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 Post subject: [RANT] Subjective impressions after testing 9 hard drives
PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 6:07 am 
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This week I finally moved all of my hard drives to the fileserver that I'm going to put in the closet and got a chance to test all of my hard drives (borrowed one from my dad though) in a quiet environment just to get an impression on how loud they really are, see how sound signatures vary from model to model, sample to sample and manufacturer to manufacturer. I had 4 hard drives in my main system and my hope was that if I leave just one in it will be quiet enough for me.


This is by no means an objective review, I just did it for my own pleasure and thought that some of you may be interested in the results. I listened to all of the hard drives in succession, giving particular attention to the two of my 2504C's. The only other sources of noise in the room was fan in Seasonic S12-600 PSU, softmounted YL D12-SL fan at 6V to cool CPU and GPU and a UPS which has a faint buzz. However idle noise from hard drive was by far the dominant source of noise in the room, all of the other noise sources were inaudible in comparison. I only tested for idle noise. I did not test for seeks because all of my tests were done without loading windows and I didn't test for vibrations since most of SPCR'ers decouple their hard drives anyway. Be aware that there is a sample difference and that my 2504C may not be as loud as yours, also that newer 2500JB from WD may have a slighly different sound signature from the old one.


The list of contenders:
1. Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB (IDE, 1 platter)
2. Seagate Barracuda IV 80GB (IDE, 2 platters)
3. Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 300GB (IDE, 3 platters)
4. Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 400GB (SATA, 3 platters)
5. Western Digital 2500JB 250GB (IDE, 3 platters) this one has older silver casing but it does have fluid bearings
6. Hitachi 7K250 250GB (IDE, 3 platters, refurbished from RMA)
7. Samsung 2504C 250GB (SATA, 2 platters, sample 1)
8. Samsung 2504C 250GB (SATA, 2 platters, sample 2)
9. Hitachi 2.5 laptop drive 40GB (IDE, number of platter unknows, 4200RPM)


Well, I'll start with the loudest. The loudest were clearly WD 2500JB and Hitachi 7K250. Not only they had the loudest idle noise of all 3.5" drives, they also had a kind of annoying high pitched whine. It was nothing like the whine coming from old ball bearing drives, but it was loud enough nonetheless.


The next closest contendants were Seagate Barracudas 7200.8, 300 and 400GB varieties. They actually surprised me with their relatively low noise levels, I expected them to be much louder since both of them have 3 platters, the same as WD and Hitachi. Nevertheless, despite all the FUD floating on SPCR about seagates lately, seagate has delivered once again. I only wish I had a 250GB model which features 2 platters to test it against 2504C. Interestingly enough while the idle noise from 300GB stayed the same, the noise coming from 400GB version was inconsistent - the noise signature varied ever so slightly, oscillating every second or two. It was a little bit annoying, but I think you wouldn't have heard it once the drive was inside the case.


The next come 2504C's. These are two platter drives, both with NIDEC motors. There isn't much to say about them, the idle air whoosh was softer than any of the drives above, and much more pleasant to the ear. However both models had a somewhat annoying high pitch frequency. It was quiter than high pitch whine coming from WD and Hitachi, but it was also higher in frequency which made it more annoying had it not been so high. However, despite this high pitch frequency I would say that subjectively I prefer their sound signature to any of the above drives. The drives had the same idle sound, but the high pitch sound coming from one of the drives was louder. It wasn't much but I'm sure of it since I switched between two drives perhaps 5-8 times to make absolutely sure it wasn't my imagination.


Well, as you can guess, among the 3.5" drives the Barracuda IV 80GB was unmatched. It is still the quitest 7200 RPM drive today, much much quiter than even 2504C. First, it had the most pleasant air whoosh of the bunch - it was much softer than anything I've tested and it was also quiter. There was also none of that high pitched sound coming from samsungs either. I simply love that drive. Unfortunately it's getting too slow for me, windows takes probably 30-45 seconds to load windows up after I enter my password (subjectively, 2504C feels twice as fast). It's also too small as it can't even hold my music collection. Therefore I'm upgrading to 2504C, RIP Barra IV.


