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Western Digital Scorpio: Another Quiet Notebook Drive

July 3, 2006 by Devon
Cooke

Product
Western Digital Scorpio WD1200BEVS

120GB, 5,400 RPM Notebook drive
Manufacturer
Market Price
US$140~200

SPCR recently looked at new revisions of Western Digital's mainstream
and performance drives,
one of which we liked enough to recommend. The considerable changes to their
desktop drives made us wonder whether their notebook drives had changed as well.
It seemed worthwhile to find out, since notebook drives are almost always quieter
than their desktop counterparts.

Last time we looked at a Scorpio from Western
Digital
, it was not available with SATA (important if the drive will see
use in a desktop system) and did not offer higher than 80 GB capacity. There was also the question of sample variance: The two samples that we looked at had
a significant difference: One had more vibration than any other notebook drive we had seen, and the other had almost none.

In the year since then, Western Digital has boosted capacity to 120 GB —
a 50% boost that is needed to keep pace with the likes of Fujitsu
and Toshiba,
both of which manufacture drives with 200 GB of capacity. Now that notebooks
are beginning to make use of SATA, Western Digital has also released a SATA
version of the Scorpio.

Even with these improvements, one gets the feeling that Western Digital is
merely keeping pace. Neither of these improvements is groundbreaking, so Western
Digital needs to find some other way to distinguish themselves from the pack.
Perhaps they can repeat what they did in the desktop market and make the Scorpio
quieter than the competition? We can always hope...

Western Digital Scorpio WD1200BEVS (quoted from Western
Digital's
specification
sheet
)
FEATURE & BRIEF COMMENT
Fast — spins at 5400 RPM and delivers seek times of 12
ms. It has a standard 2 MB cache with an 8 MB option.
Our sample has an 8 MB cache and a SATA interface.
Efficient — spins at 5400 RPM for fast performance but
has power consumption specifications similar to slower 4200 RPM drives.
Low power consumption yields increased overall reliability.
4,200 RPM
drives are no longer as common as they once were and are becoming difficult
to find on the retail market.
Quiet
— features WD’s exclusive WhisperDrive™ technology with SoftSeek™
algorithms to deliver nearly inaudible operation.
The question
is how quiet? Most notebook drives are quiet; can the Western Digital
distinguish itself?
Reliable — provides ShockGuard™ to protect the drive
mechanics and delicate platter surface from shocks, both when it’s
in use and when it’s not.
Reliability
is tough to judge because it is so hard to test for. Is ShockGuard better
than the competition? Hard to say without the technical details...
WD Scorpio’s DuraStep Ramp™ locks the heads off the data
disk to provide additional shock protection. Using the most technologically
advanced material available on the market, the drive is able to execute
a minimum of 600,000 load/unload cycles — up to twice the performance
of its competitors.
Again, the
lack of technical details makes it impossible to know how this stacks up
against other drives.

SPECIFICATIONS

The specifications below are specific to model 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.


Specifications: Western Digital Scorpio WD1200BEVS
Formatted Capacity
120,034 MB
Cache
8 MB
Platters
2
Heads
4
Spindle Rotation Speed
5,400 RPM
Interface
SATA 1.5 Gb/s
Latency
5.5 ms
Read Seek Time
12.0 ms
Buffer to Disk Transfer Rate
500 Mbits/s (Max)
Weight
0.117 kg
Operating Temperature
5 - 60°C
Power Dissipation: Idle / Seek
2.0 / 2.5 W
+5V Current: Idle / Seek
400 / 500 mA
Acoustics: Idle / Seek Mode 0
24 / 26 dBA (average)

There is little in Western Digital's marketing or specifications to distinguish
the Scorpio from other drives on the market. It's not the biggest, the fastest or even the cheapest. In short, there seems to
be little to get excited about — or if there is, Western Digital isn't telling.

So what is it good for? Just about anything that notebook drives are good for.
Let's be realistic here: Hardly anyone needs bleeding edge performance or capacity. Those who do will not be interested in the Scorpio or most any other notebook drive, but that's hardly the whole market. The Scorpio is a mainstream notebook drive, and it will most
likely be purchased by mainstream buyers preinstalled in a laptop computer.

