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Western Digital WD5000KS 500GB SATA HDD
Date: Jul 24, 2006
Author: Shane Unrein
Introduction, Specs & Features

If we were to play a word association game with a PC enthusiast and said "Western Digital," it's likely his geek reflexes would immediately trigger and force him to reply "Raptor" before he even realized he had spoken. Western Digital makes many more storage products other than just the speed demons known as Raptors, though. While it is easy to be enamored with the Raptors, they are relatively expensive and offer only a fraction of the capacity of the 500GB and 750GB behemoths currently on the market.

Our labs were blessed with one such behemoth from Western Digital, the WD5000KS, which is a member of the Caviar SE16 family. This 500GB SATA 3Gb/s drive features a 16MB cache and a 7200 RPM spindle speed. The Raptors, with their 10k RPM spindle speed, have won the overall 3.5" desktop HDD performance crown, but they don't win any capacity battles. That's where the WD5000KS comes in. Most people choose capacity over speed, especially considering the price premium for higher performance. But can the 500GB Western Digital WD5000KS drive be a winner on both fronts? Read on to find out...

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS
Specifications & Features
Capacity: 500 GB
Interface: SATA 3Gb/s
Spindle Speed: 7200 RPM
Cache Buffer: 16 MB
Height: 26.1 mm
Length: 147 mm
Width: 101.6 mm
Weight: 0.6 kg

Seek Times
Average Latency: 4.20 ms
Read Seek Time: 8.9 ms
Write Seek Time: 10.9 ms
Track-To-Track Seek Time: 2.0 ms
Full Stroke Seek: 21.0 ms

Transfer Rate
Buffer To Host (Serial ATA): 300 MB/s (Max)
Buffer To Disk: 748 Mbits/s (Max)

Idle Mode: 28 dBA (average)
Seek Mode 0: 33 dBA (average)
Seek Mode 3: 29 dBA (average)

Power Requirements
Read/Write: 9.50 Watts
Idle: 8.75 Watts
Standby: 1.60 Watts
Sleep: 1.50 Watts

16 MB cache
     Bigger cache means faster performance. A massive
     16 MB cache combined with up to 300 MB/s transfer
     rate make these ultra-fast drives the perfect solution
     for the fully loaded PC with a fast processor.

Cool operating temperature
      WD hard drives are designed to have the lowest
     power consumption of any high-capacity, desktop-class
     hard drive which lowers the operating temperature
     for enhanced drive reliability.

Whisper quiet
      These highly reliable drives deliver technologically
     advanced acoustics. With its WhisperDrive
TM and
TM technologies, WD has minimized noise to
     levels virtually imperceptible to the human ear in home
     and business environments.

3 Year Warranty

Although it didn't come in a retail box, our sample was not shipped as a bare drive. It came with the same accessories you would find in a full retail package, including a Quick Install Guide, a CD with Data Lifeguard Tools, four mounting screws and a Serial ATA cable with SecureConnect.

In the second picture above, you can see the WD5000KS's connectors, which include an 8-pin custom header, a SATA data connector, a SATA power connector, and a 4-pin (or Molex) power connector. The inclusion of the 4-pin power connector will please users who do not have a power supply that features SATA power cables.

In this image, you can see what the custom 8-pin header is for. When pins 1 and 2 are jumpered, SSC (Spread Spectrum Clocking) is enabled. Jumpering pins 5 and 6 enables SATA 150MB/s only operation, which may be necessary for compatibility on some older motherboards.

Test System & Sandra 2005

For testing the Western Digital WD5000KS SATA HDD, we used an Athlon 64 3800+ processor on a DFI LANParty NF4 SLI-DR motherboard. We also used 1GB of low latency Corsair DDR (TWINX1024-3200XL) and a 120GB Maxtor SATA hard drive which held the operating system partition. The WD5000KS was compared to the following drives: a 750GB Barracuda 7200.10, a 500GB Barracuda 7200.9 and a 500GB Hitachi Deskstar 7K500.

HotHardware Test System
AMD Athlon 64 3800+ Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -

Video Card -

Memory -

Audio -

Hard Drives -


Hardware Used:
AMD Athlon 64 3800+

nForce4 SLI chipset

Radeon X1800 XL

1024MB Corsair XMS PC3200 RAM

Integrated on board

Seagate Barracuda 7200.10

750GB - 7,200RPM - SATA 3Gb/s

Seagate Barracuda 7200.9
500GB - 7,200RPM - SATA 3Gb/s
Hitach Deskstar 7K500
500GB - 7,200RPM - SATA 3Gb/s
Western Digital WD5000KS
500GB - 7,200RPM - SATA 3Gb/s

Operating System -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers

Relevant Software:
Windows XP Professional SP2
nForce Drivers v6.82
DirectX 9.0c

ATI Catalyst v6.3

Benchmarks Used:
SiSoftware Sandra 2005
Futuremark PCMark05
HD Tach 3.0.1

We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA File System benchmark module. This test's method of hard disk performance analysis it what we would consider a "light duty" consumer-level evaluation tool. The folks in IT would have your head for recommending a drive based solely on SANDRA File System test results. However, the benchmark is a popular utility within the performance PC enthusiast community, and it does provide a decent quick glance at high-level throughput characteristics of the total storage subsystem, which of course includes HDD controllers and other associated system components.

Preliminary Benchmarks With SiSoft SANDRA 2005 SR3

While the WD5000KS doesn't score too well in the Buffered Read test, it posts excellent results in the Sequential and Random Read tests, especially when compared to the other 500GB drives. This is what we like to see because we tend to place more stock in the Sequential and Random Read tests since standard desktop and gaming application file access places moderate to high loads in these areas.