Now, as you have probably noticed in the paragraph above I said 80GB. This came as a surprise for me too, but the 40GB version of Barracuda IV was actually louder than 80GB version. Both had the same idle whoosh sound, but for some reason 40GB had a very high frequency squeal. Both versions squeal when they spin up, but with 80GB the squeal goes away once the drive spins up to full speed, but it doesn't go away on 40GB version. Peculiar, but what can I say, sample variance can be pretty significant as I've already seen with 2504C.


The last one is 2.5 40GB laptop drive from Hitachi. I don't know how many platters it has or if it has ball of fluid bearings. When I first turned it on, I was amazed at how loud it was. It had the loudest high frequency pitch of all drives tested, louder than WD, Hitachi or 2504C. It was also pure tone, and extremely high frequecy. Perhaps that was an old drive with ball bearings which would explain the squeal, but as far as I know laptop drives adopted fluid bearings much faster than their desktop counterparts so it's unlikely. The high pitch was so loud that I wouldn't have even thought of using the drive in my PC. Then I remembered that I had a packing shell from OEM raptors which are made of porous white foam. The bubbles are bigger than what you're used to with your regular foam though. I quickly stuck the drive in and lo and behold, it made an unbelievable difference. The high pitch is all but gone and the idle noise is reduced by 75%. From being the loudest, the drive quickly became the quitest one. If I insulated the drive even further and put it inside the case I'm absolutely sure that would have made the drive completely inaudible. So if you're completely serious about hard drive noise laptop drives in an enclosure are the only way to go. Unfortunately laptop drives don't cut it for me. First, they are slower than desktop drives, second, the capacity is typically very low, and third, they are expensive. If I were to buy laptop hard drives, I'd need to buy 80GB 7200RPM one for boot drive and 160GB 5400 for the storage drive. Both of these drives are extremely expensive and would have cost me $500 together, I simply can't fork out that much money when samsung 2504c with similar capacity and faster still cost one fifth of that.



In conclusion (if any can be drawn from the testing such as this one) no 3.5" hdd is quiet enough for me. They are all loud, even the quitest of the quietest aka Barracuda 4. I could use an enclosure, but I value the safety of my data too much to use one and I'm not rich enough to buy two laptop hard drives. So I'll have to live with HDD noise. There is definitely a sample variance among hard drives, it can be relative small as shown with 2504C and it can be pretty big as it happened with Barracudas IV. If I were to buy another large capacity hard drive I'd go with seagates as in general they are quiter than WD and Hitachi. Of course the newer WD/Hitachi models may be quiter, but it's probably unlikely. Three platter large capacity samsungs of up to 400GB are still unavailable here, so I cannot say anything about those. If the testing results can be extrapolated, I'd say they would have a smoother air whoosh, but are going to have high pitch frequency like 2504C too. However that's just an educated guess. For sound purists laptop drives in a 'SmartDrive' enclosure are the way to go. They are going to be completely inaudible, but most people already knew that.






PS during the testing I found couple of unrelated things about my PC:
1. My Seasonic S12-600 makes a ticking sound :( I would replace the fan in it but for one I don't have any fan with appropriate RPMs and two, I don't want to void the wararnty. Fortunately, when testing the HDD idle sound was much louder than PSU ticking, so hopefully that won't change once I put HDD back into case.
2. My exhaust Yate Loon went bad so I'll have to replace it, but it's softmounted so I'l have to take out motherboard along with all extension cards :x
3. When copying data from one hard drive to another my motherboard makes a hissing sound. I also think it makes it when scrolling web pages with lots of graphics and watching videos, but I think it's limited only to those three instances. So hopefully I can deal with it, otherwise I'd have to either replace motherboard or move to entirely different platform altogether, which I don't want to do.


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 Post subject: Re: [RANT] Subjective impressions after testing 9 hard drive
PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 6:25 am 
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Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2004 7:50 am
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Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Thanks for the extensive write-up!

JazzJackRabbit wrote:
So if you're completely serious about hard drive noise laptop drives in an enclosure are the only way to go.
[...] In conclusion (if any can be drawn from the testing such as this one) no 3.5" hdd is quiet enough for me.


I feel the exact same way.