The most pertinent features of the Scorpio are the ones that, while unremarkable, are undeniably important to a quiet computer: The form factor and the interface.
What good is a SATA notebook drive? SATA is important because it allows a notebook
drive to be easily integrated into a desktop system without requiring a separate
adapter. And why would you want to do that? Because, as
we wrote more than two years ago
, notebook drives are nearly always quieter
and less power hungry than their full-sized equivalents.



The SATA interface makes it compatible with a desktop system without an adapter.

TEST RESULTS


Our sample was 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. At the
time of writing, Storage Review has not reviewed a Scorpio, so we direct you
to reviews from X-Bit
Labs
and The
Tech Report
to help give you an idea of how the drive performs.

Our test drive was compared against two of the quietest notebook drives that
we know of: A Samsung Spinpoint M Series and a Seagate Momentus 5400.3.

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.

DRIVE NOISE EVALUATION
Drive

Mfg date

firmware version
Vibration

1-10

(10 = no vibration)
Activity State

Airborne Acoustics

Measured Power
Western Digital Scorpio WD1200BEVS

March 2006

firmware 01.06M01
8
Idle

1.0 W (heads unloaded)

1.1W (heads loaded)
Seek (AAM)
2.9 W
Seek (Normal)

20 [email protected]

2.9 W
REFERENCE DRIVES
Seagate Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821A

December 2005

firmware 3.ALA
8
Idle

19 [email protected]

1.2 W (heads unloaded)

1.4 W (heads loaded)
Seek (Normal)

20-21 [email protected]

2.7 W
Samsung MP0402H

April 2004

firmware UC100-10
8
Idle

17 [email protected]

0.8 W
Seek (AAM)

18 [email protected]

2.3 W
Seek (Normal)

19-20 [email protected]

2.4 W

At idle, the sound of the Scorpio was indistinguishable from the Momentus 5400.3.
Both were characterized by the same quiet whoosh of airflow that was just loud
enough to let you know it was there. The Samsung, on the other hand, was a little
quieter overall, but its primary noise was a higher pitched squeal that ended
up being about as noticeable. Choosing between the three drives was more a matter
of preference than of volume. All are likely to be inaudible in all but the
quietest systems.

Listening closely to the seek noise allowed sharper distinctions to be made. The Scorpio had the smallest audible difference between idle and seek noise, and seeks were very muted in comparison to the other two drives. However, none of the drives was particularly noisy during seek, and all
are likely to be inaudible in a desktop system where the drive is located about a meter from the listener. Enabling AAM had no audible effect... but the seeks were already so quiet that it's difficult to imagine what audible effect it could have had.

Because the seeks are quiet, the systems that would benefit most from using a Scorpio are probably notebooks or very quiet small form factor systems that tend to be placed closer to the user. Unfortunately, the Scorpio also has an attribute that negates this advantage: It vibrates a bit more than the other drives. In a desktop system, the acoustic effect of this is probably minimal
— the drive doesn't have enough mass to cause much vibration-induced noise in a steel case — but the low hum could possibly be an issue in a notebook.

One other noise could be heard from time to time: The sound of the heads loading and unloading was audible as a muted click that was about the same volume as the seek noise. The noise generally came after about 10 seconds of idling, and, unless we were listening for it, it was indistinguishable from a stray seek.

2.5" HDD NOISE COMPARISON
Drive Model

(linked to review)
SPL

Idle / AAM / Seek

([email protected])
Vibration

1-10

(10 = no vibration)
Subjective Notes
UNIT UNDER REVIEW:

Western Digital Scorpio WD1200BEVS
20 / 20 / 20
8
Unremarkable for its capacity and performance, the Scorpio's
noise is good enough to match the Momentus 5400.3 at idle, and is
almost indistinguishable from it. Seek noise is very difficult to distinguish
from the whoosh of idle noise, which makes it suitable for use in a
very quiet notebook or desktop system. Bottom line: It's very quiet, quiet enough to be competitive, but does not sweep the competition away.
Seagate
Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821A
19 / – / 20-21
8
The successor of the Momentus 5400.2, featuring perpendicular
recording technology to boost capacity to 160 GB. It also happens to be
very quiet. Subjectively, it's probably too close to call between this,
the 5400.2, and the Samsung, although the Samsung measures better. A
very good, if expensive, choice for a quiet system.
Hitachi
TravelStar E7K100

