Unsung Heroes: 14 Years of Hard Drive Performance - HotHardware

Unsung Heroes: 14 Years of Hard Drive Performance

2 thumbs up
Of all the components in a typical PC, the hard drive is typically viewed as the least sexy and most scorned. When AMD or Intel launch a new CPU, they fill PR statements with promises of incredibly fast databases and improved 3D rendering. If AMD and NVIDIA launch new GPUs, the Intertubes hum with promises of realistic graphics, higher resolutions, and multi-monitor gaming. When the likes of Western Digital or Seagate launch a new hard drive, the product is hailed as a more efficient means of storing por...umm, data. Useful?  Very. High class or sexy? Not so much. To add insult to injury, hard drives are often dragged into conversations on completely different topics. HDD performance is trotted out to explain why faster CPUs or streamlined operating systems don't matter.

We decided to take a look at how standard, spinning hard drive performance has evolved over the past 14 years. We rounded up a representative group of hard drives, formatted them, scanned them for bad sectors, and ran a few modern benchmarks to see how much performance has improved. Because this project uses drives we had lying around, there are some gaps we would've preferred to fill. Given our druthers, we'd have included a Seagate 'Cuda IV and either a 72GB or 150GB Raptor, along with the latest 600GB model.

Here are our contestants, listed in (mostly) chronological order, though, as you'll see, the lineage we've assembled shows some interesting trends and data to be sure.



Introduction Date

Launch Cost & $/GB

WD Caviar 22100



$279, $132.86

WD 400BB



$215 / $5.38

WD 800JB 80GB


$189 / $2.36

Seagate 7200.7



WD Raptor 36GB



$249 / $6.49

Seagate 7200.10



$99 / $0.40

WD 1TB Caviar Black



$183 / 0.18

WD 2TB Caviar Black



$300 / $0.15

WD Raptor 300GB



$300 / $1

Most of the drives we tested were cutting-edge in their day for one reason or another. The WD800JB was one of the first HDDs with 8MB of cache, Seagate's 7200.7 was that company's first drive that supported NCQ. The Raptor 36GB was WD's first ultra-high performance drive with a 10,000 RPM spindle speed and the Caviar Black 2TB features 64MB of cache and dual processors.

We could have gone back farther, but Dave didn't think an IBM Cargo Deck HDD was a wise purchase.

We tested all of the drives in question using a Core i5-750 processor, 4GB of RAM, and Windows 7 64-bit. We used Microsoft's default AHCI drivers where applicable and activated AHCI when testing drives that could support it. We were pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the testing went.  Even the 13 year-old WD Caviar was recognized and configured without a hitch.

We used PCMark Vantage's HDD benchmark to model real-world application tests and HDTune to measure read/write speeds and drive latency.  Let's look at the results...

Article Index:

+ -

Just wanted to let you know that on the first page where you compare the cost and cost/GB you switched the values for the 300gb velociraptor, it should be $300 / $1 not $1 / $300

+ -

Thanks Gunny. Fixed that.

+ -

Lol, Some time ago, I thought that HDD's would just spin faster with every generation to keep up; look how wrong I was.

+ -

Lol, Some time ago, I thought that HDD's would just spin faster with every generation to keep up; look how wrong I was.

There are lots of ideas and solutions floating around out there. Some never make it to the manufacturing stage for many reasons, others do.

Many of the new ideas that I see are good ones and are far-fetched enough to be elegant solutions if they work out. I didn't expect to see solid state SATA drives, but here they are in all of their glory.

Now they're moving them onto the PCI-E bus to enhance performance further. (these are incredibly fast, and expensive too)

I wonder when we'll see Solid State storage built-into motherboards? (along with powerful graphics capabilities) Remember that IO was usually plugged in to PC's a short time ago, and now it's all built-in to every board that's sold. (it's just a matter of time) I think that the only thing keeping discrete Video Cards going is the Gaming industry. (things such as watching a movie on a PC can be done with inexpensive built-in video these days) How long will it be before we see on-board graphics slay our games with impunity?

Another example of slick thinking is the 'Hybrid Drive' that Seagate has released, and I will be trying one of them out soon. 4GB of it's capacity is Flash memory and the rest is a 7200 RPM traditional platter drive. This drive 'learns' what programs you use the most and transfers those to the flash portion to improve your system's speed over time. It gets faster with use. They're not asking a small fortune for it either. ($129.00 at NewEgg)

Sometimes technology is like riding a bike with crappy brakes down a huge hill, eventually, you only slow for the big bumps.

+ -


I don't know if it'll ever make sense to build solid state storage on a motherboard. If the flash fails, for whatever reason, you'd have to replace the board--something motherboard companies aren't going to want to tackle. Furthermore, the RAM would have to be integrated into current memory hierarchy in a way that made it useful. This is something Microsoft tried to do with Robson back in Vista; testing indicates that even new implementations of the concept, like Seagate's HHD, are hit and miss.

You could think about this concept as similar to the idea of building cache on the motherboard. Back in the Super Socket 7 era, a number of boards included a 128K-256K of "backside" cache that was treated as either L3 or L4 depending on the CPU in use. The reason this fell out of favor is that it became possible to integrate the cache into CPU cores at significantly lower latency and faster transfer rates.

In a lot of ways the discrete card shift you're talking about has already happened. Something like 96% of all computers are sold with integrated graphics.

Login or Register to Comment
Post a Comment
Username:   Password: