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Western Digital's single-platter 320GB Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS

April 9, 2008 by Mike Chin

Product
Western Digital Caviar SE16 320GB

WD3200AAKS-00B3A0


7,200 RPM Desktop Hard Drive
Sample Suppliers
Market Price
~US$75

Western Digital underwent a major makeover of sorts a couple of years ago, transforming its HDD lines from one of the noisiest in the industry to one of the quietest. Wholesale adoption of Fluid Dynamic Bearings marked the beginning of this change. Most WD products offered in the last couple of years have been very quiet, competing closely with the other low-noise HDD leader, Samsung. Their traditional emphasis on high performance has not been ignored, as they continue producing the 10,000 RPM Raptor drives. The Green Power line introduced last year broke convention with its 5400 RPM spindle speed, which exacts a price in performance, ameliorated by high areal density. It also set new records for acoustics; the GP drives are simply the quietest 3.5" drives available today.

Samsung, in the meanwhile, released the 7200 RPM F1 series, with an industry-leading 334GB maximum capacity per platter. This was 33% higher areal density than its closest competitors when the line was first released, and their terabyte model has been widely reviewed as the best performing of today's 3.5" desktop HDDs. Now, WD has nearly caught up with a couple of new models in their SE16 Caviar line that offer 320GB per platter.

Only two models are offered at this time, a 320GB model with a single platter, and 640GB with two platters. Normally, fewer platters means less noise, due to lower moving mass and less air tubulence; low capacity drives have often been acoustically preferable. This did not hold true for single-platter models from Seagate and Hitachi that we reviewed back in 2005; neither challenged the quiet leaders of their day. Will this new 320GB Caviar SE16 reconfirm the platters-and-noise truism?



WD Caviar SE16 320GB model.

WD Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS

(from WD's product overview)
FEATURE & BRIEF COMMENT
Top performance for Windows Vista - WD Caviar SE16 SATA and EIDE drives are certified for Windows Vista and are top performers on the Windows Vista Experience Index. The usual marketing fluff.
16 MB Cache - Bigger cache means faster performance. Quickly becoming standard.
Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR) - The latest generation of WD Caviar SE16 drives employs PMR technology to achieve even greater areal density. PMR is quickly becoming standard. It's part of what makes the high areal density possible.
IntelliSeek™ - Calculates optimum seek speeds to lower power consumption, noise and vibration It sounds good.
SecurePark™ - Parks the recording heads off the disk surface during spin up, spin down and when the drive is off. This ensures the recording head never touches the disk surface resulting in improved long term reliability due to less head wear, and improved non- operational shock tolerance. Will it cause audible clicking?
3 years End-user Limited Warranty OK, but not as good as Seagate's 5 years.





SPECIFICATIONS

The specifications below are specific to the model that we examined. Capacity,
cache size, platter number, interface, and performance can vary from model
to model. Don't assume they're the same in a given 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.

It's possible that an earlier version of this model, which has two 160GB platters, might still be floating about in the market. The identifier for the single-disk version is the last part of the model number: 00B3A0.


Specifications: WD Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS-00B3A0

(from WD's product
overview
)
Capacity
320 GB
Cache
16 MB
Disks / Heads
1 / 2
Interface SATA 3Gb/s
Spindle Rotation Speed
7,200 RPM
Data Transfer Rate / Buffer to disk (Max.) 70 MB/sec
Data Transfer Rate / Buffer to Host (Max.) 300 MB/sec
Average Seek
N/A
Average Latency
4.2 ms
Weight
600 g
Power Requirements: Idle / Seek
(avg.)
7.2 / 7.8 W
Acoustics: Idle / Seek / Seek with AAM
25 / 29 / 26 dBA

TESTING

Our sample, which came directly from WD, was tested according to our standard
hard drive testing methodology
. The sample was compared against many other drives. 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 HDD performance testing,
we recommend Storage
Review
, who have established a long reputation as the specialist in
this field. At time of writing, they had not yet reviewed either of the 320GB/platter WD models.

