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Samsung Spinpoint T Series: Successor to a Quiet Legacy

September 4, 2006 by Devon
Cooke

Product
Samsung Spinpoint T Series HD400LJ

400GB, 7,200 RPM Hard Drive
Manufacturer
Market Price
US$150~190

Until very recently, the only desktop drives that we recommended were made
by Samsung. Samsung's Spinpoint P80 series established itself early on as a
very quiet drive, and, with the retirement of Seagate's Barracuda IV and V,
it was hands down the quietest drive for more than a year. Its successor,
the Spinpoint P120 expanded the maximum capacity drive to 250 GB and was almost
as quiet. However, its relatively low capacity and improved products from other
drive manufacturers meant that it wasn't quite the runaway success that the
P80 was.

Samsung's Spinpoint T Series pushes the maximum capacity to 400 GB, but it
has been quite slow to reach the market. Although it is much larger than the
P120 series, it is still smaller than the largest drives offered by other companies
so it will not appeal to those who care primarily about storage space. On the
other hand, it's not so small that it will exclude much of the market. If it
can uphold Samsung's reputation for low noise, it should still find plenty of
happy users. Not everyone needs half a terabyte of storage!

Samsung needs to do more than just maintain the standard that they set with
the Spinpoint P80. Our recent
look at Western Digital's flagship drive
has raised the bar for what we
expect from a quiet desktop drive. Samsung will be hard pressed to match the
near inaudible seek noise of the Western Digital — especially if they are
as sharp and sudden as they were in the P120 series.

Samsung Spinpoint T Series (quoted from Samsung's
web
site
)
FEATURE & BRIEF COMMENT
Maximum 133GB
formatted capacity per disk
Larger than
the 120 GB platters found in the P120, but smaller than the 160 GB platters
that other manufacturers are using.
Bowl type architecture Quoting a
recent press release
:
"The T133-Series moved from the traditional
platter-type design to the bowl type design to improve shock & vibrational
performance"
Fluid Dynamic
Bearing (FDB) motor technology
Industry
standard.
Low power seek
control with PWM driver
Low power...
but lower than others?
Multi Sinusoidal
Seek (MSS) algorithm
A noise-reduction
technique similar to AAM.
SMART Command
Transport (SCT) feature
Gives access
to the drive's SMART data.
Adaptive error
recovery algorithm
We're glad
there's some kind of error recovery... but this doesn't tell us what.
Auto-reassign
of potential data error location
Bad sectors
get remapped to spare sectors.
ATA security
Mode feature
Allows the
drive to be password protected.
ATA Host Protected
Area feature
Used to create
"hidden" partitions.
ATA Automatic
Acoustic Management feature
AAM can be
invaluable or useless depending on how well implemented it is.
ATA Device
Configuration Overlay feature
Yet another
standard ATA feature.
Permuted RLL/ECC
on-the-fly error correction
More error
correction.
ATA SMART Selective
Self-test
Allows failing
drives to be detected in advance.
Device Initiated
SATA power Management
Reduces power
consumption — by about half a watt.
RoHS compliant Required
in the EU.
NoiseGuard ™ Noise damping
and increased rigidity in the frame.
SilentSeek ™ See MSS algorithm
above.
ImpacGuard ™ Shock resistance.

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: Samsung HD400LJ

(from
Samsung's web site
)
Capacity
400 GB
Cache
8 MB
Platters
3
Interface Serial ATA II 3.0 Gbps
Spindle Rotation Speed
7,200 RPM
Latency
4.17 ms
Average / Full Stroke Seek
8.9 ms / 18 ms
Media To / From Buffer Transfer Rate
400 / 1000 Mbit/sec
Weight
651 g
Operating Temperature
0 - 60°C
Power Requirements: Idle / Seek
8.4 / 10.5 W
Acoustics: Idle / Seek
2.7 / 2.9 Bel

Despite the long, detailed feature list, the only new features are the larger
platter size and the poorly explained "bowl architecture". The rest
are a summary of the standard features that make up most any hard drive.

The 133 GB platters are new only to Samsung's drives; this platter size is
already widely in use, and several manufacturers are already using 160 GB platters
in their largest drives. All T Series drives have three platters (apparently,
"T" stands for "triple"), which means that the smaller capacity
drives probably use lower capacity platters. Transfer rates probably scale with
capacity; the 400 GB model is most likely the fastest of the bunch.

The bowl architecture is a bit of a mystery. A
recent press release
offers this explanation of the technology, but no other
information could be found on Samsung's web site:

"Even looking just at the outer shape of the product the T133-Series
moved from the traditional platter-type design to the bowl type design to improve
shock & vibrational performance."

This confusing statement suggests a few things:

  • One, the technology is new to the T Series.
  • Two, it should be visible in the outer shape of the drive — the exterior
    is different from the P120 Series, but nothing about the drive's shape
    suggests a bowl.
  • Three, the technology is an alternative to a "platter-type" design
    — but that kind of change should not be visible externally.
  • Four, and most importantly, the design is intended to improve shock and
    vibration resistance.

Ultimately, if it's good for shock and vibration, it should be good for reliability,
as a large proportion of hard drive failures can be traced to rough handling.
Unfortunately, this does not show up in the reliability specifications, which
rate the T Series identically to the P120 series. Reliability specifications
are notoriously <ahem> unreliable, so it's unlikely that this means much.
As usual, it is only the large OEMs and resellers that will have any idea what
the failure rate is likely to be. The rest of us will have to trust that Samsung's
engineers really have made an improvement here.



We see no signs of Samsung's "Bowl Architecture".



