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Single Disc 3.5" HDDs, Round One: Seagate & Hitachi

December 23, 2005 by Devon
Cooke

Product
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3160812AS

160GB, single platter hard drive
Hitachi Deskstar 7K80 HDS728080PLA380

80GB, single platter hard drive
Manufacturer
Seagate Hitachi
Global Storage Technology
Market Price
~US$90 ~US$50

It's no secret that the quietest desktop hard drives tend to be low capacity
models that use only a single platter. There's a simple reason for this: Fewer
platters have fewer read/write heads, and thus produce less air turbulence.
They also have less inertia and are less taxing to keep spinning.

In spite of this advantage, quality reviews of single platter drives are few
and far between, SPCR included. The reason for this is... somewhat political.
Review sites like SPCR depend on manufacturers to supply
samples, which means we get products
that they want reviewed. These usually are the flagship products that draw lots of attention and drive sales for the rest of
the line. But this time around, we went on the hunt specifically for quiet, 3.5" single platter drives.

Why? Well, some of you might recall that the Seagate Barracuda IV of quiet fame, the quietest 3.5" HDD to date (by a small margin) was available in single and dual disc models. The single disc 40G is long discontinued, and we have not come across any single disc HDDs from any brand that matches it for low noise. The Samsung P80 series are very quiet, just a hair louder than the B-IV but audibly better than the newer, higher capacity P120 models. This is a hunt, then, for a new quiet 3.5" drive. Our reference is the Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB single disc model, of which we still have several good working samples on hand.

SEAGATE BARRACUDA 7200.9 ST3160812AS

This is the largest single platter drive on
the market: The 160 GB Barracuda 7200.9. This drive represents quite an accomplishment
for Seagate. It's not easy cramming that much capacity onto a single platter. In
fact, it's so difficult that they still haven't perfected the process. According
to Storage Review
, none of the higher capacity 7200.9 models use platters
of this high a density because of problems "implementing these disks with larger associated
head counts".

SEAGATE BARRACUDA 7200.9 ST3160812AS (from Seagate's
marketing
brochure
)
FEATURE & BRIEF COMMENT
SATA 3Gb/s with NCQ enables fast data transfer rates for high
performance.
Supports the latest SATA 2.5 standard.
SATA click connectors and thin cables for easier integration
and better cooling airflow
Much more secure when
used with SATA-Click cables.
Drives automatically configure to either new 3-Gbit/second or
legacy 1.5-Gbit/second SATA systems for ease of integration and highest
performance.
Backwards compatible
with older versions of SATA.
Seagate SoftSonic motor enables whisper-quiet operation.
Your basic FDB motor.
Standard issue on all modern drives.
RoHS-compliant?environmentally
conscious product
Lead-free manufacturing,
in compliance with this EU directive.
A proven design and industry?s
most comprehensive compatibility, integration and benchmark testing
for shorter qualification times, easier integration and top reliability
Seagate is proud of its
R&D.
Enhanced G-Force protection defends against handling damage.
OK.
Entire product line backed
by a five-year warranty
Best in the business.

HITACHI DESKSTAR 7K80 HDS728080PLA380

Hitachi also stepped up to the plate with a Deskstar 7K80. Here, the capacity
is a bit more modest: At 80 GB, it can only store half as much as the Seagate.
Of course, capacity isn't everything, and the 7K80 delivers a number of features
not found in the Barracuda. The 7K80 supports both Automatic Acoustic Management
(AAM) and Automatic Power Management (APM), both of which are useful in the
context of quiet computing.

HITACHI DESKSTAR 7K80 HDS728080PLA380 (from Hitachi's
product
page
)
FEATURE & BRIEF COMMENT
SATA 3.0 Gb/s and Native Command Queuing for maximum data speeds
Increasingly common in SATA-based drives.
80 GB and 40 GB capacities with either Serial ATA or Parallel ATA
interface
Glad to see
PATA isn't dead yet.
ECC and CRC protection within drive circuitry
All drives
use error checking algorithms. Hitachi uses these ones.
Low-power design reduces system costs and drives high reliability
Low power
also means low heat.
Quiet operating
modes
for easy integration into noise sensitive environments
Our primary
interest in this drive.