The Tech Report ran a performance analysis on the 640GB model recently, and judged it to be a very good price-competitive alternative to the 334GB/platter Samsung F1 drives. An earlier preview of the 320GB model by Anandtech reported,

The average transfer rate of 87MB/s~91MB/s is exceptional in this drive class and exceeds the 73MB/s~75MB/s capabilities of the Raptor 150GB drive. However, for reasons we are still investigating, the random access time of 16.3ms is poor compared to current desktop drives such as the Samsung HD501J that feature a class high 14.0ms random access time. Although the performance of the drive in actual applications is not hindered greatly, it is perplexing to us why this drive has such high random access times.

Our own quick test with HDTach gave the same random access time as Anandtech's sample. According to a later Anandtech review of the 640GB model which measured an exceptional 12.4ms random access,

Western Digital explained the single platter 320GB drive is aimed at the entry-level market where thermals and acoustics are critical for mass acceptance of the drive by the OEM and retail customers. WD sacrificed a small amount of performance on the 320GB drive to meet these goals. This was by design and is not an indication of the performance potential of their new technology.

These notes further raise our expectations for acoustics in this drive.

Two forms of hard drive noise are measured in our tests:

  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 conditions at the time of testing were 18 dBA and 21°C.

TEST RESULTS

DRIVE NOISE EVALUATION
Drive

Mfg date

firmware version
Vibration

1-10

(10 = no vibration)
Activity State

Airborne Acoustics

([email protected])

Measured Power
Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS

January 17, 2008

firmware 01.03A01
6
Idle

24
/ 22*

4.9 W
Seek (AAM)

24
/ 22*

5.9 W
Seek (Normal)

25 / 23*

6.0 W
* SPL varied depending on which side of the drive faced the microphone. See text.

POWER

The unit's power consumption is very low compared to other 7200 RPM desktop models. Just 5W at idle and 6W in seek puts it in the same class as the 5400 RPM 3-platter WD Green Power 750GB drive. The low power profile is a direct benefit of the drive's single-platter design, whose lower mass and fewer heads takes less power to move.

ACOUSTICS

This sample has the surprising distinction of being the noisiest from WD in a couple of years. The SPL of 24 [email protected] does not denote a noisy drive, but it is higher than others from WD in a while. The noise was apparent as soon as the drive was powered up. It was loud enough to be immediately noticed in our very quiet lab, and it also had a somewhat complex signature with some tonality. The amount of turbulence noise was higher than in other drives reviewed in recent memory, and a wider range of higher frequencies seemed to be present.

A simple point of fact: When we tested the Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS 4-platter drive nearly two years ago, it was found to be on par acoustically with the Samsung leader of the day. Today, after being bounced about in the lab for nearly two years, this sample measures about a decible louder than when we first measured it. But it still sounds a bit quieter than the new single-platter 320GB drive.

Turning Automatic Acoustic Management on had a minor effect on seek noise, but the measured SPL did not really change, as the constant turbulence noise dominated. The seek noise was fairly muted and not particularly staccato even without AAM.

Flipping the drive over so that the underside was presented to the microphone (and the listener) did have a surprising effect, however: The noise was audibly reduced, and the SPL actually dropped by 2 [email protected] This effect led to a closer physical examination of the drive.

It turns out that there are significant physical difference between this drive and most of the others from WD or other brands in recent years:

  • It is considerably lighter.
  • Its main casting is inset deeply so that there's much less aluminum material in the housing than in other drives.



Note the deep insets over the platter area.

Click for LARGE image

Compare the deep insets in the WD3200AAKS to the other drives.

The photo above shows a Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 80GB (2006) on the far left, followed by the WD3200AAKS, then a WD Caviar SE16 WD5000KS (March 2006), and a WD800 80GB (June 2004). Each drive was weighed on a postal scale accurate to within a couple of grams.

Seagate Barracuda 7200.7

80GB - 2006

1 platter - 545g
WD SE16 WD3200AAKS

320GB - Jan 2008

1 platter - 430g
WD SE16 WD5000KS

500GB - Mar 2006

4 platters
- 702g
WD WD800JB

80GB - June 2004

1 platter
- 450g

Only the WD800JB comes close to the low 430g weight of our WD3200AAKS. Its cast aluminum housing has less material than the other two drives, but it still seems more substantial than the WD SE16 320GB. Unfortunately it's too old for any useful comparisons, as it comes from an age when WD drives came only with ball bearings and were very noisy. The Barracuda 7200.7, which is a pretty quiet single-platter drive, is substantially heavier, and its cast housing is close in overall volume to our 4-platter WD5000KS, by far the heaviest of the lot. (As an aside, none of the drives matched the weight stated in the official specifications. In most cases, only one weight is given for a whole line, which can go from a single platter to as many as four or five. We know high platter count equals higher mass.)