Nothing too special on this side.

The external appearance of the T Series is different from Samsung's past drives.
The odd contours along the side edges have been filled in, and the drive is
now fully rectangular. The distinctive shape remains only in a raised bump on
the top panel of the drive.



The odd indentations in the sides have been filled in, giving the drive a
less rounded profile. New on the left, old on the right.



The body is clearly different, but the circuit board is almost unchanged.

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. It was also compared against our
current low-noise champ: A 500
GB Western Digital WD5000KS
. A
250 GB Spinpoint P120
was also included in the comparison.

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
Samsung Spinpoint T HD400LJ

July 2006

firmware ZZ100-15
3
Idle

20 [email protected]

7.4 W
Seek (AAM)
9.5 W
Seek (Normal)

22-23 [email protected]

10.5 W
REFERENCE DRIVES
Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS

March 2006

firmware 07.02E07
4
Idle

21 [email protected]

8.5 W
Seek (AAM)

21-22 [email protected]

8.6 W
Seek (Normal)

23 [email protected]

10.7 W
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

P120 SP2504C


September 05 - firmware VT100-33
5
Idle

21 [email protected]

7.2 W
Seek (AAM)
9.4 W
Seek (Normal)

23-24 [email protected]

10.3 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

The noise measurements place the Spinpoint T slightly better than either the
Western Digital or Samsung's previous drives and roughly on par with the classic
Barracuda IV. As usual, the measurements do give a rough idea of where the drive
stands but don't tell the whole story.

At idle, the Spinpoint sounded very clean and smooth. The Samsung Drives and
the Western Digital were all very similar in volume, and all exhibited the same
whoosh of airflow. Subjectively, the Spinpoint T sounded the nicest by a small
margin; it sounded softer than the Western Digital, and had less high frequency
noise than the older Samsung drives. It should be emphasized that the drives
all sounded very similar, and any would be acceptable in quiet system.

Our usual recommendation to soft-mount any desktop drive goes double for the
Spinpoint T: Its vibration level was very high, and a low 120 Hz hum could sometimes
be heard even when the drive was placed on foam. When placed on a hard surface,
the hum was amplified and came to dominate the noise character, confirming that
hard-mounting would not be good for noise quality.

We were pleased to note that seek noise was much improved over the P120 —
something that is not reflected in the noise measurements. Seeks were duller
and more muted than the P120, although not quite as good as the P80, and certainly
not as good as the nigh inaudible Western Digital. Even better, AAM seemed to
be working again, and did much to reduce the sharpness of the seek noise. This
is good news; seek noise was one of the biggest disappointments with the P120.

The extra platter in the T Series did not increase power consumption, which
was in line with other 3.5" drives, and even a little on the low side for
such a large drive. Power consumption was almost identical to the P120.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here
in MP3 format. The recordings below contains 10 seconds of ambient noise, 10
seconds of idle noise, 10 seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled and 10 seconds
more with AAM disabled.

Keep in mind that the 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.

Samsung T Series HD400LJ — Idle: 20 / AAM: 21
Seek: 22-23 [email protected]
— One
Meter
, One Foot

Reference Comparatives:

Western Digital WD5000KS — Idle: 21 / AAM: 21-22
Seek: 23 [email protected]
— One
Meter
, One
Foot

Samsung P80 SP0802N (Nidec) — Idle: 21 / AAM:
23-24 Seek: 25-26 [email protected]
— One
Meter
, One
Foot

Seagate Barracuda IV ST340016A — Idle: 20 / AAM:
23 Seek: 25-26 [email protected]
— One
Meter
, One Foot

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made
with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system, then
converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard
to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files
to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during
the review. Two recordings of each noise level were made, one from a
distance of one meter, and another from one foot
away.

The one meter recording
is intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review sound
in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between
a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains
stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness
of the subject. For best results, set your volume control so that the
ambient noise is just barely audible. Be aware that very quiet subjects
may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances
are we couldn't record it either!

The one foot recording is
designed to bring out the fine details of the noise. Use this recording
with caution! Although more detailed, it may not represent how the subject
sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording after you
have listened to the one meter recording.

More details about how
we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio
Recording Methods Revised
.

CONCLUSIONS

The Samsung T Series is an excellent addition to Samsung's range
of hard drives. It upholds Samsung's reputation for low noise, and fixes the
only real complaint we had about the P120 series: Sharp seeks. There is no question
that this drive is suitable for a quiet system. Only a notebook drive is likely
to be quieter... and notebook drives don't come in 400 GB capacities.

From a noise perspective, the Spinpoint T only has one real competitor:
The Western Digital Caviar SE16. Neither drive clearly has the upper hand, and
a choice between the two is likely to come down to the kind of noise that bothers
you personally. Heavy users who want to avoid seek noise will probably prefer
the Western Digital, but the large chunk of users whose drives spend most of
their time in idle may prefer the smoother idle noise of the Spinpoint T.

Price, availability, and capacity may also play a role. For now,
Samsung does not have a 500 GB drive, and availability may still be a problem
for some. On the other hand, many retailers appear to be selling the Samsung
at cheaper prices than other similarly sized drives which makes it quite unusual
in the silencing world: A component that is both cheaper and quieter
than the competition.

Many thanks to Samsung
for the Spinpoint T Series sample.

*

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

SPCR's Hard Drive Testing Methodology

SPCR's Recommended Hard Drives

Western Digital Caviar SE16 500 GB: Big,
Low Noise Champ?


Seagate Barracuda 7200.9, 500 GB

Samsung Spinpoint P120 200 & 250 GB Hard
Drives

* * *

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