by August 9, 2003 0 comments



How do you choose the right hard drive? It depends on your needs. Are you a CIO who needs to buy hard drives for his servers? A multimedia developer who makes complex 3D models or does video editing? A business user who is looking for more value for money? Or, a college kid who wants extra gigs for his ever-growing collection of music, videos and games?

In this story, we’ll see how you can choose the right hard disk for your requirement.

Hard drives today are available in three interfaces: SCSI (Small Computers System Interface, pronounced as skuzzy), Fibre Channel and ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment). The last one, ATA, is broken into serial ATA and parallel ATA.

The server side
Fast I/O is the essence of servers. This has made SCSI and fibre-channel drives the most popular choice here. The factors for choosing a SCSI or fibre-channel drive are its spindle speed, data transfer rates, buffer memory, interface (Ultra 320 or Ultra 160), robustness and cost per GB. SCSI drives are available in two major spindle speeds, 10000 and 15000 RPM.

Rotational speeds, along with the interface, largely determine the data-transfer rate of the drive.

Among the drives we tested, we found that to get a 20% gain in performance (using a 15,000 RPM drive), the buyer has to pay 40% more than a 10,000 RPM drive. This market is more performance-driven than price, but the relative increase in price is almost double the gain a user gets in performance. So, you need to determine whether the application you need it for really needs this gain. For example, if you have a NAS device on your Ethernet network, you may opt for a slower speed SCSI drive. With the increase in capacities, robustness and speed in the recent times on the ATA front, you may even want to put SATA boxes on your network. On the other hand, in a SAN setup, working on fibre channel, the I/O performance requirements are much higher, so you may need that 20% gain. If you have servers running mission-critical applications, such as ERP or RDBMS, you would need that extra performance gain.

TEST
RESULTS FOR SCSI DRIVES

Hitachi Ultrastar
Maxtor Atlas 15K
Seagate Cheetah ST336753LW
Seagate Cheetah ST3146807LW
Vendor
Details

TEST
RESULTS FOR IDE DRIVES

Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 SATA
Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9
Seagate Barracuda ST3160023AS SATA
Samsung SV1204H

Samsung SP8004H
Hitachi Deskstar 180GXP
Seagate Baracuda ST3160021A
Seagate ST340015A
Vendor
Details

The multimedia story
There is no limit to which the desire of a multimedia developer will go. Both in the sense of his creativity and his HDD needs. Multimedia developers include the community that does CAD/CAM, 3D modeling, large-format printing, print design, video editing, etc. The need for fast drives and capacity here is immense. That’s why a combination of ATA and SCSI drives is used here. The SCSI drive is used more as a scratch disk or as temporary storage. This is when the fast data access is important. The quantity part of the disks is sufficed by the ATA drives. But, with the speeds promised by the SATA consortium, the day may not be far when the lower end of this segment may migrate to the cheaper
SATA.

For the office
The markets we talked of are very performance sensitive where storage is concerned, but there is a flipside to it too. There’s also the group that wants hard drives at the lowest possible cost along with a good warranty, with performance taking a backseat in comparison. This is the storage attached to an ordinary office PC. Even though drive capacities have touched the 300 GB mark, and their cost per GB also turns out to be pretty low, do you really need to go for one? The answer is governed more by what you plan to use the drive for and the actual capacity needed for that. For instance, an ordinary office PC running productivity applications, such as an Office Suite, Web browser or accounting package, would probably suffice with a 20 GB hard drive running at 5400 rpm. So, there’s no real need to go for a higher capacity and faster drive, even if it gives a lower cost per GB. What’s important here is the actual cost comparison of the 20 GB drive with higher capacity ones. Typically, a 20 GB drive would cost 2/3rd of a 40 GB drive. Now, if you’re going to buy a 100 nodes for your network, imagine the cost saving you’ll get with the 20 GB drive. This doesn’t mean that cost per GB isn’t important. It becomes important when you really need a high-capacity drive and have different models to choose from. The total cost of the drive, rather than the price per GB, and the warranty are the deciding parameters for this segment.

More gigs
Today a home user can do almost everything on his PC that he used to do with his other entertainment devices. This includes listening to music, watching/capturing movies, playing games and even watching television. All this adds to the HDD needs of the user. These people want good performance from the hard drive, does not want to pay much and yet wants loads of capacity. This segment is also very sensitive about upgradability. They can look towards buying faster PATA or even the new SATA 7200 rpm drives. SATA would be a good choice for a new PC, as that seems to be the future of IDE drives.

In the pages that follow, we’ve reviewed 12 different hard drives, which are a mix of all the different types of drives we talked of here.

The Best IDEs

Hitachi Deskstar 180 gxp

Good performance and a great per GB price make this drive the winner, though by only a small margin, over its closest competitor, the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9, 200 GB SerialATA drive. The drive was third in our performance tests, behind the two Maxtor drives that showed great transfer rates and good scores in Business and Content Creation Winstone applications. Though it was behind, it was never far behind. It gave the highest transfer rates in two of the seven High-end Disk playback tests. The transfer rates for the remaining were also good. Its overall performance was only 4% lower than the best one. But it gained on the price front. Its per GB cost is even lower than the 5400 RPM drives of other manufacturers, costing only Rs 51.40/GB, making it a really hot buy. 

