) do a good job of covering the performance (speed) aspects of HDDs, while none of them do a thorough job of noise analysis.

A. ACOUSTICS

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. Airborne acoustics are measured in our anechoic chamber using a lab reference caliber microphone and computer measurement system. Measurements are taken at a distance of one meter from 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 samples 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 11 dBA and 20°C.

NOTEBOOK DRIVE NOISE EVALUATION
Drive
Mfg date
firmware version

Vibration
1-10
(10 = no vibration)

Activity State
Airborne Acoustics
Measured Power
Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB ST9500325ASG
Date: 12/02/2009
firmware 0001SDM1
8
Idle
16 dBA@1m
0.65 W (heads unloaded)
0.8 W (heads loaded)
Seek (Normal)
18 dBA@1m
2.2W
WD Scorpio Blue 500GB WD5000BEVT
Date: 08/08/2008
firmware 01.01A01
7
Idle
15 dBA@1m
0.8 W (heads unloaded)
0.95 W (heads loaded)
Seek (Normal)
15 dBA@1m
2.5 W

The results of the acoustic and vibration tests were somewhat surprising. First, despite the Seagate's apparently lower acoustic spec, the WD was actually quieter at idle — by just under 1 dBA@1m. Subjectively, this difference is insignificant. What's more surprising is that the WD measured lower in airborne noise despite its much higher level of vibration. Our standard procedure of placing the tested drive on a soft foam pad helped keep the measured SPL of the WD low by isolating the vibration from being transferred to the workbench — the workbench top would have become an acoustic diaphragm for the drive.

The WD Scorpio's vibration level was high enough for possible shipping damage to be suspected, but S.M.A.R.T analysis using WD's own Lifeguard Diagnostics sofware indicated perfectly good health for all of the tracked criteria.

The frequency spectrum captures below shows that the WD measures 10 dB higher at the primary 90 Hz tone of the spin speed (5400RPM), which is indicative of the vibration difference between the drives. Also evident is a higher midband peak in the Seagate which is probably responsible for the slightly higher overall SPL.



In the WD, the difference in perceived noise between seek and idle was so small to be trivial under the test conditions. There was a touch more audible noise when listened at about 1' distance, but the measured SPL increase was less than 1 dBA@1m on average. Hitachi Tool gave access to AAM on the WD; there's no point enabling it because there is no perceptible difference between lowest acoustic and highest performance. The low noise position always increases the access time.

Seek noise in the Seagate was more marked. AAM is not supported on this drive, so HD Tach was used to engage seek. The chattering caused SPL to rise about 2 dBA@1m higher than at idle.

Both drives had very low power demand, with the Seagate a touch lower across the board. With both drives, the heads unloaded after less than ~10 seconds of inactivity, then power demand dropped another 0.1~0.2 W. The load figures of 2.2 W and 2.5W are peaks; average load power was probably at least 10% less.

B. PERFORMANCE

High transfer speed is expected with the high areal density of these drives, and both samples delivered the expected performance. There's little to separate the two. It's interesting to note that the ~70 MB/s read speed of these 5400RPM drive easily surpass the manufacturer's specification of performance 59.0 MB/s for the 160GB 7200RPM Seagate Momentus reviewed a little over a year ago.


Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB: 66.9 MB/s avg read, 18.1ms random access.


WD Scorpio Blue 500GB: 68.6 MB/s avg read, 16.9ms random access.

PRACTICAL NOTES

Considering their use in a notebook computer...

  • At idle, which represents ~80% of typical usage, the Seagate would be quieter because of its lower vibration. The WD's higher vibration would increase the residual noise of the system.
  • During seek, the Seagate's higher seek noise would be more plainly audible.
  • Despite their high capacity, neither of these drives will consume any more power than a 80GB drive from several years back, and the performance boost (mostly in throughput) should be very noticeable.

In a desktop PC...

  • The WD really would have to be soft-mounted for the user to benefit from its low air-borne noise.
  • You'd want the Seagate soft-mounted to reduce the higher noise at seek.
  • It's easy to rig up an elastic cord suspension to hold any 2.5" notebook drive in most 3.5" HDD bays. But if you'd rather have a ready-made product, the NoiseMagic NoVibes 2.5 Silent Hard Drive Mounting System eliminates HDD vibration as well as any DIY solution.
  • While random access speed is significantly slower than a typical 7200 RPM 3.5" drive (12~14ms vs 17~18ms), the ~70 MB/s average read speed is not far off from the 80~90 MB/s typical of today's 600~1,000 GB desktop drives.


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