Storage always makes for a curious world. Western Digital's newest entry into the terabyte contest--it's second, if you count the company's Caviar Green drive--is geared for enthusiast performance. One look at the insides of this Caviar Black drive tells the entire tale. This is Western Digital's first three-platter terabyte drive, mimicking a move towards increased access speeds and areal densities that Samsung made some four months ago with its HD103UJ terabyte drive.
Due to the difference of time between the releases of the market's only three-platter terabyte drives, we expected to see the Caviar Black race past the Samsung and push the to very limits of modern-day drive performance. Western Digital will have to be happy with having its Velociraptor drive as the sole storage speed champion, because its Caviar Black does not surpass our reigning terabyte champion. Or rather, it does, but only in one of the four extensive benchmarks we ran on the drive.
It's fair to say that the Caviar Black and the HD103UJ are pretty much neck-and-neck in speed. On our synthetic HDTach benchmark, we saw differences ranging from 5 to 8 percent in average read and write speeds between the two drives, the winning numbers going to the HD103UJ. This performance difference dropped to 3 percent on our PCMark05 scores.
Western Digital boasts a 13 percent difference in IOPS (Input/Output operations Per Second) and a 9 percent difference in PCMark Vantage scores for its Caviar Black over the HD103UJ. We were a bit surprised by this number, so we fired up Vista on our test bed and loaded PCMark Vantage to see for ourselves. While the Caviar Black did pull ahead in this benchmark, it only surpassed the HD103UJ by a paltry 0.91 percent.
Still baffled, we ran the numbers using a new benchmark we've been experimenting with, h2benchw. It's a synthetic benchmark that measures a drive's synthetic performance in far more detail (and time) than HDTach, and we're considering adopting it for all hard drive measurements from this point forward. Running this program's bevy of tests, we watched the HD103UJ outperform the Caviar Black by 12 percent on its average random access times. More than that, the Samsung drive beat the Caviar Black in every single Read and Write transfer measurement--including all minimum, maximum and average speeds--as well as both read and write interface speed measurements.
Even with three of four benchmarks promoting the HD103UJ as the faster drive, we have one final measurement to take into account: price. Given their relatively close scores, we feel it's important to comment on the drives from a purchasing standpoint. The Caviar Black is coming to the market at an MSRP of $250. Even taking retail discounts into account, it'll likely hit close to the Deskstar 7K1000's street price of approximately $220. And yet, both of these drives are still far from the HD103UJ's street price, a crisp $185.
Other than that, the Caviar Black is fairly standard in its construction. It's a 3.0 Gb/s SATA interface with a 32 MB cache. Aside from a minor technological enhancement that parks the drive heads in a protected area, we're not looking at a new batch of wizardry when firing up this drive. We applaud Western Digital's achievement at making the world's second three-platter design for terabyte drives. But it's not the fastest. Even using the very Intel-based setup Western Digital based its numbers off of, the HD103UJ still trumped the Caviar Black in PCMark Vantage scores.
Even if its performance improvements seem negligible from an end user's perspective, the Samsung HD103UJ terabyte drive is still the best drive for its price and technology. But if you can get a Caviar Black on sale, you'll only be inches from the top of the performance charts.
Western Digital Caviar Black
Acceptable read and write performance for a terabyte drive, excellent random access speeds
Only "faster" than our fastest terabyte drive on one splotch of Vista tests.
WD Caviar Black
Random Access (ms)
Average Read (MB/s)
Average Write (MB/s)
XP Startup (MB/s)
Application Loading (MB/s)
General Use (MB/s)
Virus Scanning (MB/s)
File Writing (MB/s)
Windows Defender (MB/s)
Windows Photo Gallery (MB/s)
Vista Startup (MB/s)
Windows Movie Maker (MB/s)
Windows Media Center (MB/s)
Windows Media Player (MB/s)
Application Loading (MB/s)
Min. Random Access--Reads (ms)
Avg. Random Access--Reads (ms)
Max. Random Access--Reads (ms)
Min. Random Access--Writes (ms)
Avg. Random Access--Writes (ms)
Max. Random Access--Writes (ms)
Min. Sustained Reads (MB/s)
Avg. Sustained Reads (MB/s)
Max. Sustained Reads (MB/s)
Min. Sustained Writes (MB/s)
Avg. Sustained Writes (MB/s)
Max. Sustained Writes (MB/s)
Read Interface Transfer (MB/s)
Write Interface Transfer (MB/s)
All HDTach scores use HDTach 188.8.131.52. All h2benchw scores use h2benchw 3.12. Best scores are bolded.