Two 4TB drives with 7,200rpm spindles go platter-to-platter
Hardcore PC performance fanatics are rarely satisfied. For example, when we were first given 1TB hard drives, we were excited, but wanted 2TB. Then we got 2TB and wanted 3TB, and so on, until we had a 4TB hard drive in the Lab. When that drive finally arrived, rather than rejoicing, we continued griping because the drive in question was a Hitachi 5K4000, which spins at a lowly 5,400rpm. The capacity was appreciated, but we wanted a drive with 4TB of capacity and a 7,200rpm spindle speed (we actually want a 4TB SSD, but that’s beside the point). Now the griping shall cease (for the most part), as we finally have 4TB 7,200rpm drives from Hitachi and WD. These fine specimens are the fastest and largest drives of their kind, so if you’re a data hoarder with a need for speed, one of these drives belongs in your rig.
The WD RE 4TB drive is specifically meant to handle an enterprise workload, but don’t let that scare you off, as it includes a desktop-friendly SATA 6Gb/s interface. As long as you’re running Windows Vista or Windows 7, you should be able to format it into one partition somewhat easily, though you could use it as a boot drive if you’re insane. Its enterprise pedigree is evident not only in its RE branding but in its 1.2 million-hour MTBF, or mean time between failure. This means you should be using this drive at least until Apple Maps for iOS has caught up to Google Maps.
Western Digital’s first 4TB SATA hard drive is the one to get if you have a lot of data (and money).
Though we appreciate the nod to reliability and certainly abhor flaky hard drives, our primary concern in storage affairs is speed. WD designed the RE 4TB to offer the highest specs possible for a drive of this type, fitting it with a large 64MB buffer and five 800GB platters. Now, this isn't a perfect scenario—we'd prefer a drive with 1TB platters, as is the case with some 3TB drives, such as the Seagate Barracuda 3TB, but right now if you want 4TB and 7,200rpm you get five-platters, so make your peace with it.
In terms of real-world performance, you won't miss that extra platter too much, as this 4TB drive is just a bit slower than the 3TB Barracuda but also slightly faster than several of its 3TB competitors. In sequential-read tests, we saw the WD drive run neck-and-neck with its Hitachi counterpart, with both of them averaging 132MB/s, while the 1TB-per-platter Seagate averaged 155MB/s. The WD Caviar Green 3TB can't hold a candle to these speeds, though, and neither can the 5,400rpm 4TB Hitachi 5K4000, which is not surprising.
Our current Adobe Premiere encoding test writes a 20GB raw AVI file to the drive being tested. The WD RE ran right alongside SSDs in this test, which means our test is past its prime and is gated by CPU and application performance these days. However, it was a tad faster than the Hitachi drive in this test despite their similar write speeds. In our "real-world" PCMark Vantage hard drive test, the WD RE 4TB placed third overall compared to other 3- and 4TB drives. Its performance makes it one of the fastest high-capacity drives we’ve tested and the fastest 4TB model we’ve seen thus far.
So it’s fast, and it’s huge. That must mean the price is equally massive, right? Yes, that is correct! It is hugely expensive at $460, which seems ludicrous. That will be a deal-breaker for many, plain and simple. A data center manager looking to reduce the storage footprint by 33 percent may see value here, but the average desktop user is better served with smaller drives. You can buy 2TB drives for roughly $110, so if you're just looking for fast storage, they'll work just fine. If you need maximum capacity per SATA port, we have no problem recommending the WD RE 4TB, but like any new technology, it's prohibitively expensive at this time.
The Hitachi Ultrastar 7K4000 4TB made its first appearance in this magazine back in September 2012, when a gaggle of them debuted in the Dream Machine. At the time, they were the only 7,200rpm 4TB drives available, so they fit right in among all the other expensive and hard-to-find components. Now that the dust has settled and the 7K4000 has some company, we decided to put it on the test bench to see how it fares against its only rival in the 4TB category.
Hitachi’s Ultrastar 7K4000 was the first 4TB drive to roll with 7,200rpm spindle speeds, but these days it has company.
Examining the spec sheet, we see the Hitachi is a spitting image of its WD nemesis, and since WD owns the Hitachi storage division now, you would be forgiven for thinking the Hitachi drive is a rebadged WD model. As far as we can tell, however, the drives are physically different. Despite this, both share the same overall design, with five 800GB platters spinning at 7,200rpm, and both have a 64MB buffer as well as a SATA 6Gb/s interface. One area in which the Hitachi has a major advantage is MTBF—it’s rated at 2 million hours, which is almost double the 1.2 million hours offered by the WD drive and among the highest MTBF drives available today.
Moving along to benchmark results, we found very few surprises here, at least in comparison to the equally equipped WD 4TB drive. Both drives performed almost exactly the same in our sequential-read and -write tests, coming within 1MB/s of each other. We did see a small difference between the two drives in random-access time, which is strange since they are both 7,200rpm hard drives, but the WD RE drive was more than 3ms faster in our tests at 12.5ms, while the Hitachi drive averaged a very predictable 15.9ms. The Hitachi 4TB also placed at the bottom of the heap in our PCMark Vantage test, with a surprisingly low score that was equaled by the 5,400rpm version of this drive; a truly puzzling performance indeed.
So the drive is a bit slower than the WD RE 4TB, and street pricing puts it at $530, which makes the WD almost seem affordable. Slightly less performance for more money is never a good equation, so if you simply must get a 4TB drive, go with the WD RE 4TB. Otherwise, as we stated earlier, stick with less expensive 2- and 3TB drives for now.
Hitachi 4TB 7K4000
Huge capacity; fast, super-long MTBF.
Totally overpriced; not the best performance in its class.
Best scores are bolded.All drives tested on our hard drive test bench: a stock-clocked Intel Core i3-2100 CPU on an Asus P8P67 Pro (Rev 3.1) motherboard with 4GB DDR3, running Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.All tests performed using native Intel 6Gb/s SATA chipset with IRST version 10.1 drivers.