It's hard not to see a relationship between the low mass and the surprising noise of the WD3200AAKS. The entire structure seems more transparent acoustically than other HDD casings, which allows the noise of the spinning platter and moving heads to pass through relatively unimpeded. Yet the level of vibration is quite low, probably because of the low moving mass of the single platter.

One wonders if the cover of the drive is also thinner than normal. If the reduction in casing mass was done for the sake of material savings simply because it could be done, it seems like false economy for anyone interested in low noise. On other other hand, since HDDs are shipped in large quantities on pallets, with the dramatic increase in fuel prices over the past year or two, a 15~20% reduction in the weight of each drive could mean significant savings.

The bottom line is that this WD 320GB single-platter drive is not the quiet champ we hoped it might be, even though it's decently quiet. But is our sample a typical representative or is it somehow different or damaged? It worked fine as a second drive in Windows on our test platform, but...

SAMPLE #2: The Real McCoy?

A call to our media rep at WD about our disappointment with the drive's acoustics resulted in a flurry of activity, and this information:

There was a change in a controller and firmware from the pre-production version drive you received. This is why you were hearing a higher pitch that the new production drive.

It seemed odd that we received a pre-production sample without being told that it was such... but accidents happen. WD promised to overnight current production samples of both the 320GB and 640GB versions to us. Good, but in the meanwhile, the frustration at not being able to finish off this review was mounting. We turned to Anitec Computers, a retailer in vancouver who supports SPCR strongly, and they came through immediately with a loaner sample, making sure that it was exactly the same model, WD3200AAKS-00B3A0. Anitec, like most of Canada, did not have any stock of the 640GB model; it has yet to be seen in any Canadian shops.

One look at the sample from Anitec made it clear the drive didn't just go through a firmware and controller chip change. The new sample had a different casting and cover as well, despite both being made in Malaysia just a week apart. With all those changes, the only things that could be the same as the first sample was the platter, heads and motor.



First sample on the right, second sample on the left.

Note the difference in the raised rib around the perimeter.




The newer sample has 11 support ribs under the platter area while the earlier one has just 5.



The only differences in the labels are highlighted: Date, DCM, & WWN.

There's nothing on the labels to suggest these are different models.

SAMPLE #2 TEST RESULTS

Two WD Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS-00B3A0 Samples
Mfg date

firmware version

weight
Vibration

1-10

(10 = no vibration)
Activity State

Airborne Acoustics

([email protected])

Measured Power
SAMPLE #2

January 24, 2008


firmware 01.03A01

454 grams
6~7
Idle

21

4.6 W
Seek (AAM)

22

5.8 W
Seek (Normal)

22~23

5.8 W
SAMPLE #1

January 17, 2008


firmware 01.03A01

430 grams
6
Idle

24
/ 22*

4.9 W
Seek (AAM)

24
/ 22*

5.9 W
Seek (Normal)

25 / 23*

6.0 W
* SPL varied depending on which side of the drive faced the microphone. See text.

The second sample was better than the first in every way. The acoustic signature was lower in overall pitch, which makes it less audible, and it was also less tonal. It sounded quieter and measured that way as well. The vibration level also dropped a bit, perhaps because the whole casing was vibrating less than in sample #1. The difference between seek and idle was actually difficult to hear or record, because they're quite close. The difference in seek noise with AAM engaged or not is too small to hear even from very close, so normal is the preferred (faster) setting. The acoustics of this second sample match the quietest 7200 RPM desktops available, regardless of which side of the drive faces the microphone or listener.

Power consumption is also a touch lower, bringing it to champion territory. The seek power is actually lower than in the 5400 RPM Green Power 750GB drive. All in all, the second sample might almost be a different drive.

However, two things remained the same: The random access time measured 16.4ms on both samples, and the firmware was unchanged, despite the comments from WD. Looking closely at the printed circuit board, there were differences that suggest an IC chip might have been changed, but the same firmware used. On the other hand, perhaps only the PCB supplier changed...



Details from WD3200AAKS-00B3A0 PCBs: Sample #2 on left.

...because on the component side of the boards, no substantive differences could be seen.