HTE721010G9SA00
20 / 21 / 21-22
8
Hitachi's flagship 7,200 RPM notebook drive, competing directly
with the Seagate Momentus 7200.1, and beating it handily in terms of both
noise and idle power consumption. Power management is disabled, as the
drive is targeted at the server and workstation segments, where low power
is not a requirement. Unfortunately, the high rotation speed causes a
lot of vibration, which resonates at the relatively high (and audible)
pitch of 120 Hz.
Seagate
Momentus 7200.1

ST910021AS
21 / – / 22-23
8
Seagate's performance-oriented notebook drive, with a 7,200
RPM spindle speed that translates into a seek time that approaches desktop
performance. Unfortunately, the faster spindle speed causes corresponding
increases in turbulence noise (at idle) and power consumption. Subjective
noise quality is good for both seeks and idle, but the level of noise
is closer to desktop drives than the super quiet Samsung MP0402H. Vibration
resonance is at 120 Hz rather than the usual 90 Hz for notebook drives.
Seagate
Momentus 5400.2

ST9120821AS
20 / – / 20-21
9
Too close to the Samsung MP0402H to crown either drive as
low noise champion, but a very good choice in any case. Idle noise has
slightly more "wind noise" than the Samsung but no high frequency noise
at all. Although AAM is not supported, seeks are completely inaudible
when placed on soft foam. Consumes more power than most notebook drives.
Western
Digital Scorpio
20 / 21 / 21
7-9
Sample variance makes it hard to rank the noise this drive,
but it belongs somewhere between the Samsung notebook series and the Seagate
Barracuda IV. Idle noise is mainly a low frequency motor hum with little
high frequency whine. Seeks are almost too quiet to notice, and can be
characterized as a low rumble. AAM has not effect, but it would be hard
to improve the seeks anyway. Vibration ranged from the level of the Barracuda
IV to below the Samsung MP0402H.
Fujitsu
MHT2080BH
22 / 23-24 / 23-24
9
Idle noise is rather disappointing; it sounds undamped and
is louder than the Barracuda IV. Seeks are about average for a notebook
drive, rising about 1-2 dBA/1m above idle. The Fujitsu has the lowest
vibration of any drive tested. May avoid the intermittent clicking problem
common with notebook drives because it waits for 10-15 seconds after a
seek before unloading the heads. Consumes ~0.2W more than other notebook
drives in all power states.
17 / 18 / 19-20
8
The acoustics of this drive are virtually identical
to the Fujitsu MHT2040AT, a considerably slower 4200 rpm drive and the
quietest we've encountered. The Samsung is extremely quiet, and there
is very little if any high frequency noise to speak of. It has minimal
vibration, but placing it on soft foam does reduce low freq. noise audibly.
The unit used in the test PC was suspended in elastic string and mostly
surrounded by soft but dense foam. Seek noise is somewhat more audible
than the 1 dBA gain suggests, but very soft.
19 / – / 20
–
The Hitachi comes very close to the Samsung, but has
a slightly sharper and higher pitched sound, with perhaps a touch more
vibration as well. The seek noise is a touch louder too. When inside
even a very quiet desktop PC, the slightly higher noise level of this
drive over the Samsung may not be audible. The performance is superior,
according to SiSoftware Sandra 2005, and also subjectively.
Toshiba
MK6022GAX
22 / – / –
–
Slightly louder than the Seagate Barracuda
IV single platter 3.5" reference hard drive. The noise signature has the
broadband shhhh quality exhibited by the Samsung SP 3.5"
drives, but higher in pitch, a bit like the Seagate. A trace of whine,
but not like the Seagate Momentus. Seek noise is only moderately louder
than idle, perhaps by 3 dBA. Vibration is higher than any of the 4200rpm
drives; similar to the Momentus. Performance seems quite speedy, as it
should be with 16 MB cache and 5400rpm, but inconsistent results with
all the benchmarks tried stops me from publishing results.
Seagate
Momentus ST94811A
24 / – / –
–
The Momentus has a terrible constant "pure" tone somewhere
in the 6~10KHz range. It drops 2-3 dBA in level when the listener or
the mic faces the edge of the drive because of directionality of the
high frequency whine. Seek noise is substantially higher, probably 3~5
dBA. Vibration is much lower than any 3.5" drive, but higher than either
of the 4200rpm drives tried. A real disappointment, but it did perform
about as fast as or faster than the Seagate Barracuda-IV.
Fujitsu
MHT2040AT
16 / – / –
–
The only noise maker in the Mappit
A4F
PC, which seemed virtually inaudible to me. The noise is not
inaudible, but very low and soft, easily dismissed in the ambient noise
of all but the quietest spaces. There is no high pitched whine to speak
of, and the seek noise does not seem more than maybe 2 dBA higher than
idle. It is the slowest performer of all the drives here. Extremely
low vibration.
Toshiba
MK4025GAS
16 / – / –
–
This 8 MB cache 4200 RPM drive offers better performance
than 2 MB cache 4200 rpm drives, and it is identical in both idle and
seek noise to the Fujitsu above. Extremely low vibration.
Seagate
Barracuda IV ST340016A
21 / 23 / 25-26
6
In idle, it remains the quietest of all 3.5" drives.
This sample is almost 2 years old, but seems unchanged in noise. There
may be a touch of high frequency whine but it is very low in level,
and easily obscured when mounted in a PC case. Seek is considerably
higher, possibly as much as 5~6 dBA. Low vibration, but MUCH higher
than any of the notebook drives.
Samsung
SP0802N (Nidec motor)
21 / 23-24 / 25-26
4
The idle noise is a touch higher, and its seek may actually
be lower than the Seagate B-IV. Similar vibration level as the B-IV,
but there are reports of some samples exhibiting much higher vibration
levels. This is cured by HDD decouple mounting (suspension in elastic
material or placement on soft foam), which is virtually mandatory for
a truly quiet PC anyway.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here
in MP3 format. The recordings below contains ten seconds of idle noise, followed
by ten seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled and ten seconds more with AAM
disabled.The recording mic is 3" away. We do this because if we put it one meter away (which is where we take the noise measurement), you'd never hear half the stuff we record over the noise floor of your audio playback gear -- and our ambient noise. So all kinds of details get exaggerated, exactly the same way they do for us in the lab when we hold the drive next to our ear to listen carefully.