Quote:
and I'm not rich enough to buy two laptop hard drives. So I'll have to live with HDD noise.


Yeah, I've actually gone back to using 3.5" drives for my "power workstation", for performance/cost reasons. For now, that is.

Quote:
3. When copying data from one hard drive to another my motherboard makes a hissing sound. I also think it makes it when scrolling web pages with lots of graphics and watching videos, but I think it's limited only to those three instances. So hopefully I can deal with it, otherwise I'd have to either replace motherboard or move to entirely different platform altogether, which I don't want to do.


Motherboard and PSU hissing drives me absolutely nuts! For the longest time I thought that somehow seeks were escaping my 2.5" drive enclosure, but this explanation never really made sense because I couldn't think of a reason why there'd be hard drive seeks just from scrolling a web page.

I'm not at the point of submerging my computer in oil yet, but I am considering putting together a massively muffled case (something where the muffler tubes are much, much, bigger than the zone occupied by the computer hardware).

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 7:03 am 
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Very interesting test, thank you for doing this. I would probably have to agree with your conclusions; at the moment SPCR'ers are in a no-man's land when it comes to hard drives: laptop drives are too small and expensive, while 3.5" HDD's are almost universally too loud for "true" silence. All we can hope is that the $/GB for laptop drives starts to fall more quickly.


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PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 8:09 am 
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Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
I agree with all of your conclusions, as far as they go. They echo everything that I've learned about testing hard drives over the past year. However, my ranking would be slightly different. In terms of idle noise, I think the recent Seagates have surpassed the recent Samsungs. However, in terms of seek noise, the Seagates are terrible, so I wouldn't have rated them as highly as you did. My ranking, from best to worst would be

2.5" drives
Samsung
WD
Seagate
Maxtor
Hitachi

Overall, the 3.5" drives tend to sound very similar, and none is quiet enough for use in a "silent" system. The main distinction between them tends to be seek noise, and that varies a lot from drive to drive, even for drives from a single manufacturer.


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PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 9:30 am 
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How were these drives mountied for your testing? Were they decoupled at all?

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 10:33 am 
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Ralf Hutter wrote:
How were these drives mountied for your testing? Were they decoupled at all?


I was only testing one drive at a time. The drives were tested outside the case with the side panel open for quick access to power cable.

I was too lazy to take out the drives in the drive cage out and scientific analysis wasn't the point, so the three drives in the drive cage (7K250, 2500JB and 7200.8 400GB) were tested as they were, on rubber gourmets inside the drive cage. The cage was not mounted inside the case, it was sitting outside. The other 6 drives were placed outside the case on a stack of empty cd cases. Occasionally a hard drive would vibrate hard enough to make them resonate in which case I would simply hold the hard drive in my hand.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 2:19 pm 
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to get rid of "hissing" try damping the coils of the inductors on the motherboard and power supply with epoxy or hot glue. don't completely cover them because they may need to dissipate some heat....but get one half of them so the coils can't vibrate.


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 Post subject: Re: [RANT] Subjective impressions after testing 9 hard drive
PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 4:40 pm 
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JazzJackRabbit wrote:
5. Western Digital 2500JB 250GB (IDE, 3 platters) this one has older silver casing but it does have fluid bearings

How do you know it has FDB? Based on the silver casting and the noise levels you reported, I have doubts about your assertion.

Many people have a much different experience with the newer WD drives, including myself.


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 Post subject: Re: [RANT] Subjective impressions after testing 9 hard drive
PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 6:21 pm 
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IsaacKuo wrote:
Motherboard and PSU hissing drives me absolutely nuts! For the longest time I thought that somehow seeks were escaping my 2.5" drive enclosure, but this explanation never really made sense because I couldn't think of a reason why there'd be hard drive seeks just from scrolling a web page.

It's actually a really weid phenomen because it varies in loudness depending on some factors that are completely beyond my comprehension. Same thing is sort of happening with my Sony laptop (which supposedly is manufactured by Asus, same as my motherboard ironically), but it hisses when I scroll through text files in textpad.

afrost wrote:
to get rid of "hissing" try damping the coils of the inductors on the motherboard and power supply with epoxy or hot glue. don't completely cover them because they may need to dissipate some heat....but get one half of them so the coils can't vibrate.