Point of geek interest: The controller PCB makes electrical contact to the drive / head assembly and for data via these pressure contact points. The PCB simply screws into place without having to attach cables; pressure and precision alignment make the necessary electrical contacts.

A Tip for Uber Silencers: Listening close, it seemed that there was still bit of "hollow" resonance in the sound. Out of curiosity, I put the tip of my index finger against the middle of the top cover of the drive, and applied a bit of pressure. Just a touch, really. I was surprised at how much of that hollow ringing disappeared. This is only audible from very close, but in a super quiet system, it might be worth finding a way to damp the top of the drive. Putting the drive in one of those rubber boxes from Scythe or Smart Drive from Grow Up Japan would certainly work, but a clothing elastic suspension would damp the top the same way. I also discovered that placing an ordinary rubber eraser atop the drive did the trick too. This effect was recorded; see MP3 recordings on the next page.

SAMPLE #3

A day later, the third sample arrived, directly from WD, like the first. It is identical to the first sample, and measures and sounds like its twin. The manufacture date is the same: 17 January 2008.

The 640GB 2-platter sample that arrived at the same time has a casting similar to the 320GB samples, but a cover that's the same as the second sample, from Anitec. It is considerably heavier (603g) and the support ribs on the casting are much more substantial.

So what can be said about the two versions of the single-platter 320GB?

1. It's clear that the batch of WD3200AAKS-00B3A0 samples released to the WD PR department are probably all manufactured on the same day, 17 Jan 2008. They probably all share the same characterstics, acoustically and electronically.

2. The second sample, obtained from Anitec Computers, is dated 24 Jan 2008. This sample clearly has superior acoustics. All the other WD3200AAKS-00B3A0 samples in stock at Anitec (7 at time of writing) are from the same batch, from the same date and have the same casing. It's probably safe to assume that they share the acoustic characteristics of the sample tested and detailed in the previous page.

3. It's not clear whether the drives that went to WD's PR department were the only ones of that batch, or whether part of that batch also went to customers in retail or OEM. If it was just a small batch, then WD probably doesn't track them. WD promise to get back to us with more information.

4. If you would prefer to have the second version of the drive we tested, just check the number of supporting ribs on the casting underside of the drive. That's probably the only way to be sure.

5. In the meanwhile, inquiries have been sent to stores, and to reviewers who have examined WD3200AAKS-00B3A0 samples to find out more about the distribution of these two versions. A poll will be started in the SPCR forums as well. (WD Caviar SE16 single-platter 320GB hard drive users poll.)

COMPARISONS

DRIVE NOISE EVALUATION
Drive

Mfg date

firmware version
Vibration

1-10

(10 = no vibration)
Activity State

Airborne Acoustics

([email protected])

Measured Power
WD Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS-00B3A0

January 24, 2008

firmware 01.03A01

SAMPLE #2
6~7
Idle

21

4.6 W
Seek (AAM)

22

5.8 W
Seek (Normal)

22~23

5.8 W
WD Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS-00B3A0

January 17, 2008

firmware 01.03A01

SAMPLE #1
6
Idle

24
/ 22*

4.9 W
Seek (AAM)

24
/ 22*

5.9 W
Seek (Normal)

25 / 23*

6.0 W
* SPL varied depending on which side of the drive faced the microphone. See text.
REFERENCE DRIVES
Samsung F1 3D

HD753LJ

February 2008

firmware 1AA01109
5
Idle

21

7.8 W
Seek (AAM)

22

8.9 W
Seek (Normal)

23

9.7 W
Seagate Barracuda

7200.11 ST31000340AS

December 2007

firmware SD15
3
Idle

23~24

7.8 W
Seek (Normal)

24~25

11.6 W
Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS

March 2006

firmware 07.02E07
4
Idle

21

8.5 W
Seek (AAM)
21-22
8.6 W
Seek (Normal)

23

10.7 W
Western Digital Caviar Green Power WD7500AACS

October 2007

firmware 01.01B01
7
Idle

19~20

3.3~5.9 W
Seek (AAM)
19~20
5.4 W
Seek (Normal)