The Hitachi drives are actually the successors of the IBM drives. Some time back Hitachi took over the hard-drive manufacturing division of IBM. 

The Hitachi
Deskstar didn’t lag in the transfer rates and was priced well

Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9

This 200 GB well-priced drive is a performance powerhouse with a PATA interface. It went almost neck-to-neck with its SATA cousin (Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 200 GB SATA) and the Seagate Barracuda SATA drive on the performance front, but won because of its aggressive
pricing. 

The drive gave the highest score in the high-end Disk Winmark, which tests the drive’s transfer rates for real world applications. Going deeper into this benchmark, we noticed that the drive performed very well in the transfer tests that used Adobe Premiere, Soundforge, Photoshop, and VC++ applications. Interestingly, most of these benchmarks are of applications that use large files. So, this could mean that the drive is highly suitable if you’re using such high-end applications in your work. In addition to this, the drive gave the highest raw transfer rates. Its access time was slightly higher than the Seagate Barracuda Serial ATA drive.

Overall, a drive with good performance and pricing. Even though its Serial ATA cousin gives similar and in some cases better performance, this one is a good buy considering that parallel ATA is still more prevalent and it will be some time before it is completely replaced by
SATA.

The Maxtor Diamond Max showed the best transfer rates of the lot

Seagate Barracuda ST3160021A 160 GB

Another one of our toppers, this is a money saver from Seagate. Though it gave a 14% lower score in performance compared to the topper, the Maxtor Serial ATA drive, it costs 22% lower than the same drive. 

The lower performance is possibly because of its lower cache memory buffer of 2 MB, which is 8 MB in the winners. Though the performance is lower, it’s suitable for ordinary desktop usage.

It’s a good buy for people who are not performance hungry but want large capacity at a good
price. One of the hot buys in the shootout.

The Maxtor Diamond Max showed the best transfer rates of the lot

 

And the Best SCSIs

TEST
RESULTS FOR SCSI DRIVES

Hitachi Ultrastar
Maxtor Atlas 15K
Seagate Cheetah ST336753LW 
Seagate Cheetah ST3146807LW 
Vendor
Details

TEST
RESULTS FOR IDE DRIVES

Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 SATA
Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9
Seagate Barracuda ST3160023AS SATA
Samsung SV1204H 

Samsung SP8004H 
Hitachi Deskstar 180GXP
Seagate Baracuda ST3160021A
Seagate ST340015A
Vendor
Details

SCSI devices are used for mission-critical applications, or in high-end workstations because they give far better performance than IDE drives. We got a difference of 22% in our tests between the SCSI and IDE drives. Not to mention that there are other benefits of SCSI as well, like the ability to daisy chain them. 

We didn’t get too much of a difference in the overall scores of all the drives we reviewed, and, therefore, haven’t declared any drive as the winner. There were four drives in the category, two each of 10000 and 15000 rpm. The overall score was derived taking performance, price, and warranty into consideration. Here, performance was given more importance than pricing, keeping in mind that this segment is more performance than price driven. 

So, which SCSI drive should you buy? A 15k rpm or 10k rpm? We found that the difference in performance between the best 15k rpm performer, the Maxtor Atlas 15k, and the lowest in the 10k rpm, the Hitachi Ultrastar, was 25%. But you have to pay about 40% extra to get this performance boost. We found that the Hitachi drive was the best priced one of the lot. It would be a much better deal if it came with a five years warranty like the rest of them, instead of three years. We also found that the Atlas 15k gave very good transfer rates in the high-end CAD, data visualization, and audio editing applications, making it a good choice for high-end workstations. While the 15k Seagate gave lower transfer rates in the same tests, it’s better priced. The 10k rpm Seagate drive gives better transfer rates than the Hitachi, but is
priced higher. 

The actual interpretation of the whole scenario reveals that there is no clear winner. If one prevails on the performance front, the other compliments it with the price and warranty benefits. It is just a matter of how mission critical the application of the user is in choosing the correct drive

How we tested

Since ATA and SCSI drives cater to totally different segments, we tested them on different platforms, ATA drives on a P4-based system and SCSI drives on the dual Xeon-based IBM eServer Xseries 225. We used the Brown-Gibson model to calculate the weightages and arrive at the results.

IDE Drives Testbed
We tested the ATA drives on the Intel 865 motherboard with native SATA support, P3.0 processor, 512 MB dual-channel DDR RAM, Nvidia GeForce 4600ti 4X-AGP with 128 MB VRAM. Display settings were kept at 1024×768, 32 bit at 75Hz refresh rate. The OS was Win XP with SP1. Hyper threading (HT) was disabled on the processor because the apps used in the benchmarks were not HT compliant and gave lower results. We used Winbench Disk inspection tests to check the transfer rates, and the High End and Business Disk Winmarks for the transfer rates of these drives on real-world applications. We used Business and Content Creation Winstone to test the overall performance of the system with these drives.

SCSI Drives Testbed
We tested the SCSI drives on the IBM eServer with a configuration of dual Xeon processors, 512 MB RAM and an onboard display. We changed the platform here because of their application in the real world. All the tests, except the Business Winstone, were run on these drives.

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