SPECIFICATIONS

The specifications below are specific to the models 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.

HDD Model
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3160812AS

(from
Seagate's
datasheet
)
Hitachi Deskstar 7K80 HDS728080PLA380

(from
Hitachi's
datasheet
)
Capacity
160 GB

80 GB
Cache
8 MB

8 MB
Platters
1

1
Heads
2

2
Spindle Speed
7,200 RPM

7,200 RPM
Interface
SATA 2.5 (3.0 Gbps w/ NCQ)

SATA 3.0 Gbps
Latency
4.16 ms

4.16 ms
Average Seek
11 ms

8.8 ms
Weight
580 g

560 g
Operating Temperature
0 - 60°C

5 - 55°C
Power Dissipation
7.2W (Idle) / 12.4W (Seek)

5.7W (Idle)
Acoustics
2.5 Bels (Idle) / 2.8 Bels (Seek)

2.6 Bels (Idle)

SEAGATE BARRACUDA 7200.9 (160 GB)

Cramming 160 GB onto a single platter should benefit performance as well
as noise. The extremely high areal density means that the data transfer
rate should be faster and the seeks should be shorter than a drive with
a lower data density. Of course, drive performance is governed by more than
just areal density, but there's no doubt that it plays a significant part.

The 7200.9 comes with everything you'd expect from a recently developed
drive. The latest version of SATA — 2.5 — is supported, which
brings together all of the various optional extensions to the original SATA
spec. The two most common of these extensions, native command queuing (NCQ)
and the 3.0 Gbps bus speed, are already commonplace on most mainstream models,
but there are some other features that aren't so widely supported:

  • ClickConnect — a redesigned data connector that is more secure
  • Hot Plug — allows drives to be safely swapped out while the system
    is running
  • Link Power Management — allows the bus to consume about
    a watt less when not being used
  • Staggered Spin-Up — drives can be configured to start up in sequence
    rather than simultaneously in order to reduce the power draw when the
    system is first turned on

Most of these features are more useful for server applications than desktop
use, but they also open up some other intriguing possibilities. For example,
both hot-plugging and staggered spin-up are valuable features in a Network-Attached
Storage (NAS) box, such as this
one
. Remote storage provided by an NAS box is likely to grow in popularity
as more people build HTPCs and the large collections of video data that
goes with them.

In spite of the plethora of interface extras, the 7200.9 lacks two rather
mundane features:

  1. It cannot be powered by a Molex connector, which means that a recent
    power supply is necessary.
  2. It does not support Automatic Acoustic Management (AAM).

The first feature is a matter of convenience, and it is quickly becoming
irrelevant because almost all new power supplies ship with SATA power connectors
(although some don't ship with enough of them). However, the lack of AAM is a significant
flaw in all of Seagate's offerings. AAM is a popular feature that trades
a little seek performance for what is often a significant reduction in seek
noise. Unless the default noise level on this drive is already very good,
AAM will be missed.

HITACHI DESKSTAR 7K80 (80 GB)

Unlike the Seagate drive, the 7K80 is marketed as a budget drive. The price
is right: $50 is almost petty cash, and 80 GB is plenty for a basic system.
There are signs that Hitachi took a few cost-saving measures to keep the
overall price down. For example, the main body of the drive is thinner than
usual, so that the top plate needs to be contoured to fit around the internal
components. This design uses less material overall, and makes for an exceptionally
lightweight drive. Another sign of cost-cutting is the use of the internal
cache to store the drive's firmware. As a result the full 8 MB of cache
is not available for use — about 270 KB is consumed by the firmware.



The top of the drive is contoured around the internal components.

The 7K80 cannot match the number of interface featured offered by Seagate,
but it does offer a couple of features missing from the 7200.9, such as
AAM and a socket for a Molex connector. It also offers Automatic Power Management
(APM) which, as far as we know, is only available on Hitachi drives.

The primary purpose of APM is to reduce power draw, but it also has an
acoustic side effect. When the drive is not in use, the drive will automatically
drop the spindle speed — and both noise and vibration drop with it.
A complete description of APM can be found in our
review of the Deskstar 7K250, where we first reported on the feature
.

TEST RESULTS

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.

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.

