Last fall, Intel slapped the solid state drive market on the back of the head with the release of the 80GB X25-M MLC drive. That drive absolutely trounced the competition with its 200MB/s read speeds, incredibly low random-access times, and best of all, no random-write stuttering or cache overflows. The first X25-M garnered a Kick Ass Award and defeated all comers in our last SSD roundup (November 2008), but the market has come a long way since then. With powerful competition from drives sporting Indilinx and Samsung controllers, can the 160GB X25-M maintain Intel’s crown?
The 160GB X25-M ships in a silvery chassis, unlike its predecessor’s black, and is 7mm tall—an included spacer accommodates 9.5mm drive bays. Intel’s kicked the flash manufacturing process down from 50nm to 34nm, and retained native SATA and Native Command Queuing from its previous iteration.
After months of making do with 5,400rpm and 5,900rpm 2TB drives and odd-bird 1.5TB drives, it’s finally happening: 7,200rpm two-terabyte hard drives are coming to rigs near you. First out of the gate and into our greedy arms is Western Digital’s 2TB Caviar Black, the performance cousin to the 2TB Caviar Green we reviewed in May. And brother, it’s just what we’ve been waiting for.
The 2TB Caviar Black is spec’d to impress, with four 500GB platters, two processors, 64MB of cache, and a dual-stage actuator system that puts a fine-tuned piezoelectric actuator head at the end of the standard magnetic actuator, enabling fine-tuned tracking for speedy seek times. The Caviar Black also comes with WD’s standard No-Touch ramp loader, so the read/write head never comes in contact with the platters, increasing the drive’s lifespan.
We haven’t seen a new two-terabyte drive on the market in a while—not since we reviewed the Western Digital Caviar Green in May, in fact—but Seagate has finally added a 2TB drive to its Barracuda LP line of desktop drives. The LP (or low-power) line is Seagate’s “green” offering, equivalent to Western Digital’s GreenPower and Samsung’s EcoDrives. With an unusual 5,900rpm rotational speed—down from the 7,200rpm offered by the rest of the Barracuda line—the LP series trades performance for power savings and reduced heat output. Thankfully, it doesn’t sacrifice much speed in the process.
Unlike the performance-oriented Barracuda 7200.11 and 7200.12 series, the LP focuses on low power consumption, at both idle and full-spin states. We praised the low power consumption of Western Digital’s 2TB drive compared to the 1.5TB Barracuda 7200.11, but the LP series evens the playing field. On our test rig, the 2TB Barracuda drew around 4W at idle, slightly lower than the 2TB Caviar Green’s 5W, and 8W while operating, while the Caviar operated at around 9W. Both drives draw less power than the Barracudas of yore.
Pardon us if we’re so oversaturated with so-called “extreme” potato chips and soda that we’re skeptical about anything bearing that moniker.
It doesn’t help that Nexto’s eXtreme ND2700 hardly looks the part. When we actually fired up the ND2700 and started copying files to it, however, we almost had to let out a whoop. Using a 16GB SanDisk, umm, Extreme III CF card, the ugly little ND2700 copied roughly 8.3GB of image files in 11:27 (min:sec). That’s about how fast it would take you to dump the files to your desktop via USB and that’s good news for people who think the microwave is too slow.
The ND2700 comes with a standard USB cable, as well as an eSATA cable and a short USB pig tail that lets you hook up a USB flash drive or hard drive so you can also back up all your files with the push of a button.
We’re finally out of the woods. After nearly a year in which the Intel X-25M was virtually the only solid state drive on the market not to suffer from severe latency during sustained random writes, the past few months have brought us sweet relief in the form of new SSDs with stutter-less memory controllers from such manufacturers as Samsung and Indilinx. This month, we tested the 128GB Patriot Torqx, which uses an Indilinx “Barefoot” memory controller and 64MB DRAM write cache to end the stuttering problem once and for all.
Right out of the box, Patriot impresses with the thoughtful inclusion of a 3.5-inch tray adapter for its 2.5-inch drive. It’s just a simple sheet of pot metal with screw holes and rail mounts, but it’s appreciated. The drive enclosure itself is all brushed-metal—black on top, silver on the bottom—and screws into the adapter easily.