Once again, the WD5000KS meets or beats the performance of the other 500GB drives in the Random and Sequential tests, but it can't quite keep up in the Buffered Write test. Again, we feel that the Sequential and Random scores are more meaningful.

Most of you are probably familiar with Sandra's Drive Index rating, and this graph basically does a nice job of summarizing what we saw above in the read and write tests. The WD5000KS drive is the leader among the 500GB drives tested and puts up a respectable fight against the 750GB Barracuda, which is the only drive in the group that features perpendicular recording instead of longitudinal.

Futuremark PCMark05

Next up is PCMark05 from FutureMark Corp. We specifically used only the HDD Test module of this benchmark suite to evaluate all the drives we tested versus the WD5000KS. We consulted Futuremark's white paper on PCMark05 for an understanding of what this test component entails and how it calculates its measurements.

Futuremark's PCMark05

Courtesy, Futuremark Corp. -
For these tests, we use RankDisk, an application developed and copyrighted by Intel. In our testing, we found RankDisk to be suitable for a neutral benchmark. RankDisk is used to record a trace of disk activity during usage of typical applications. These traces can then be replayed to measure the performance of disk operations for that usage. RankDisk records disk access events using the device drivers and bypasses the file system and the operating system's cache. This makes the measurement independent of the file system overhead or the current state of the operating system. In replaying traces, RankDisk always creates and operates on a new "dummy" file. This file is created in the same (or closest possible) physical location of the target hard disk. This allows the replaying of traces to be safe (does not destroy any existing files) and comparable across different systems. The traces contain different amount of writing and reading on the disk; total ratio in the HDD test suite disk operations is 53% reads and 47% of writes.  The following input traces are used:

Windows XP Startup:  This is the Windows XP start trace, which contains disk activities occurring at operating system start-up. The test is 90% reading and 10% writes. This trace contains no user activity.

General Hard Disk Drive Usage:  This trace contains disk activities from using several common applications.
These are:
- Opening a Microsoft Word document, performing grammar check, saving and closing
- Compression and decompression using Winzip
- Encrypting and decrypting a file using PowerCrypt
- Scanning files for viruses using F-Secure Antivirus.
- Playing an MP3 file with Winamp
- Playing a WAV file with Winamp
- Playing a DivX video using DivX codec and Windows Media Player
- Playing a WMV video file using Windows Media Player
- Viewing pictures using Windows Picture Viewer
- Browsing the internet using Microsoft Internet Explorer
- Loading, playing and exiting a game using Ubisoft Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon
The General Usage trace is 60% reads and 40% writes.

Virus Scanning:  Virus scanning is a critical task in today's PC usage. As the major bottleneck of scanning viruses is in hard disk activity, it is reasonable to include virus scanning as a HDD test. The test consists of HDD activity of scanning 600MB of files for viruses. The Virus Scanning test is mostly disk reading (99.5%).

Like the Sandra tests, our detailed PCMark05 tests show that the WD5000KS is a great performer. When it comes to the General Usage and XP Startup tests, the WD5000KS really shines. Not only does it dominate the other 500GB drives, but it also outperforms the 750GB Barracuda.

PCMark05's overall Hard Disk Drive test score is representative of a weighting of two other tests in addition to the tests we've given detail for above, specifically File Write and Application Loading. PCMark05 shows the WD5000KS to be an excellent performer.  The WD5000KS's score is around 25% higher than all three other drives' scores.

HD Tach 3.0.1

The four HD Tach metrics that we sampled for each drive are Random Access, which is largely dependent on the spindle speed of the drive, Read Average, Write Average and Burst Read throughput. Again, Read and Write Average scores are what we would consider the most meaningful to the end user. On the other hand, Burst Read is typically tied to a drive's on-board caching and SATA interface speed.

Performance With HD Tach

After seeing the Sandra and PCMark05 results, we weren't surprised by the HD Tach scores. The WD5000KS can't keep up in the Burst Read test, but in the three other metrics it shows off its great performance once again. Here we are most interested in the Average Write and Average Read marks as well as the Random Access time. The WD5000KS's Average Write and Read scores are top notch, with its Average Read score falling a bit behind the 750GB Barracuda.

Performance Summary & Conclusion

Performance Summary: Western Digital definitely has a relative speed demon on its hands with the WD5000KS. While it can't keep up with the company's Raptor, it can definitely win most battles against competing high-capacity hard drives. From our testing, you can see that the WD5000KS was the fastest 500GB drive featured in this article, and it competes quite well when compared to the 750GB 7200.10 Barracuda from Seagate.

With storage getting cheaper and cheaper, you might be tempted to pick up a two or more WD5000KS drives for a nice RAID configuration, and we think that's a great idea. Although we didn't have multiple drives for testing, we can reasonably speculate that RAID performance with the WD5000KS should be quite good. The single drive performance results pretty much speak for themselves -- this is one of the fastest 500GB drives on the market.

There really isn't anything to dislike about the WD5000KS, but it would be nice to see Western Digital (and other storage companies) match Seagate's 5-year warranty. The 3-year warranty offered by Western Digital is good and should be sufficient for most users, but if the competition can offer a 5-year warranty so could Western Digital.

The WD5000KS is currently the largest drive in the Caviar SE16 family, and it's a fine example of a large capacity drive that also happens to offer great performance. We're awarding Western Digital's 500GB WD5000KS SATA HDD a 9 on the Heat Meter.

  • Top notch performance
  • Reasonable street price
  • 3-year warranty
  • Seagate offers longer 5-year warranty

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