Because AAM (Automatic Acoustic Management) is not supported as
a user-configurable option on the Barracuda 7200.9, our
standard method of generating seek noise via the AAM test function in Hitachi's
HDD Feature Tool
could not be used. Instead, seek noise was generated
by copying a large file set within the drive. Unfortunately, this task does
not require as much random seeking as the AAM test, so seek noise was not
as constant as usual. To compensate, we spent more time than usual listening
to and measuring the seek noise.

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 17 dBA. For the record, room temperature
was 21°C.

Reviewed Drives
Drive Model

Mfg date - firmware
Vibration at idle

1-10

(10 = no vibration)
Activity

Airborne Acoustics

Power
Seagate Barracuda

7200.9 ST3160812AS

Nov 05 - firmware 2AAA
5
Idle

21 [email protected]

6.1 W
Seek

28 [email protected]



9.7 W
Hitachi Deskstar 7K80 HDS728080PLA380

Aug 05 - firmware PF20A69A2CH6
4
Idle

20 [email protected]

4.7 W
Seek (AAM)

23-24 [email protected]

8.8 W
Seek (Normal)

27-28 [email protected]

12.3 W
Reference Drives
Seagate Barracuda IV

ST340016A - firmware 3.10
6
Idle

20 [email protected]

6.7 W
Seek (AAM)

23 [email protected]



11.3 W
Seek (Normal)

25-26 [email protected]



11.6 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (Nidec motor)

June 04 - firmware TK100-24
4
Idle

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
6
Idle

21 [email protected]

6.2 W
Seek (AAM)

25 [email protected]

n / a
Seek (Normal)

27 [email protected]

9.3 W

Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 (160 GB)

The idle noise for the single platter 7200.9 was just slightly louder than
the Samsung Spinpoint P80. Subjectively, it sounded very smooth, with no
trace of whine or high frequency noise. Even so, it was louder than it needed
to be and had a slightly hollow sound to it, as though it was being amplified.
Damping the top of the drive by pressing on it with my fingers had
an immediate and noticeable effect: The hollowness disappeared and the overall
noise level became even more broadband and difficult to distinguish from
the ambient room noise. It may have been even quieter than the Samsung.

Needless to say, I took a quick measurement to see if I could confirm my
subjective impression, and found that the noise level had indeed dropped
slightly, to 20 [email protected] At this level, it approached the noise level of
the Barracuda IV — possibly the quietest 3.5" drive ever made.

Although idle noise was very good, seek
noise was not. Seeks were both loud and sharp, especially against the smoothness
of the idle noise. In a running system, the seeks would be slightly damped
but would certainly be audible. AAM is sorely missed in this drive.

The level of vibration from the 7200.9 was about average for a desktop
drive. Suspending or soft-mounting the drive would certainly be beneficial.

On the whole, power consumption was very low, as can be expected of a single
platter drive. The 6.1W it consumed at idle puts it on par with the most frugal
desktop drives we have tested. Power draw in seek was also quite low, although
not to the same degree as at idle.

Hitachi Deskstar 7K80 (80 GB)

In terms of sheer volume, the idle noise for the 7K80 was somewhere between the
damped and undamped 7200.9. In other words, it was about as loud as a Samsung
Spinpoint. However, in terms of noise character, it was significantly rougher
and more noticeable than both the Seagate and the Samsung. Buried underneath
the turbulence that dominated the noise character was a distinct
tone that sounded like the steady rumble of a passenger ferry operating
in the distance. Close listening also revealed a slight ringing overtone,
but most people are unlikely to notice it.

Like the Seagate, the seek noise for the 7K80 is quite loud and stands
out clearly against the idle noise. Unlike the Seagate, however, AAM is
included, and effective enough that I had difficulty hearing the seek
noise at a distance of one meter. It's even enabled by default. The noise
character of the seeks is less staccato than the Seagate, more akin to a rumble
than a click. AAM softens the sound even more; it sounds like a shuffle
that disappears into the roughness of the idle noise.

The biggest acoustic strike against the 7K80 is the amount of vibration
it produces. Mounted with screws in the ordinary way, this drive will almost
certainly produce an audible hum at its primary resonant frequency of 120
Hz. Soft-mounting is highly recommended.

