Review: Three new Western Digital drives hit top speeds

These hard drives hit top rpms and data-transfer rates

Recently, Western Digital Corp. has come to market with three drives aimed at increasing the performance of both 2.5- and 3.5-in. drives.: the Caviar Black, the Scorpio Black and the VelociRaptor. Nothing about them speaks to "green power." Rather, the "black" lineup is aimed at enthusiasts who want performance and let their power supplies be damned if they can't handle the load.

Caviar Black

The Caviar Black (WD1001FALS) is Western Digital's new 3.5-in., 1TB drive and is an upgrade from WDC's venerable WD RE2-GP (WD1000FYPS) GreenPower drive. The new drive provides an interesting performance bump but suffers a power grab in exchange (see "Review: Western Digital's 'green' RE2-GP 1TB hard drive").

Fortunately, the Caviar Black is faster, with a burst speed of 234.2MB/sec. compared with the RE2-GP's 211.8MB/sec. The Caviar Black has an average read of 88.2MB/sec. and a random-access rating of 12ms.
The Caviar Black

The earlier RE2-GP drive emphasized power enhancements that were aimed at saving money during operation while providing the best possible performance in the balance, using a host of intelligent features. None of the features assigned to the Caviar Black are titled "Intelli-" anything. Where the RE2 trumpets IntelliOower, IntelliSeek, and IntelliPark processes to reduce power consumption by throttling back on activity unless they're actually needed, the Caviar Black simply spells out its power needs: The drive sucks up 490 milliamps (mA) and 500mA during read/write operations, and 470mA and 420mA when idling, at 12V and 5V, respectively. The RE2-GP, on the other hand, is rated at a more modest 340mA for read/write and 254mA at idle on the 12V rail, while it uses 675mA for read/write but only 195mA on the 5V side at idle. Clearly, the Caviar Black is a bit more e-piggy than its predecessor.

Fortunately, the Caviar Black is faster, with a burst speed of 234.2MB/sec. in comparison with the RE2-GP's 211.8MB/sec., according to the HDTach 3.0 test. Using that same test, the Caviar Black had an average read of 88.2MB/sec. compared with the RE2-GP's 65.6MB/sec., and a random-access rating of 12ms against the RE2-GP's 15.1ms. Certainly, the 32MB of cache found on the Caviar Black (versus 16MB on the RE2) does make a difference.

The Caviar Black's current top capacity is 1TB with a 750GB alternative (although with Seagate Technology LLC recently announcing a Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB drive, that might be a transitory cap). Western Digital has set the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) for the 1TB version at $250. (The RE2-GP lists for $300.)

Scorpio Black

The Scorpio Black (WD3200BEKT) is Western Digital's first attempt at a 7,200rpm 2.5-in. drive. The good news is that the power consumption ratings for this drive haven't changed in comparison with earlier WD2500BEVS (250GB) and WD3200BEVT (320GB) 5,400rpm models (both part of the Scorpio Blue series), despite the increase in spin rate and the bump from 8MB of cache to the Scorpio Black's 16MB. The device's read/write function draws 500mA, and when idle, it consumes 400mA. It consumes 50mA during standby.

The Scorpio Black has a burst speed of 238.8MB/sec., an average read speed of 63.8MB/sec. and a random-access time of 15.1ms.
The Scorpio Black

The better news is that the Scorpio Black raises the performance bar from those earlier drives. The direct competitor to the Scorpio Black is the BEVT model, which is also has a SATA 3Gbit/sec. interface and a 320GB capacity. But Blue pales in comparison to Black, according to HD Tach. The burst speed of the older drive is 194.4MB/sec., while the new Scorpio glides ahead at 238.8MB/sec. Average read for the last-generation BEVT is 51.8MB/sec., but the Black Scorpio sneaks by at 63.8MB/sec. Random access favors the new drive at 15.1ms and 16.7ms for the Scorpio Black and the Scorpio Blue, respectively.

The Scorpio Black is available in a range of sizes, starting at 80GB and topped off at 320GB, which has an MSRP of $230. In comparison, if you can bear the slower speed, the 320GB Scorpio Blue will only set you back about $170.


While the VelociRaptor (WD3000GLFS) isn't officially a "Black series" enthusiast drive. it would be difficult to omit it, given that the 2.5-in. drive is wrapped in a black heat sink affectionately known as the IcePack. This cooler effectively moves the drive from laptop contention, giving it a 3.5-in. size that works well in desktops and servers.

The VelociRaptor has a burst speed of 250.3MB/sec., an average read rate of 105.6MB/sec. and a random-access speed of 7ms.
The VelociRaptor

What's special about the VelociRaptor is that it has a 10,000rpm spin rate -- something typically relegated to SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) enterprise disks and almost unheard of among SATA drives. There is another: Western Digital's original 3.5-in. Raptor drive, which also has a 10K spin rate, but only a 1.5 Gbit/sec. SATA interface compared with the VelociRaptor's 3Gbit/sec. SATA interface. (Both drives have a 16MB cache.)

According to Western Digital, the VelociRaptor's high spin rate and faster interface translates into a 35% performance increase over its predecessor. Having never tested the original, I can only say that this drive is fast. According to HD Tach, the VelociRaptor racked up a 250.3MB/sec. burst speed, the highest I've recorded for a mechanical drive. It equaled that record with a 105.6MB/sec. average read result. (Random access was a jaw-dropping 7ms.)

What's that? You have an enterprise situation, and you could really use some 2.5-in. drives with this kind of performance? Not a problem. Western Digital has just announced a WD3000BLFS version of the drive sans heat sink. Both drives soak up a meager 225mA during read/write on the 12V leg and 675mA on the 5V side. Idling takes 200mA and 425mA, respectively.

Right now, the top- (and only) capacity WD3000GLFS is 300GB, and pricing hovers around $300 (MSRP). The WD3000BLFS will be offered in both 300GB and 150GB versions and should be available in the near future.

Bill O'Brien has written a half-dozen books and more than 2,000 articles on computers and technology, ranging from Apple computers and PCs to Linux and commentary on IT hardware decisions.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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