When it comes to notebook hard drives you almost can't get enough of two things, capacity and speed. Though SSDs (Solid State Drives) definitely address the speed issue, they only exacerbate the capacity issue (at least currently). Not to mention, the higher you go up in capacity with SSDs, into the 256GB range especially, costs scale upward in multiples of their standard spinning media-based counterparts. Don't get me wrong, there's an exploding market for SSDs and they'll likely some day displace rotational media completely but they're definitely not what notebook manufacturers are using for mainstream product builds currently or even in the near future. It just isn't practical from a cost standpoint alone. As such, bellwether hard drive manufacturers like Western Digital continue to drive rotational media storage technologies further to improve both capacity and speed, as well as drive cost structures downward.
Not long ago we took a look at Seagate's Momentus XT notebook drive. This little speed demon combines both 4GB of solid state storage along with 500GB of traditional rotational media into the industry's first OS-independant "hybrid" SSD-infused hard drive. It offered great performance, especially after the drive's caching algorithms optimized data usage on the drive but its cost was also about 2X of traditional notebook hard drives of similar capacities. So, as usual, there were trade-offs.
Recently, WD took the time to send us in their fastest 7200 RPM 500GB notebook drive. I decided to take the opportunity to do a little A/B comparison in performance. The new WD Scorpio Black 500GB 2.5-inch notebook hard drive weighs in at half the price ($76 at Amazon) of the Momentus XT, and as you'll see, does a fairly good job of hanging with it, from a performance standpoint as well.
ATTO tells us that in small file reads and writes, the WD Scorpio Black drive is actually faster in spots, especially with respect to write performance. However, as we top out at 32K sized transfers and above, the drives are neck-and-neck, with the WD Scorpio black slightly faster with writes, while the Seagate Momentus XT chalks up slightly faster reads.
If you scan back over our Seagate article, you'll see the Momentus XT and Scorpio black are right on top of each, for average read and write speeds, according to HD Tach. Still, the Momentus XT has a random access time of less than a millisecond when its solid state storage comes into play, while the Scorpio Black clocks in at a more traditional hard drive-like 14.8ms.
Finally, we ran PCMark Vantage's HDD Performance module in order to tests the drives under significantly more real-world conditions. Common standard access patterns for desktop usage scenarios and applications are exercised in these tests.
Here the new WD Scorpio Black 500GB drive edged out the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 desktop drive, as well as the WD Scorpio Blue notebook drive in just about every test. It also offered better overall performance versus the Seagate Momentus XT hybrid SSD/hard drive combination, compared to its first run performance but after three runs of conditioning for the Momentus XT, the new Flash-infused notebook drive from Seagate put up scores up to and sometimes 2X as fast as any drive we tested here. Bear in mind again, the Momentus XT is also 2X the price of the WD Scorpio Black but that's a fraction of the price of even the average 256GB SSD. Also, I'll note that the Momentus XT is also a "tweener" in terms of performance versus the average full-fledged SSD, which offers dramatically better numbers all around in these tests.
Regardless, all told, if you're the type to stick with tried, true and economical standard rotational hard drives for your mobile computing requirements, the WD Scorpio Black is one of the best performing 2.5" drives on the market right now. For a mere $76 or so, you'll get 500GB of 7200RPM-class storage for your notebook and that's a pretty good deal in my book. Though this isn't technically a formal HH review but just my little ol' blog post, I'm giving it an HH Recommended for sure. Thanks for reading all and for stopping by HotHardware.com in your web travels.