If I knew which one of those little suckers was making this noise I would have done it already, but I don't. I tried pressing to each of the coils an eraser tip of a pencil but I still can't identify the culpit. Of course I could try "damping" all of them but I don't really like the idea. BTW do you have any recommendations for a particular brand of epoxy I could use for this? Are they all nonconductive or not?

m2002a wrote:
How do you know it has FDB? Based on the silver casting and the noise levels you reported, I have doubts about your assertion.

Many people have a much different experience with the newer WD drives, including myself.

I know it for three reasons, one is that SN# ends with FU0, two the motor looks distinctly different from the one used in ball bearing drives and three, I've owned ball bearing drives from WD ranging from 80 to 250GB, in fact I still own ball bearing 1600JB and they cannot be mistaken for this drive. I've also briefly owned newer 3200JB and contrary to your experience it was also quite bad, it also had a whine, but different from any kind I have heard before. Read more here. Perhaps I've got one from bad batch but I don't want to gamble on it with my money.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 25, 2006 1:23 am 
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Even though the review is based on subjective listening, I still find it very usefull. It confirms my experience that new WD drives are dissapointment considering sound factor. I bought one a month ago, yet now, it's already on sale. Should I buy 3.5 drive at the moment, I would surely go for Seagate.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 01, 2007 7:38 am 
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It's now been several months since this (very helpful) review was posted. Has any manufacturer come out with a quieter drive yet?

I just returned the Samsung 250GB because it had excessive vibration, resulting in a rumble which changed in pitch every few seconds. Very annoying. It's too bad because it was very quiet when seeking. The 250GB Seagate drive in my Mac Pro sounds like a geiger counter when seeking. I am longing for a drive as quiet as the 80GB Seagate in my older Mac G4! What is wrong with the people at Seagate? They did such a good job with the 80GB drive!


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 01, 2007 9:36 am 
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I'll be getting Samsung HD321KJ drive tomorrow (if UPS delivers it on time that is). It will take some time to reinstall OS, but I'll probably post my subjective impressions in a week or so.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2007 9:40 am 
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OK, UPS managed to deliver my new HD321KJ on time.

I did some subjective (can there be any other without a microphone?) and so far I like the new drive.

First of all, I originally noted in the original post that both of my 2504C's vibrate a lot, and I'm glad to see that HD321KJ is much better in that regard, that's a clear winner. Of course keep in mind that vibration is highly dependant on the sample, much more than idle noise so you may or may not be so lucky.

Second, seeks, as far as I remember my 2504C is set to performance mode because I'm not really bothered by seeks, in fact I prefer to hear mild muted seeks because it lets me know when my HDD is working. For example if my computer appears to be unresponsive, but I hear HDD seeks it means it's still working and will come back in couple of seconds, and lots of seek activity may also indicate that something is wrong with PC, for example (god forbid) a virus that scans HDD. In any case, I haven't checked the performance setting on HD321KJ, but it has much softer seeks than 2504C as well, in fact now that it sits in Scythe Quiet Drive the seeks are far too soft for me. I can still hear them, but only at night, during the day I really have to strain to hear them. One aspect of the drive I wished was a little louder. :)

Third, and this was the most important for me idle noise. The idle noise I would say stayed almost the same. Subjectively whereas 2504C had mainly pure tone, in one frequency range, the HD321KJ idle noise is more spread throughout audible range and it also not as harsh as 2504C. HD321KJ also has high frequency squeal, but it's only audible at 10cm of closer. Overall, I'd say there is an improvement in idle noise as well, but that's probably because I like the tonal balance of HD321KJ better, otherwise, if SPCR were to do objective testing with sound equipment I suppose the numbers would be more or less the same.

As a bonus points I did quick test with HDTach, and while there are some consistent speed drops which bother me a little, the transfer rate starts at 87MB/s per second!!! and goes down to 40MB/s at the end. Average seek time is 14.1ms and average transfer rate is 58-60MB/s. Burst rate is ~130MB/s. This is the fastest drive I've owned yet, very nice - fast and quiet.


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