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  Harddisk Roundup, Heat, Noise and Performance 
  Oct 01, 2002, 07:30am EDT 


By: Sander Sassen

A modern harddisk is not that different, mechanically, from the first generation of harddisks that debuted with the IBM PC in the ‘80s. Today’s harddisks are also mechanical parts that use spinning platters and read/write heads to store or read information from them. That also explains why harddisks haven’t seen the rapid pace of innovation as for example CPUs have; simply because the mechanics are holding the harddisk back from making similar leaps in performance. But to be honest that’s not entirely accurate, modern harddisks could be substantially faster, but not without either driving up the price significantly or introducing unwanted side effects.

One of these side effects is excessive noise; because a harddisk has a number of spinning and moving parts it is virtually impossible to make a harddisk noiseless. Anything you’ll do to counter the noise will either influence the performance, drive up the price, or make the harddisk physically larger. For example one way to reduce the noise would be to reduce the rpm of the platters which would mean we’d end up with a slower harddisk overall. And vice versa, by increasing the rpm of the platters we’ll get a better performing harddisk but the noise level will also increase.

Naturally we could counter the noise production by adding sound insulation. Unfortunately insulation is not the preferred way of tackling the noise production as it’ll make the harddisk physically larger, and thus leave less room for storage capacity. Furthermore it also works as an insulator for the heat produced by the harddisk, which would then cut into the harddisk’s MTBF, Mean Time Before Failure. That actually brings us to the second unwanted side effect of high-performance harddisks and that’s excessive heat production.

Modern IDE harddisks feature platters that revolve at either 5400 or 7200-rpm and thus revolve at about half the speed of the fastest SCSI harddisks that top out at 15.000-rpm. The main difference is that these SCSI harddisks are used in professional applications such as database servers where noise- and heat production are second to performance, and thus these levels are substantially higher than consumer level products. In consumer level PCs however heat production is becoming an increasingly important issue. PCs continue to get smaller and CPUs on average dissipate more than 50-watts of heat, so the system temperature will rise significantly if a harddisk is mounted with excessive heat production. In the following pages we’ll take a look at all recent 5400 and 7200-rpm harddisks from IBM, Maxtor, Western Digital, Seagate and Samsung with a focus on noise and heat production as well as overall performance.

1. Introduction
2. Noise Production
3. Heat Production
4. Harddisk Applications
5. Testing and Methodology
6. Test Results, HDtach
7. Test Results, PCmark2002
8. Test Results, Sandra 2002
9. Test Results, Noise Production
10. Test Results, Heat Production
11. Conclusion

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