The audio 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.

Please note: This recording was made correctly. If you can't hear
a difference between idle and AAM seek, it's because the difference is
too small
! In the case of this Western Digital drive that goes double:
The seek noise is so quiet that you may not be able to distinguish it from the
idle noise.

Western
Digital Scorpio WD1200BEVS (Idle: 20 / AAM: 22 / Seek: 20 [email protected])

Reference Comparatives:

Seagate
Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821A (Idle: 19 / Seek: 20-21 [email protected])

Samsung
MP0402H (Idle: 17 / AAM: 18 / Seek: 19-20 [email protected])

Western
Digital Scorpio WD800VE (Idle: 20 / AAM: 21 / Seek: 21 [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 Scorpio joins notebook drives from Samsung (MP0402H) and Seagate
(5400.2 & 5400.3) as one of the quietest drives that money can buy. Choosing
between these three drives is more or less a matter of availability and price. Deciding on a firm ranking is futile; simple sample variance makes
any attempt to do so impossible.

What we can comment on are the strengths and weaknesses of our
sample. The biggest strength of our sample was its seek noise, which was nearly
indistinguishable from the idle noise, and nearly inaudible at one meter. Its
weakness was relatively high vibration for a notebook drive — soft-mounting
is recommended if it is possible. To sum up, if a 120 GB notebook drive with SATA interface is what you're looking for, the Scorpio is as quiet and as serviceable as any of its competitors.

Many thanks to Western
Digital
for the Scorpio WD1200BEVS sample.

*

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

SPCR's Hard Drive Testing Methodology

SPCR's Recommended Hard Drives

Seagate Momentus 5400.3 160GB
Notebook HDD


Western Digital Scorpio 80GB
& Fujitsu SATA 80GB Notebook Drives

* * *

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