21

6.7 W
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 HDS721010KLA330

June 2007

firmware GKAOA70M
5
Low RPM Idle
20-21
3.6 W
Idle

24

8.5 W

6.2 W (unloaded)
Seek (AAM)
24
11.7 W
Seek (Normal)

26-27

15.4 W
Seagate Barracuda IV

ST340016A - firmware 3.10

discontinued
6
Idle

20

6.7 W
Seek (AAM)

23



11.3 W
Seek (Normal)

25-26



11.6 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (Nidec motor)

June 04 - firmware TK100-24 - discontinued
4
Idle

21

6.3 W
Seek (AAM)

23-24

8.3 W
Seek (Normal)

25-26

9.1 W

Aside from the obvious leader, the 5400 RPM WD Green Power, three 7200 RPM drives stand out at the top of the acoustics ladder: The second sample of the single platter WD Caviar SE16 320GB, the earlier 4-platter WD Caviar SE16 500GB, and the 3-platter Samsung F1 3D HD753LJ 750GB.

AN ASIDE: You might think that it's cheeky for us to mention the Samsung F1 when we haven't published a review of yet. But as you might guess, the review is in process, and the F1's acoustics are confirmed. The only question that remains is whether it uses three 250GB platters or three 334GB platters with portions disabled. Data transfer speed would be affect by the areal density, which is why this question is worth answering. It requires a 1,000GB F1 model to answer... and they're hard to find. We're awaiting a sample now.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here
in MP3 format. The recordings below contains 5 seconds of ambient noise, and
10 seconds of idle noise followed by 10 seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled
and 10 seconds without.

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.

Note: These recordings are only of the second, superior sample.

  • Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS-00B3A0 — Idle: 21 / Seek:
    22 [email protected]
    — One
    Meter
    — This recording dispense with the AAM seek; the difference in between normal and AAM seek is too small to hear clearly.
  • Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD3200AAKS-00B3A0 "finger touch"— Idle: 21 / finger touch: 20 [email protected] — One
    Meter
    — This recording starts with 5s of idle, then a finger is lightly pressed against the top of the drive for 5s; both repeat once.

Reference Comparatives:

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.

Most recordings are made
from a distance of one meter. The 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!

Occasionally, we may include
an extra recording from a distance of one foot. This recording is designed
to bring out the fine details of the noise — typically when the
source is so quiet that it is very close to ambient when heard from
one meter. Use this recording with caution! Although more detailed,
it does 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 second sample Western Digital's SE16 Caviar WD3200AAKS-00B3A0 is pretty much what we hoped it would be: A hard drive quiet enough for silent PC enthusiasts. Its single platter design and optimization for low noise seem to have worked, at least in the production version that is shipping today.

The samples that came directly from WD gave us cause to pause. In contrast to the second sample from Anitec, these samples are only decently quiet. You can get quieter. If there's any doubt about whether you're getting the quieter production version, just check the ribs on the underside of the drive and compare it against the photo on the previous page.

For the silent fanatics, however, almost anything can almost always be made quieter, even the superior second sample. In this case, a bit of damping to keep the top cover from vibrating could be worthwhile. It's possible that this would also work with any HDD... but the effect will only be useful or audible if the drive is already pretty quiet to start with.

For most users, either version of the 320GB WD Caviar SE16 is very quiet, quiet enough not to be an obvious noise source even in a PC with quiet components. It has extremely very low power consumption in normal use, and low enough vibration, so that even ordinary screw (rather than mechanically decoupled) mounting would probably be acceptable in a sturdy case. And the price is attractive, competitive with similar capacity drives from other drive makers. There's very little for the average PC user to be dissatisfied about.

Our final words are simple: The second sample of the WD Caviar SE16 single-platter 320GB drive deserves SPCR's recommendation. It is one of just a handful 7200 RPM desktop drives at the cutting edge of quiet. The first one is pretty quiet, too, though not quite at the same level, and has the same performance... but we hope it hasn't made it to the wild.

Many thanks to
Western Digital and Anitec Computers for the review samples.

*

If you own or use one or more of these drives, please respond to our

WD Caviar SE16 single-platter 320GB hard drive users poll

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

SPCR's Hard Drive Testing Methodology

SPCR's Recommended Hard Drives

WD Caviar SE16 500GB: Big Low-Noise Champ?


WD Green Power: A New Benchmark in HDD Acoustics
& Power


Seagate Barracuda 7200.10: Desktop Drives
go Perpendicular


Seagate 7200.9 Single-Platter 160 GB Hard
Drive



* * *

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