Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/09/08/review_wd_velociraptor_hdd/

WD VelociRaptor 300GB HDD vs SSD

Which is best for gamers?

By Leo Waldock

Posted in Hardware, 8th September 2008 11:02 GMT

Review Although Western Digital's VelociRaptor is a new model name, you can trace the roots of this new hard drive all the way back to 2003.

The original WD360 Raptor hard drive was something of a one-trick pony as it had a tiny 36GB capacity but could boast the 10,000rpm spin speed that became the signature of the Raptor family.

WD VelociRaptor

WD's VelociRaptor WD300GLFS: you're so vaned

The single-platter WD360 was updated to a 74GB twin-platter model, the WD740, later in 2003. It improved performance as well as capacity by adding Tagged Command Queuing (TCQ). The bearings were improved to reduce noise levels.

In 2006, WD launched the WD1500 Raptor which increased capacity to a useful 150GB and added Native Command Queuing (NCQ) as it was a native SATA design rather than an IDE drive with SATA tacked on the back.

VelociRaptor is the fourth-generation Raptor and it’s available in two versions: a single-platter, two-head 150GB model that costs £130 and this two-platter, four-head 300GB model that's twice the capacity but only £50 more expensive.

Crucial 32GB SSD

Crucial's 32GB SSD: pricey

Let’s get the value for money consideration out of the way before we go any further. Over the past few years, hard drives have dropped in price to the extent that the 1TB Hitachi 7K1000 that we used for comparison in testing costs £94, which works out to a mere 9p per gigabyte. That’s quite remarkable considering the headline-grabbing terabyte capacity and the blistering performance of the 7K1000.

It’s a superb hard drive in every respect and it sets a high standard for the VelociRaptor, including value for money as the 150GB VelociRaptor costs 86p per gigabyte while the 300GB version is 60p per gigabyte. A conventional 320GB SATA drive will cost £35 or 11p per gigabyte, so the VelociRaptor is expensive from any point of view and has to deliver something special to justify the cost.

HDTach VelociRaptor Read-out

WD VelociRaptor HDTach

Click for full-size screen shot

The Raptor design has a spin-speed of 10,000rpm which necessitated a 3in-iameter platter to ensure reliability rather than the usual 3.5in platters that you find in most desktop drives. With the WD360, WD740 and WD1500 drives, this resulted in storage capacity that was disappointingly low by the contemporary standards of desktop drives. WD has always claimed that Raptor is aimed at the Enterprise sector, where expensive, high-performance hard drives have an established market, but many – perhaps most – Raptors ended up inside gaming PCs.

The VelociRaptor takes advantage of the latest advances in areal density by shrinking the platters even further, to 2.5in such that the new drive has the same 99 x 69 x 15mm dimensions as a notebook hard drive. There’s no expectation that anyone will use VelociRaptor inside a laptop as the smaller form-factor is aimed at Enterprise customers who want to stuff their blades with storage.

HDTach SSD Read-out

Crucial 32GB SSD HDTach

Click for full-size screen shot

They will be able to buy the VelociRaptor as a bare drive, but retail customers receive the new drive as shown in the photos, where it looks rather similar to a regular desktop drive. That’s thanks to the IcePAK cooling enclosure, which is a grand name for a finned aluminium adaptor to which the drive is securely screwed. No doubt it helps to dissipate heat from the drive, but its main function is to allow you to mount the VelociRaptor in a conventional drive bay.

We tested the VelociRaptor on our trusty Skulltrail system with dual Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 processors overclocked to 4.0GHz and 4GB of Kingston FB-DIMM memory all running the 64-bit Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. We compared the VelociRaptor with a 150GB Raptor, the Hitachi 7K1000 that we’ve already mentioned and a 32GB Crucial solid-state drive.

We’re confident that SSD technology will replace HDD in time but aren't sure how quickly it will happen. So the Crucial SSD offers an interesting comparison despite its startling price of £320.

HDTach 3.0.1.0 Results

WD VelociRaptor - HDTach Tests

Data-transfer rates in MB/s - Longer bars are better
Random Access Times in Seconds - Shorter bars are better

HD Tach shows that the Crucial SSD has blazingly fast read speeds, iffy write speeds and poor burst speeds. The fast read speeds really stand out when the three hard drives read 2GB of files from the Crucial as the hard drive is the limiting factor compared to the SSD.

It came as no surprise that the VelociRaptor beat the Raptor with the Hitachi trailing in third place.

Windows Start-up Results

WD VelociRaptor - Windows Test

Times in Seconds
Shorter bars are better

It was a different story in a simple test to see how long it took Windows to start up. It’s worth spelling out that Skulltrail takes far longer to perform its POST test than any other motherboard we’ve seen in a living age, so Linux and Mac fiends shouldn’t scoff at the awfulness of Vista. Well, not in this case anyway.

This time the Crucial won, the Hitachi came second, with the two WDs in the rear.

PCMark05 HDD Results

WD VelociRaptor - PCMark05 Test

Longer bars are better

The HDD component of the PCMark05 benchmark suite zipped along on the VelociRaptor while the Raptor and Hitachi had nearly identical performance. Plugging a VelociRaptor into a decent PC will yield benefits on a day-to-day basis.

The other test we carried out was to copy files on each drive and once again the VelociRaptor won by a country mile. The Crucial SSD did well and pipped the Raptor, leaving the Hitachi 7K1000 in last place.

2GB On-Drive Copy Results

WD VelociRaptor - 2GB Transfer Test

Times in Seconds
Shorter bars are better

2GB Data Transfer Results

WD VelociRaptor - 2GB Transfer Test

Times in Seconds
Shorter bars are better

The increased performance offered by VelociRaptor over Raptor came as a very pleasant surprise but that’s only part of the story. Raptor is a fast hard drive but it's annoyingly noisy and gets rather hot. In comparison, the Hitachi drive is effectively silent, while the Crucial SSD is silent. All three drives have the same idle noise level - 29dBA - but when the drives start to work, the VelociRaptor sits between the Raptor and Hitachi drives in terms of noise. It’s relatively quiet and won’t cause you much in the way of annoyance.

2GB Data Transfer Results

WD VelociRaptor - 2GB Transfer Test

Times in Seconds
Shorter bars are better

WD VelociRaptor - 2GB Transfer Test

Times in Seconds
Shorter bars are better

WD VelociRaptor - 2GB Transfer Test

Times in Seconds
Shorter bars are better

The big news is the tiny power draw of VelociRaptor, which is only 4.5W at idle and 6.1W when the drive is working. That’s half the power draw of the Raptor and the Hitachi and the result is that the VelociRaptor is impressively cool to the touch even when it’s working hard.

The Crucial SSD is another story. This new technology costs a fortune and the capacity of the earliest models makes it relatively useless. You could use a 32GB SSD to store your OS and applications and the result would be a quiet PC that starts impressively quickly. Back in the real world, you'd likely need a regular hard drive to store your data files as the slow write speed of the SSD would hamper performance.

Thankfully, there are new models of SSD from the likes of OCZ coming to market that offer higher capacity, lower prices and will offer a direct replacement for the hard drive. We'll be looking at these in due course.

Verdict

VelociRaptor is staggeringly fast yet also very quiet. And with 300GB of capacity it's a must-have for anyone building a Media Centre PC or a new gaming rig. Provided, of course, you can afford the steep asking price.