The power consumption was even better than the Seagate, which makes this
one of the least-power hungry drives we've reviewed. Idle power consumption
was a paltry 4.7W. Power usage for seeking was also quite good when AAM
was enabled, but without AAM, the power consumption was merely average.
Keep in mind that the drive spends the vast majority of its time in idle,
so seek power is not especially relevant to the overall power usage.

To test the Automatic Power Management, Low RPM Mode was enabled using
Hitachi's
Feature Tool
and the drive was left untouched for a while. After
about 10-15 minutes, the drive automatically reduced the rotation speed,
and the drive became almost silent.

ADVANCED POWER MANAGEMENT

SPL

Normal Idle

21 dBA/1m

Low RPM Standby

19 dBA/1m

Vibration

1-10 (10 = no vibration)

Normal Idle

4

Low RPM Standby

8

Measured Power

Normal Idle

4.7 W

Low RPM Standby

3.2 W

With Low RPM Mode enabled, the 7K80 sounded like a quiet notebook drive.
From a distance of one meter, the noise was just barely above the ambient
noise level in the lab, and subjective listening confirmed that this was
the case. Only a very slight high frequency tone gave the presence of the
drive away. Perhaps because the majority of the turbulence noise had disappeared,
the sound was less broadband that regular idle, but it was so hard to hear
that the character was almost irrelevant.

The level of vibration also dropped dramatically, as did the resonant frequency.
It would require better hearing than mine to pick out the
vibration noise in this state.

Power consumption dropped to 3.2W, just barely more than a notebook drive.
Strangely, the effect on power draw was less than with the 7K250 on which
we originally tested APM. It is quite possible that the primary power consumer
in this state was no longer the drive's mechanical components but the electronics.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented
here in MP3 format. The recordings below contain 10 seconds of idle noise,
followed by 10 seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled and 10 seconds more
with AAM disabled. Because the Seagate does not support AAM, the AAM portion
of its recording was omitted.

Keep in mind that the audio recordings paint only part of
the acoustic picture; vibration noise is not recorded, and drives often
sound different depending on the angle and distance from which they are heard.

Seagate
Barracuda 7200.9 ST3160812AS (Idle: 21 / Seek: 28 [email protected])

Seagate
Barracuda 7200.9 ST3160812AS (Damped with a finger to reduce idle noise:
20 [email protected])

Hitachi
Deskstar 7K80 HDS728080PLA380 (Idle: 21 / AAM: 23-24 / Seek: 27-28 [email protected])

Hitachi
Deskstar 7K80 HDS728080PLA380 (Low RPM Mode: 19 [email protected])

Reference Comparatives:

Seagate
Barracuda IV ST340016A (Idle: 20 / AAM: 23 / Seek: 25-26 [email protected])

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

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

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

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.

CONCLUSIONS

The single platter drives from Seagate and Hitachi have
strong points in their favor, but neither is strong enough to replace the
Spinpoint P80 (Nidec motor) as our favorite desktop drive nor displace the Seagate Barracuda IV as the quietest ever. As expected of single platter
drives, both are very quiet at idle.

In fact, with a little mass damping, the Seagate could be even
quieter than the Samsung at idle. However, its seek noise is not up to par,
and AAM is not available to make it quieter. Unless the drive is enclosed
in some way, the seeks will always be noticeable.

The Hitachi, on the other hand, seeks fairly quietly when
AAM is enabled. Of the two drives, it comes closer to beating the Samsung.
In the end, though, it loses out because of the poor noise character at idle. The difference in volume between the Hitachi and the Samsung
is not large, but the subjective difference is significant.

The inclusion of APM on the Hitachi does give it one advantage
over the Samsung. If the Hitachi is used only infrequently, it could
certainly be at home in a quiet system. Unfortunately, because the drive
only enters Low RPM mode when it is not being used, it will never have
this advantage as a system drive. Ultimately, the low capacity
of the drive may be the limiting factor here. Limited-use drives are often
used for archival or media purposes, which may require more capacity than
the 7K80 has to offer.

Our search to crown a new quiet single-platter storage king continues.

Many thanks to Seagate
for the Barracuda 7200.9 sample, and to Hitachi
Global Storage
for the 7K80 sample.

* * *

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