Solid state drives show immense promise with regards to reliability and read speeds, but current-generation models are rife with drawbacks. Due to NAND flash memory’s architecture, writing data to a block (after the first time) requires copying the entire contents of that block to cache, erasing it, and rewriting it with the added data. Large numbers of small writes run the risk of overloading the SSD’s disk cache, causing high latency. Multi Layer Cell (MLC) solid state drives, especially those utilizing JMicron’s JM602 controller, are particularly susceptible.
Fortunately, Samsung’s SSDs, like Intel’s (whose X25-M is the gold standard for solid state drives), use their own controllers, and the results are impressive. This 256GB SSD reached sustained average read speeds of 175MB/s, just 12 percent slower than the Intel drive and 75 percent faster than a Western Digital VelociRaptor. Better still, the Samsung drive’s average sustained write speeds topped 150MB/s, much faster than the 64.3MB/s average offered by the Intel drive. Oddly, Intel’s X25-M still reigns supreme in our Premiere Pro encoding test, beating the Samsung drive by nearly two minutes. The Samsung’s random access times, while slightly slower than the X25-M’s, still average at under .2ms for read and write.
The Samsung drive’s PCMark Vantage score, at 14,088, is less than half that of the Intel drive’s, but still double that of any standard hard drive.
Clickfree’s Transformer may look like an overweight USB key, but it is—forgive us, Optimus Prime—more than meets the eye.
Plug any generic external USB hard drive into the Transformer, then plug the Transformer into a USB port on your PC, and a backup app auto-launches and starts a countdown to begin an automatic file backup of common file extensions. You can interrupt the countdown and add more file extensions that the app doesn’t recognize by default. The document formats it grabs are fairly extensive, but if you want it to also copy that comic book archive in .cbr format, you’ll need to add the extension first.
It was a big month for storage. Not only did Western Digital bring to the market the first 2TB consumer hard drive, but Seagate came to the game with another milestone: a two-platter 1TB drive. Both offerings contain 500GB platters, the highest platter density yet achieved.
The Barracuda 7200.12 1TB is the first drive we’ve tested from the 12th generation of Seagate’s 7,200rpm Barracuda line, and it’s Seagate’s best chance for a fresh start following the firmware issues that plagued its 7200.11 line.
The 1TB 7200.12 has much in common with drives from the previous generation of Barracudas: It features 32MB of L2 cache, 7,200rpm rotational speeds, and SATA 3Gb/s data transfer with Native Command Queuing. The 7200.12, though, needs just two platters to achieve 1TB, whereas the 7200.11 used four.
Western Digital just upped the capacity ante with a mind-blowing two-terabye internal hard drive. It doesn’t break any land speed records, but the 2TB Caviar Green is unmatched for capacity—at least for now.
The Caviar Green 2TB packs a full 500GB more onto its four platters than our previous capacity champion, Seagate’s 1.5TB 7200.11 Barracuda, which has suffered from firmware-related hitches and freezing. The Barracuda (when it works) marries speedy performance with high capacity, while the Caviar Green, like the rest of Western Digital’s Green line, focuses on quiet performance and lower power consumption. The 2TB Caviar Green has four 500GB platters spinning at a rate somewhere between 5,400 and 7,200rpm, with a 32MB cache, and an areal density per platter of 400Gb/square inch.
We were pumped when we heard that Seagate had broken through the terabyte barrier with its 1.5TB Barracuda drive—it’s not only the biggest consumer drive available, but also represents the largest jump in capacity we’ve seen. We typically expect capacity increases to be accompanied by performance decreases, but this drive is quick on its feet despite its gargantuan size.
Thanks to perpendicular recording, the Barracuda manages to pack 1.5TB of capacity onto four 375GB platters on a 7,200rpm spindle with a 32MB cache, which allows it to keep pace with four-platter 1TB drives like the terabyte Barracuda and the WD Caviar Black.