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Review: The fastest 1TB hard drive yet

Samsung squeezed 334GB onto each of the F1's three platters

By Bill O'Brien
January 30, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - What takes 37 hours to format but sips power and moves faster than spit on a hot griddle? The answer is Samsung's 1TB Spinpoint F1 Series hard drive.

Rather than go with the flow and use four or more platters to contain its 1TB as most drive manufacturers would do, Samsung took a long cut and squeezed 334GB onto each of the F1's three platters. The obvious benefit is that there's slightly less of everything: power consumption, noise, vibration and the like. With fewer parts, the statistical failure rate drops accordingly, and Samsung has added staggered spin-up technology, device-controlled power management and noise suppression of its own devising. It's a nice package and it is a quiet drive.

View a chart comparing drive speed and power consumption.

The not so obvious problem is that the higher the areal density (the amount of data bits crammed into the given dimensions of a platter), the more the theoretical possibility exists that there could be a read or write error. After all, more data is traveling under the R/W head as the platter rotates at 7,200 rpm. (Samsung employs a very interesting footnote on its specification sheet for the drive's actual rotation speed: "7,200 rpm class. Actual speed can be slightly different.") Some safeguards need to be taken at the firmware level to prevent that from happening and, done right, you'll never notice.

Samsung 1TB Spinpoint F1
Which brings us to the 37 hours of it took to format the F1 using Windows Vista.

Samsung initially believed that my drive might have been defective, so it sent a second unit, which also spent 37 hours having its bits blanked. A reformat of 1TB Hitachi, Western Digital, and Seagate drives showed that they all needed just three and a half hours. An attempt at reformatting the Spinpoint F1 still required 37 hours, but switching to a Windows XP MCE system saw the usual three and a half hours of formatting time emerge.

That left an interaction between Vista Ultimate and the drive as the probable culprit -- and it only seemed to affect Samsung, not any of the other three drives I've reviewed in the past. Checking through the history, an automatic Vista update had occurred just prior to testing the F1. A quick reversal to a restore point before the update resulted in a more usual three-and-a-half-hour format time. (The particular update contained one of the prerequisites for SP1, among other things, and Samsung has been alerted.)

Despite the effect on the formatting speed of the drive, the data handling speed remained the same pre- and postpatch. In fact, the Spinpoint F1 ran through HD Tach with the fastest results of the four 1TB drives tested so far: 205.8Mbyte/sec. burst speed and 95.9Mbyte/sec. average read. Why? That's the upside to having more data moving under the read/write head in the same period of time relative to a drive with a lower areal density.

On the power front, the F1 uses just a half-watt more during average operations than Western Digital's RE2GP "Green" drive -- although it does gobble up 3.7 additional watts at idle than the RE2GP.

What it all boils down to is that if you're running a desktop system with occasional drive access and you're worried about the planet, go Western Digital. However, if you have a server (or even a desktop system) that sees a lot drive access, a 7% higher power draw is easily acceptable in exchange for 11% to 12% faster access.

The Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB hard drive

  • Price range: $280 - $400

Benchmark comparison with other drives tested

Drive Burst Speed (MB/sec.) Random Access Average Read (MB/sec.) CPU Utilization
Samsung's Spinpoint F1 HD103UJ 1TB Internal 205.8MB/sec. 14.0ms 95.9MB/sec. 7%
Western Digital WD10-00FYPS-01KKB 02.0 1TB Internal 184.0MB/sec. 15.1ms 65.3MB/sec. 4%
Seagate ST31000340OAS SD03 1TB Internal 124.7MB/sec. 13.0ms 85.4MB/sec. 10%
Hitachi HDS721010KLA GKA0 1TB Internal 185.9MB/sec. 12.6ms 72.4MB/sec. 4%
Seagate ST3250824AS 3.AA 250GB Internal 120.7MB/sec. 16.9ms 56.6MB/sec. 2%
Western Digital WD 5000AA External 200i 500GB USB 25.0MB/sec. 13.4ms 24.8MB/sec. 1%

Power consumption comparison

Manufacturer Operating average Idle
Samsung 7.9 watts 7.7 watts
WDC 7.4 watts 4.0 watts
Seagate 11 watts 8 watts
Hitachi 10.8 watts 9 watts

Read more about Storage Hardware in Computerworld's Storage Hardware Topic Center.



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